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International Women’s Day 2021

March 8th is designated as International Women’s Day to:

celebrate women’s achievements
raise awareness about women’s equality
actively advocate for gender parity
raise funds for female-centric charities

The theme for this year is “choose to challenge.” Challenge ourselves and those around us to be alert for gender disparity and discrimination and actively seek to bring equality so that we don’t have to set aside such a day in the future.

On this occasion, I am bringing you an obscure poet from my home state of Maharashtra in India. I have always admired Bahinabai Chaudhari (1880 – 1951) for her natural poetic talent and fierce independence. She wasn’t aware of her talent and never wrote down her ‘songs’ which she composed while going about her daily routine. I am presenting her poem about the plague pandemic during 1940 as it is incredibly relevant today. The original Marathi version is followed by my loose translation. I can’t match her meter and rhyme, but the meaning is extremely relevant. I hope you join me in saluting this favorite poet and at least three more female poets I plan to present this month.

पिलोक पिलोक
आल्या पिलोकाच्या गाठी
उजाडलं गांव
खयामयांमधीं भेटी

पिलोक पिलोक
जीव आला मेटाकुटी
भाईर झोंपड्या
गांवामधीं मसन्‌वटी

पिलोक पिलोक
कशाच्या रे भेठीगांठी !
घरोघरीं दूख
काखाजांगामधीं गांठी

पिलोक पिलोक
आतां नशीबांत ताटी
उचलला रोगी
आन् गांठली करंटी

plague, plague
the lumps of plague are here
the towns are deserted
people meet in the open fields

plague, plague
people feel only despair
the huts are on the outskirts
the town has become a graveyard

plague, plague
what get-togethers?
every household filled with sorrow
lumps in armpits and groins

plague, plague
now only destiny is a bier
pick up the ailing
and remain in quarantine

Shelby Wilson

Bookmaking

for Al Brilliant, even though he probably doesn’t remember me

Those mild south Texas Spring mornings
you spent guiding and goading four college
seniors in the arduous art
of handmaking books might have
seemed squandered,
but I remember.

I remember the aroma of Earl Grey
in that makeshift classroom—
the Christian Science Reading Room
lent us through kindness—
even though our only shared religion was
a faith in the words on the pages
we saddle-stitched together.

We huddled around the table.
I know now, we were leaning into
your soft-spoken words,
wisdom you near-whispered
in your Brooklynite accent.

You talked of literature,
*******and travel,
*******and books you’d asked us to read,
*******and the sixties,
*******and social justice,
*******and California,
where you founded your
slow and steady press.

My klutzy hands would oft
poke the tip of my awl
clean through a signature of folded pages,
piercing my hand.
I’d bleed on your pages—
these spotted books, you let me keep,
proof of the sacrifice required
for the sacrament of the
enfolded black-inked words.

You taught me that humility is
not mentioning that you’d published
*******Robert Bly,
and Margaret Atwood,
and Leonard Cohen,
and Marge Piercy.

Once, Langston Hughes surfaced from your memories—
his serene, muted intonation
when he would finally speak after
a long pause, in thought,
prior to his purposeful reply
was all you really told us about him.

The art of making books is
lost to me now,
but the value of a life in books
has been collected, sewn, and
bound into me.

I think that is all you wanted
********all along.


Editor’s Note:
I love this heartfelt tribute to Al Brilliant by an eager student of bookmaking. The poet uses vivid descriptions of the bookmaking process, tying each one into a page of memory that finally results in an exquisite book in the student himself.


Shelby Wilson writes, teaches, and lives in Amarillo, Texas. He holds a B.A. in English from Texas A&M University and an M.A. in English from West Texas A&M University. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Ink & Nebula, Sparks of Calliope, Backchannels, BeZine, and anthologies from Madness Muse Press, Clarendon House Publications, and Elizabeth River Press.

Clyde Kessler

Coal Once

I warped back home ninety summers
before I was born, before the north valley train
swelled against trees during a drought, before
the marsh birds haunted their wings with wolves.
I think my grandfather was drunk or had swallowed
lightning, or had imagined his release from prison
as a sign of rain, a synonym for the body in one room
and the mind along the canal road, praying, prying
lifting voices from bread that had molded, but tasted
like heaven’s own wild, swirling feast. And this was
not even where he lived. His story was sunk in coal.
His language left him. He shepherded a machine
through slate rock like a worm, or something burning.
He couldn’t see that I had warped there into his time.
He thought I must be another striker who had given up,
kissed the foreman’s shadow, eaten breakfast in dust,
or had been raised like a soft pillow turned almost
human. I wanted to say grandfather. I wanted to
hand him money, real money, easy money, a stash
that would feel like the face of God placed there
in his mind, far from his home. It was like a human
shadow in Virginia. There was a laugh. It was like
water washing the coal, always sloshing and echoing
and growing and bending into a house. That was where
I forgot who I might have been, had I been real then.


Editor’s Note:
Who knows what you will find when you are mining for your ancestors. The narrator visits his grandfather in a time-warp situation and discovers something about himself. The grandfather was “lifting voices from bread that had molded,” and “His story was sunk in coal./His language left him.” It’s the narrator’s turn now to give the language/voice to the grandfather.


Clyde Kessler lives in Radford, VA with his wife Kendall and their son Alan. In 2017 Cedar Creek published his book Fiddling At Midnight’s Farmhouse, which Kendall illustrated.

Jeff Burt

Osiers

The willows severed from the branch slipped between glass among water
still live

fragile buds in vibrant green unfurling on the windowsill
in indirect light

During this sheltering, I wake some mornings feeling not the amputee
but the amputated

the lower leg or arm up to the shoulder cut off and tossed, the awful desire
to be reunited with the body

but every day without the blood of concourse and attachment
loss grows

I have become more moderate with others, less expectant of ambition
overriding circumstance,

more attuned to the minuscule warmth of the moonlight on my face
in a crisp night, the smell of tannin,

the development of language in a child and the slow crawl his letters take
on a page as if blooming.


Editor’s Note: This poem describes the distress of sheltering during the pandemic and the survival of the human spirit using tender images from nature. The last line hints at the future hope and progress.


Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County and works in mental health. He has contributed to Gold Man Review, Williwaw Journal, Red Wolf Journal, Sheila-na-Gig, and Heartwood.

Jean L. Kreiling

After Reading Hemingway Late at Night

My clean, well-lighted room was light too late,
the pages of my book far more appealing
than darkness and surrender to a state
of unengaged oblivion. But stealing
another hour for Hemingway may not
have been a good choice. Though at last I’ve let
him go, he holds on: characters and plot
fill pages of my brain, his alphabet
too well-arranged to spell the spell of sleep.
And since I’ve missed the hour when eyes could close
and stay closed with the counting of some sheep—
their fleece can’t muffle echoes of his prose—
I’m counting wives of Hemingway instead,
and wondering about the lives they led.

Four women married him. The lives they led—
the roles they played as Mrs. Hemingway—
must have been challenging. Had they misread
the man who’d leave them all? Each woman may
have thought that she had wed a different man,
since recent chapters in a life revise
what years have written. Each marriage began,
I’m sure, with hopes that it would not reprise
the previous debacle. But not one
would last more than a decade and a half,
each tale familiar: vows made and undone,
love doomed from the initial paragraph.
Write one true sentence was his famous creed;
truth written by the heart is hard to read.

The truth of one man’s heart is hard to read,
but Hadley and young Ernest started out
(as lovers do) as if all they would need
was passion. I recall a time when doubt
or wariness could not corrupt my heart,
when my own Ernest—though his name was Jack—
slept here beside me. What broke us apart
is hardly worth recounting, but a lack
of passion wasn’t it. We had our own
pale version of their Paris (the café
downtown); we too drank freely. If I’d known
how it would end—that Jack would soon betray
our bliss—I probably would still have lain
beside him, Hadley-like, bracing for pain.

Beside her husband, Hadley braced for pain,
and in time, his deceptions broke their bond.
How long can love and tolerance remain
when trust disintegrates, when you’ve been conned?
He left her for Pauline—well-educated,
a journalist. I can relate to her:
although perhaps not as sophisticated,
I too earned a degree; I too prefer
to write instead of watching someone write.
I wonder if I too would have felt free
to bed the married Hemingway. Tonight
I would have liked some manly company,
but as Pauline would learn, a man can make
a mess of things, make love seem a mistake.

Though Ernest left her, is it a mistake
to think him merely faithless? Macho code
or not, the men he wrote have hearts that break,
and so did he. Another episode
of short-lived marriage started in Key West,
where he met Martha. I wish I were there;
a warm salt breeze would surely help me rest,
and in the morning I might even dare
to drink a Bloody Mary with a stranger.
But Martha dared far more, and zealously:
fearless war correspondent, she faced danger
repeatedly. She went to Normandy,
grew famous, and became widely respected—
and so, it seems, her husband felt neglected.

Maybe most wives and husbands feel neglected
at some point in their marriages; some days,
or years, leave spouses feeling disconnected
or undervalued. More than mere malaise,
it feels like the beginning of the end,
and sometimes it’s exactly that, I’ve learned.
For Ernest, endings had become a trend—
beginnings, too, I guess, for he soon turned
to Mary, his fourth wife. Another writer,
twice wed herself, she must have understood
that he would not be easy: lover, fighter,
serial husband. But this marriage would
endure until the day Ernest could not—
until the moment Mary heard the shot.

The moment Mary heard the fatal shot
is one I can’t imagine. I’ve known loss,
but not that fathomless abyss—the spot
a bullet finds—where grief and horror cross.
And though each new grief leaves a heart in pieces,
mine beats with a desire to keep on beating.
Until the chapter when my breathing ceases,
I’ll keep the light on and I’ll keep on reading—
and maybe counting: famous wives, the men
I’ve loved, true sentences, false vows. Hindsight
may favor caution, but the heart and pen
keep writing. And though I can’t sleep tonight,
there’s no one but myself to implicate:
my clean, well-lighted room was light too late.


The poet weaves the story of Hemingway’s life and the narrator’s own marriage to comment on the state of relationships in general and arrives at a conclusion about self-love. The rhythm and deft rhymes keep the narrative moving smoothly.


Jean L. Kreiling is the author of two collections of poetry:  Arts & Letters & Love  (2018) and The Truth in Dissonance (2014).  Her work has been honored with the Able Muse Write Prize, the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters Sonnet Prize, the Kelsay Books Metrical Poetry Prize, a Laureates’ Prize in the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, three New England Poetry Club prizes, the Plymouth Poetry Contest prize, and the String Poet Prize. 

Anna Teresa Slater

Peripheral

There is a certain float
xxxa falling leaf makes
that calls to the eye. A golden

blink, kissed by the back
xxxof a boy racing
his bike to school. A quiet quiver

gliding on a dog’s
xxxfull moon howl. A ballet
dancer outside the glint

of an airport window.
xxxThe messenger in the middle
of that first driveway

goodbye. Freed from a fire
xxxtree, a rogue tickle
in the wheeze of a ripe summer

wind, the ocean
xxxa sieving backdrop
to its fleeing sigh.


Editor’s Note: The poem personifies the stages of wind by attributing human behaviors to them. The slow buildup starting with ‘a golden blink’ becomes ‘a quiet quiver’ and ultimately becomes ‘a rouge tickle traveling to the ocean. The hint of a back story with the ‘first goodbye’ adds to the intrigue.


Anna Teresa Slater is a teacher in Iloilo, Philippines. Her work is published in a variety of international journals and in anthologies by Kasingkasing Press and Hedgehog Poetry Press. The eBook version of her first poetry collection, A Singular, Spectacular Chore (Kasingkasing Press), was released in November 2020, with the print version forthcoming in 2021. Anna lives on a farm with her husband, dog, and cat.

Lorraine Caputo

SQUALLING

I.
The storm finally erupts, torrents tumbling
down roofs into patios, streaming down the street.
Lightning shreds the sky, immediate thunder,
the rain blowing in waves across the Carib sky.

Quick currents rivers rise in these calles,
eddying with leaves & trash.
Black waters strong & rancid seep through wooden
dikes wedged in doorways, seep through tiled floors.

A dappled hackney pulls a scrap-wood wagon
through hub-deep water, still rising, still swirling
& disappears into the rain undecipherable from
solid grey clouds from the churning sea.

II.
After two hours the downpour lessens, the booming
thunder further asea.
Pallid sunset bleeds through a tear in the clouds.
The river recedes, yet whirling yet rushing
towards the Caribbean.

III.
& with this new night, a softer rain falls.


Editor’s Note: The poet paints a series of pictures with words to create an experience of squalling in a reader’s mind. The last line brings the calm after the storm home.


Lorraine Caputo is a poet, translator, and travel writer. Her works appear in over 200 journals on six continents; and 14 chapbooks of poetry – including On Galápagos Shores (dancing girl press, 2019). She also authors travel narratives, articles, and guidebooks. She travels through Latin America, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth.

Susan J. Wurtzburg

Unimagined Possibilities

Eyes focus on dust motes, yellow swirls
xxxxxhover, animal smells in the air.
My cousins soar between hay bales,
xxxxxexcitement crackles with fear.
Voices loud, mouths wide, leg scratches,
xxxxxstill we chase and scream.
Shoes full of hay stems never slow us
xxxxxdown as over the bales we fly.
Games done, we empty socks and pockets
xxxxxof dried grass, brush each other off.
A tidy for the youngest, a glance around the barn,
xxxxxready for departure.
Oblivious to the black-cloaked figures, scythes
xxxxxraised, who haunt our play.
Death lurks overhead; rusted bale claw held
xxxxxby a tattered rope.
Injury loiters by the open end of the barn,
xxxxxa two-floor drop into a manure pile.
Mortality dallies in the hay mows, a plunge
xxxxxto mangers or stone floors.
We are children, oblivious to grim possibilities
xxxxxskulking around the cows.
Back up the hill to our parents, enjoying
xxxxxgin and tonics in the late afternoon.
We leave the barn reapers to their dark pleasures
xxxxxas we escape the possibilities again.


Editor’s Note: This childhood narrative is sweet yet filled with dangerous possibilities.  The innocent childhood games at twilight, away from parental oversight, are often tinged with danger. It is a miracle that most of us emerge without any harm. The vivid descriptions in this poem bring this barn scene to life.


Susan J. Wurtzburg is a retired academic and lives in Hawai‘i. She writes and runs her editing business (Sandy Dog Books LLC), in between water sports, hiking, and socializing online, while she waits for the pandemic to diminish. Susan’s poetry has appeared in the Hawaii Pacific ReviewPoetry and CovidQuince Magazine, and the Rat’s Ass Review.

An Ode to Hillary

An Ode to Hillary

The village you needed to care for the child
That you were once was full of idiot bullies
Eager to crush the bold dreams of a young girl
Too stupid to think that a girl can be a president
You always persisted, never tasting the sweet
Nectar of victory, yet a naive belief in the power
Of your own strength, toil, and compassion
That you spread for the children of the world
Too hostile to see the kind heart buried under
The tough exoskeleton that you had to create
To survive the animosity surrounding the spirit
Of a woman striving to become larger than her
Assigned station in life, a woman independent
Yet a foot soldier to the ambitions of a man even
As the sphere around your crumbled, mocking
Your deepest core, launching it in the tailspin
The only way to find your fulcrum was to stand tall
Pivot, forge a road ahead for your dormant self
A soldier that you are, you marched on to duties
Larger and larger, reaching for the sun that
Was ready to shine on the perfected facets
Of your diamond that had sustained centuries
Of heat and pressure to emerge with the purity
Only the world had not run out of the bullies
And today here you are, radiant in your purple
Hue cheering on your younger sister, victorious
paying homage to your fearless foremothers
When you become the valiant foremother
to the budding young girls in this dawn
of the world with open doors to let the light in

— Pratibha


Editor’s Note:

The journal has been in existence for the last six years, yet I never published my own poem. I am making an exception this one time. Watching Hillary Clinton’s gracious presence during the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris inspired this poem. Hillary Clinton was ahead of her time and belongs to a generation when women worldwide had received mixed messages. On the one hand, they were encouraged to become independent and enlightened, and on the other hand, they were expected to carry out the traditional roles of wife and mother. The conflicts left women in limbo and often left them questioning their choices. As history turns another page and we celebrate and welcome women in power, we need to celebrate the women who paved the way and created the cracks in the ceilings that are being shattered now.

 

 

 

Lois Levinson

In Darkness

Migrating birds
cross the disc
of the full moon,
silhouettes flitting
on a white screen,
like moths caught
in a searchlight beam.

But a moonsworth
is only a fragment of sky,
the visible just an inkling
of all that moves
in darkness.

Coyote, venerable dignitary
of the country of night,
swaggers past me
on his nightly patrol.

A family of mule deer,
antlers moon-silvered,
browses on dried grasses,
the old buck
keeping an eye
on the interloper.

A great horned owl
looms high
in the scaffolding
of a dead cottonwood,
scrutinizing all.

What I know is of little use here.
Furless and featherless,
I’ve forgotten the nocturnal
language of shadows,
the song of bare branches
as they fracture the moon.


Editor’s Notes:

The rich imagery of the dark nights and the moon fills this poem with a melancholy tone, and the last stanza cinches all those images into the futility of human knowledge. The assonance in almost every stanza is captivating.


Lois Levinson is the author of one book of poems, Before It All Vanishes, and a chapbook, Crane Dance, both published by Finishing Line Press.  Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Canary Journal, Global PoemicGyroscopeThe Carolina Quarterly, The MacGuffin, Cloudbank and other journals. She lives in Denver, Colorado where she is quarantining, birding and working on her second book.