A Shrine of Babies By Diepreye Amanah

A Shrine of Babies

I watch her as she slips her spread fingers
into transparent examination gloves, digs
them into the potting soil in the flower pot,
pulls a handful up and pours potato peels
into the bottom. In this pot she puts
the withering bunch of red rose flowers
she was gifted last month for her
52nd birthday anniversary which she claims
is her 48th , then adds it to the collection
of vases in the right corner of the living room.
In the vases are dying or recently resuscitated
blue orchids, eucalyptus, dracaena, purple orchids
peace lilies, and a bonsai tree.
Since last month she grows ecstatic whenever
she finds a sprouted onion or potato in the pantry,
or an old garlic clove choking in parsley and celery
at the bottom of the refrigerator. She runs to tuck them
into the spaces in the soil around the other plants.
They grow now, reaching out like fingers and toes
plagued with arthritis. Their weak breath caresses her palms
and her heart leaps. I bet she names them all—
names them after the babies she could have cradled.
Maybe if she had begun this shrine
many years ago, one of the stalks would have
climbed up, crawled into and filled her empty womb.

By Diepreye Amanah

Biography:

Diepreye Amanah is a senior studying English and Comparative Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her poems appear in Carolina Woman Magazine, the Health Humanities Journal of UNC, and as prize winners in the 2021 A.R. Ammons Poetry Contest. Her poem is forthcoming in Up the Staircase Quarterly.

Sammi Yamashiro By Sammi Yamashiro

Duffel Bag Girl

It is August 26, 2019: I rush through Naha Airport to board my plane to Narita, then to Houston…

Never was a…
Never was a…

Semifluid coagulation, concealed by an orange rind. 
My hips pocket my pulp
fiction, revolutionized.

What gaudy contents! 

                     Desiccated raisin of a torso;

                     My shoulder, a coat rack, balances the duffel—

                     barely secured on that waxing crescent moon.

                     It is I, bolstering the single ton, 

                                                                        all on my own.

Hush now, fellow passengers: a baptism is in session.  

                                                 Let this be the lesson:

The TSA agents hack
at my dermis with their x-ray gaze.
Performing an exorcism, the deepest cleansing.

Bleach the layers of my cake, clean-cut.
Annihilate my enamel, corner up the blanket
till you expose my nail beds.

You are the colonizers ransacking 
the beniimo fields, hurling molotovs at Shuri Castle.
A fifth time wasn’t good enough?

Underneath my rubble lies the hymns of Heaven.
Hatch out of your egg, my blinding song!
You moths follow the crumbs to my sticky light.

Christ has crossed my heart with His 
scarlet thumb. A message 
bleeds forth: Do not hope to die.

                     Another chance is your fundamental right.

                     So onward, girl!

                     Your neighborhood’s stowed safe 

                     in your duffel bag, in the pocket

                     of your hips.

My shriveled-up Sequoia forests
leap across tectonic plates. Away from this greenhouse mess.

A refugee who will not plead—
a title that fits my fingertips!
This feels illegal. This entrances me.

I shall gladly do time. 

By Sammi Yamashiro

Biography:

Sammi Yamashiro began her poetry journey in high school and has had multiple poems featured in several anthologies (Train River Publishing, Sunday Mornings at the River). She self-published her poetry collection “The Peach Pit Mask”, which reached #1 in New Releases in Asian American Poetry on Amazon Kindle. You can read her writing on Instagram (@sammiyamashiro) or visit her website (sammiyamashiro.com) to find more of her work.

Genesis By Susan H. Evans

Genesis

      It is June 6th, and the snow won’t stop falling;

                     And the old ordered world,

       Its season long past,

                     Reeks of decay

                     Like corrupted fruit

       Or rotting meat.

       And the old earth,

                   Blinded with rage,

       Howls for love,

                    Smolders with hate,

       And reels drunken on its axis.

       And snow falls like a silent summons,

                    As ashes from a long-banked fire;

                              Burning,

        Until the last suffering soul

                    Trudging across the desert floor

        Reaches the Promised Land.

                    And broken spirits,

        Desperate and maligned,

                    Sick, hunted, and poor,

       Get their reckoning.

         And Ararat,

                     That mighty snowcapped mountain,

          Erupts in fire, torching the sky,

                      Visible to the whole earth;

            Illuminating four dark warriors,

                       Armored in iron and bronze,

                       Mocking the ones below.

            That roar as breakers on mighty waters;

             And the suffering sea

                       Rises ever closer to those dark knights

              In black armor on pale horses,

                        Proud and arrogant on their mighty mountain.

               And as the people rise,

                         A new vision sluices through the smoky darkness

                Revealing broken images:

                         Decomposed bodies

                Juxtaposed astride pale stallions,

                         Whose nightmare hooves

                Beat as death rattles on jagged rocks.

          And the long-touted Revelation story

                         Preached to frighten children

           Of Armageddon horsemen and bloody doomsday —

                           Like all bad dreams —

                                     Ends

                           In Genesis.

         And the fire and darkness pass away,

                         Spinning a new world on its axis,

         Suffusing the earth in newfound light, and

                         Saturating the level playing field of another kind of god.

         And a giant wind takes hold the Plague banner,

                       Hurls it down the cliffs to churning sea,

         And a nascent sun

                      Ascends on red ribbon banners

         Exposing hatred, fear, and cruelty.

        And the dark crumbling Adams fall like brittle clay,

                      As monuments made of sand.

        And the four winds whip

                      And a wave of sound like voices,

         No longer still,

                      Scatters ashes from ancient saddles,

        And casts that almighty mountain into the sea.

        And the snow falling in June

                                 Stops

                       Its descent at last;

        And a cooling breeze, clean and free,

                      Sweeps over the land,

        And hope spreads as eagle wings over the Promised Land.

By Susan H. Evans

Biography

Susan H. Evans is a writer and English professor in east Tennessee, and grew up poor, and as isolated as the mountain valley she lives in. She is published in The Christian Science Monitor, Metapsychosis: Journal of Consciousness, Literature, and Art, Deep South Magazine, and Bright Flash Literary Review

St. Monica Contemplates a Harm Reduction Strategy By Gaetan Sgro

St. Monica Contemplates a Harm Reduction Strategy

Remember when you were young, Auggie
When Uncle Carl would unscrew the jug of Paisano

And dose all the little cousins
With wine to chase their milk?

Remember when you used to stand behind the counter
At Claudio’s how all the other mothers would stumble

Stuck on your blue eyes, black hair
Immaculate fingernails?

Remember all those nights you didn’t come home
Mornings I flew with eyes pressed closed to light another candle?

I know I should have looked—
But I didn’t want to find you

Curled up at the feet of some angel
Your veins bared and froze.

Now they want to bring you in, serve up Grace
Clean needles and a bowl of pasta e fagioli.

I always believed it takes a village but I fear
This thing may be the death of us both.

Biography

Gaetan Sgro is an internal medicine doctor, “girl dad,” and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine where he directs a program in the medical humanities. His poems have appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, Glass: Poet’s Resist, Blueline, The Healing Muse, Apiary Magazine, Annals of Internal Medicine, JAMA, Best New Poets 2016, and other fine publications.

Empty Space By Paul Conlon

Empty Space

A collaboration with Etheridge Knight based on “The Idea Of Ancestry” Empty Space

1

The 47 black faces stare back at you. Taped to your prison
wall. Did they come all at once, a cousin arrived with a shoebox,
or maybe it was the hat box your grandfather kept; pictures rooted
next to never-used-one-way-bus-ticket up north, or did they arrive
in drips, a picture from an aunt, and a few from your mother
before she stopped visiting.

Picture of your father; young. Had he posed: a wooden platform,
ironed suit, same he wore to his brother’s funeral,
or was it a picture of him with a fishing pole; bluegill suspended,
hanging, dead now. You remember the glassy-smooth rocks
under churning water and the way your father’s right hand crushed,
flattened the head, blood marked on rock. Both your grandfathers are dead.
It was grandfather Davis who came home bloody, his scalp bruised and bent,
battered pulp-flesh, beer bottles splintered in skull. He went into the Clarks’
yard to get his grandson’s baseball. Your aunt left you candy in flower pots
said it sprouted from soil or draped like fruit from trees. She still looks for
you every Sunday. Nieces and nephews: they stare back. You know
their style. Do they know yours? Sprawled on your bunk.
Your five-year-old niece never licked vanilla ice cream from your finger.
She smiles at you; the only one that smiles back. You are all of them.
They are all of you. They are farmers. You are a thief. You did stand
in rows of cabbage, feet cracked in compost, your rows always 12 inches
apart. If you bent now and placed seed in soil what would
come up? The earth doesn’t know your hands anymore.

Empty space. You are all of them and they are all of you. Grandmother’s
bible with everybody’s birth and death dates cracked open,
the pages tattered, yellow-worn. She used to let you hold it.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

2

You hitchhiked your way from LA with 16 caps in your pocket.
The monkey on your back. Hills and red gullies of Mississippi crying
for you. Genes, galvanized; the call electric. It was laying next to your sister,
the black eyed susans and ironweeds nearby, that you heard the cicadas crooning
their trill; dobsonflies and may beetles never bothered you. Leaping now
and bucking up your birth steam, a salmon quitting the cold ocean,
or like the black carpenter ant carrying the leaf from the weeping willow
back to its colony, 40 times its weight, you squaring 900 pounds
over your head; a lumbering journey back. The monkey on your back;
its finger nails already clawed your neck, hands cling to your shoulders,
choking and retching in your ear. Grass under your feet, the hickories
and willow oaks not too far away. Did the eastern-eyed click beetle
remember you? Azaleas and trumpet honeysuckles send you
their smell. Cornwhicky in fruit jars. Your habit came down. You had almost caught up with yourself.

This year the gray stone wall dams your stream;
water, ancient as the Clavius crater on the near side of the moon shakes
and rouses your soul. You stare at the 47 black faces across the space,
pacing your cell. You are all of them and they are all of you.

By Paul Conlon

Biography:

Paul Conlon is a poet from New York. He leads a creative writing workshop
for members of the Queens, NYC community and his poems have recently
appeared in the Newtown Literary Review. He is a K-12 educator where he
enjoys teaching English and theater.

Leaving Knoxville By Britt DiBartolo

Leaving Knoxville

Stalking the start of a poem, no invocation left
for me        no love       no thing left to miss & nothing

more to pack. Each earthly      object tight
in boxes lifted from the liquor store

whose proprietor winked at me & said: cutting out of dodge?
Every man        a wolf, I blinked, quoting Cher’s Moonstruck.

Amid bleak traffic, outside hell highway near Strawberry Plains, I see her:
dead fox on the road, intact &       embering.

Great, time to interpret–

fresh diploma breathing heavy in the backseat
but I’m tired, emptied, unimaginative

what to make          of all these dead foxes
& what to do with these wiles

what have they brought you     us, love? Still,
I’m leaving Tennessee for good, tail

between my legs, lost, to deep Maine
far north as I could go, my animal-mirror somewhere

along the way          licked-clean
then buried, but where         the poem

paces on ahead      pissing on everything      a place where
arriving & leaving are the same

somewhere      my head on your chest
I still hear you       asking in your low throaty thrum

what the spaces in my poems meant         they mean
if I went feral      love, leave me there.

By Britt DiBartolo

Biography

Britt DiBartolo is a poet living in western North Carolina. She recently graduated with her Master’s in English literature from the University of Tennessee. Her poems have appeared in Headwaters & an anthology of emerging North Carolinian poets from Z-Publishing. She received the Carl Sandburg Award in Poetry from the University of North Carolina in 2018. Though she still has never found a four-leaf clover on her own, she remains vigilant.

National Poetry Month Prompt Series Update

We want to take a moment to thank everyone who downloaded our National Poetry Month prompt set this year. We hope it helped nourish your writing journey & helped you find inspiration in your process.

We also wanted to take a moment to give you an update about the funds we raised. At the time of this writing, we raised $120 from the prompt package. Per our stated mission with the series, we donated $60 (50% of the total proceeds) to Ripple Community Center.

The other 50% was used to defray some of our annual cost for web hosting. In the future, we will use the majority of the funds we raise to begin building a fund to pay writers for their work.

We plan to keep this prompt package available for the foreseeable future. We will continue donating 50% of the proceeds to Ripple and providing you with regular updates. As a reminder, Ripple operates a day shelter, an affordable housing program, and strives to serve those “who are living with mental illness, who have experienced significant trauma, or have other conditions or experiences that can leave them isolated and alone.”

You Can Download the Prompts Here

a deconstruction of honey & candles & church By Natalie Hampton

a deconstruction of honey & candles & church

My mother taught me lessons in honey.

Imagine age five:                    she smeared it across my bare

back and told me to lay in the middle of a flowering field.

Burrs painted patterns of pink across marred skin, grass itched,

and I wondered what it would be like to sink into the

ground, absorbed and melting like the last candle on an altar. She

used to take me to church when I was younger, but I was never

chosen to light those sacred wicks as prayers hung low in the air

            like steam—it was always the priest’s daughter, and I

never understood why. We stopped going a year before, and I

missed those lines pews and stained-glass windows.

She made me lay there for hours until cutting canyons of ants

crawled up by back, attracted to the saccharine sweetness,

and they left their crimson bites behind.

if you attract men to you

my mother said

all they’ll cause is harm.

Imagine age twelve:                the cusp of teenage years, and it

doesn’t yet feel like a movie. I lost the knobby knees but

gained new awkwardness in my movements; lost the chubby cheeks but

gained weight elsewhere. Instead of honey sweetening my foods,

she replaced it with artificial creations: sweet ‘n low, truvia, splenda,

stevia, equal. Zero-calorie powders that never tasted ripe enough,

but she threw away all the honey, said my clothes were too tight and I

needed to maintain my figure. She pinched at my sides, weighed

and prodded Sunday mornings, calculated calories for the week. My tastebuds

            never adapted, they yearned for confection and love, and I dreamt of

caramel chocolate and hugs, but she gave me diets and cleanses. Workouts

            and routines, and the fat began to melt away and I thought back to

those alter candles, wishing my entire body would dissolve with the fat.

your body is a weapon

my mother said

learn how to use it.

Imagine age eighteen:             legal adult by name only, neither comfort

            nor ability. I still called my ex boyfriend every time I ran a load

of laundry, still looked up tutorials every time I tried to cook. She came

            to my room as I zipped the final bags, my new life across the

country contained. College: what a strange place to go. I had never been

            without her for more than a night. A flickering match lit up her

grave expression and she pressed the flame to the center of my palm. It

            was the same match from those old church days, the ones the

daughters breathed into candles, and as I cried out and a wound bloomed,

            I wondered if the girls ever burned themselves on accident. If they prayed

for healing or if that was too selfish of a need. She handed me a bottle

            of honey to pack and said it would soothe the burn better than

any medicine. I didn’t pray as she left but I ducked my head and

            imaged the words pouring out of my mouth, thick like honey.

hurt yourself enough times

my mother said

any no one else can cause lasting damage. 

first appeared in Kalopsia Literary Journal (June 2021)

By Natalie Hampton

Biography

Natalie Hampton is a rising junior at the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in the Creative Writing Department. She has been recognized at the National level of the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition and by the Harris County Department of Education, the Young Poets Network, the Pulitzer Center, and Ringling College of Art and Design. She serves as an editor at Polyphony Lit and Cathartic Literary Magazine. She has taken online workshops and classes with Iowa, Brown, Sewanee, and Ellipsis Writing.

Grief is a little animal that sits wanting in my chest By Marty Miller

Grief is a little animal that sits wanting in my chest

I’ve been thinking about it since I left you
Weeks ago-
Eating caviar on the blacktop parking lot,
Shucking oysters with a knife we’d bought inside.
I was leaving you to see my grandparents
For the last birthday they’d be alive.

It was salty and fishy, of course it was,
It slid across my tongue like an oil spill.
We laughed as we swallowed it down
Seawater soaking my shirt and stinging my
hands –
Where the knife had just slipped a bit-
While I tried to keep it from soaking
Into the car seat fabric
And to ignore the changing light

What felt like moments away from the dying.
I was eating to feed someone else’s starving
Body,
Relishing in the taste of ocean and tired joy
In your eyes
Trading stories and gifts and smiles and feeling
Alive together-
The first time in months we’d been able to.

So you know, I’ve been thinking about it since I
Left you
Parking lot caviar and the way you say my name-
A piece of hard candy that you’re puzzling out
The flavor of.
The highlighter yellow underscore on all my
Other thoughts-
Biting the inside of my cheek to keep from
Saying

I love you
I miss you
I hope you’re doing well
I think about you every day
I think I’d like to drive to your house and
Pick you up and run away for a while.
I think the air between us could become a living thing.

By Marty Miller

Biography

A long time amateur writer, Martin is a graduate of Western Kentucky University with roots in states from South Carolina to Ohio. They strive to pursue differences of perspective and mutual understanding through the arts.

Work Is a Replica of the Abusive Home By Sammi Yamashiro

Work Is a Replica of the Abusive Home

Molecules in the air conditioning arouse
certain sordid intentions, along the realm of
kidnapping, of bribery.

What business do I have here?
I am merely the monkey wedged between this custody battle,
detained inside the cooking pot.
My sweat is the condensation,
the fighter jets tearing down the crepuscular roof.
An earthquake simulates, triggers a tornado warning.

Ring away, fire alarms!
Poppy petals unzip their petticoats—
the homes! mere concrete,
hotbox the carbon monoxide. We are all in this together,
ordered to quarantine in its musk.
This is our reliable shelter-in-place,

for a grander apocalypse awaits outdoors, my love.
We could never comprehend what nature has to offer.
Our man-made facilities erect themselves with structure.

A brick, or several hundred, have ran astray, sure,
but learn gratitude, child— at least it’s something.

At least it’s familiar.

By Sammi Yamashiro

Biography:

Sammi Yamashiro began her poetry journey in high school and has had multiple poems featured in several anthologies (Train River Publishing, Sunday Mornings at the River). She self-published her poetry collection “The Peach Pit Mask”, which reached #1 in New Releases in Asian American Poetry on Amazon Kindle. You can read her writing on Instagram (@sammiyamashiro) or visit her website (sammiyamashiro.com) to find more of her work.