Lisa Ashley – Angling Down

Lisa Ashley
Angling Down

I’ve been angled all day, bent.
Sharp-cornered by the dying
in hospital beds, swathed in tubes and lines,
drips and vents, I see them
flattened, tilting at death.

The nurse intersects with daughter, son, wife,
holds out the hard, black rectangle
that delivers their last, off-kilter words,
sharp declarations of love, keened
out in the hard-lined hall.

She turns back to the bed, listens
for the apex breath that tips
his life from now to after.
She holds his hand.

In the glaring break room
she slants against the wall,
slides down until she meets the floor,
pinned below her grief.

I reach into the broken frame,
take her in my arms,
one brief moment of rest.

Ian C. Smith – One Hundred Years Ago

Ian C. Smith
One Hundred Years Ago

When the Wright Brothers flew
one hundred odd haphazard yards, today’s
skyscrapers were only imagined silhouettes
piercing an innocence of cloud-scudded sky,
like the pyramids and the Eiffel Tower.

Going through the musty belongings
of my adventurous landlord, another old pilot,
newspapers, magazines, ghosts
crying out from bundled archives,
I found a thin red book, clothbound,
Exerpta Therapuetica in gold lettering
published back then by a drug company.
Bubonic plague spreads from Adelaide to Sydney.
The Black Death. Rats. Buboes bursting.
The book advises on home treatment,
ventilation, rest, medicines of the day.
My mind, skittering from the horror,
admires the onionskin pages.
Their fraught sickbeds offered some consolation,
brandy, beer, and stout are all prescribed.
Imbecilic with dread, I would need the brandy.

It has grown late while I inhabit the past,
So few sounds of tyres on a wet road
during lockdown, so deathly quiet.
I raise this exquisite book, sniff its cryptic odour.

Laura Grace Weldon – Randomized Trial

Laura Grace Weldon
Randomized Trial

by virus is not so random.
We hide our faces, count
one Mississippi, two Mississippi.

Sickness spreads in corners where no one
wants to hunker, sinks into bodies
history has long held down

gasping ignored on wider tree-lined streets
where death stats are weighed
against stock market trends.

There’s no placebo effect in this trial.
Peer review isn’t the woman who tweets,
Do you even know someone who has it?

We’re still counting
three Mississippi, four Mississippi,
five million Mississippi…

Kim Whysall-Hammond – Ground-glass opacity

Kim Whysall-Hammond
Ground-glass opacity

Soft as a blown rose, a tiny killer
seeps into your everything, even white bone.
Sharp receptors grip like crampons as it
climbs down the chimney of your throat
to the soft hinterland of your lungs
ripe meadows about to be trashed.
Once base camp is set up
it storms your defences
you die hard and slow
fighting for every breath.

Emma Lee – She Never Thought About Sleep Before

Emma Lee
She Never Thought About Sleep Before

It was just something that happened
after a long shift, serving with a smile,
dash back to a studio apartment,
a rushed microwave dinner, wash off
make-up and the difficult customer,
and fall into bed. Blank until morning.
Repeat. Until commuters were no
longer customers, her job went,
the landlord suggested an alternative
way to pay her rent so she packed
her life into a rucksack and left.
Closed businesses meant no waste
cardboard to make a base to sleep on,
no leftovers for people like her.
Sleep was dozing, jerking awake,
dozing. One eye open for danger.
Deserted streets left her invisible.
Until a charity worker found her.
Wary but defenceless, she followed
him to a hostel, a shower, a bed
and fifteen hours straight sleep.

Meryl Stratford – Night’s Candles

Meryl Stratford
Night’s Candles

I went to the movies
wept over Tom Hanks
dying of AIDS in Philadelphia
thought of Key West
Cayo Hueso, Isle of Bones,
thought of Charles, David, Oscar, Larry,
thought of Michael in Steambath
Larry, one of The Boys in the Band
Oscar, storming through night after night of Extremities
David, the wild boy in Orphans.
Thought of Michael Bennett
before he was Michael Bennett
just an incredibly talented kid
growing up in Buffalo
everybody could see
he was going to be somebody
he had a long Italian name
said he was going to change it
call himself Bennett for Bennett High School.
Thought of Charles, Charles of the burning blue eyes
everyone lusted for Charles, the girls, the guys,
even straight guys when they’d had a few drinks would say
if I were gay, I would love Charles.
Charles playing word games, mind games
a game of Essence
Charles getting stoned
Charles sunbathing on the wooden pier, queer pier,
Charles who came to my first poetry reading.
Charles teaching jazz class in a tank top and tight pants
all muscle and sweat on the edge of the music
improvising funky arms, a crazy turn
and a thrust of the pelvis
he’d smile and say just get the first eight counts
the class kept moving, punctuated by jokes
the class kept moving, punctuated by laughter
in a dark theatre you’d always know
Charles in the audience, his raucous laughter.
Ah, Charles.
Charles in As Is, he played the healthy one
Charles in denial, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get sick,
Charles in anger,
he said I work off emotion
what he felt was anger.
Charles gone on a trip to the Holy Land
Charles back in town, I met him at the deli
he was pale, wearing a blue wool cap,
was that the last time I kissed him
soft, on his cheek.
He said he was tired of teaching beginners
he was teaching meditation now
at the sanctuary.
Charles in his last play, El Grande,
the sombrero and the fake moustache
they say he collapsed after every scene
pulled himself together and went back on
Charles giving away autographed pictures
me frantically waving
and he brought me one
all the way in the last row.

Algo – An Unknown Track

An Unknown Track

The currency of fear does not devalue
Nor does it enrich our lives.
Huddled behind closed doors,
Not unhinged,
But getting there,
And at the same time getting nowhere.
Everywhere forbidden unless essential.
Contactless and reverential.
The washing or wringing of hands.
Alcohol part of the ceremony.
Heading down an unknown track,
At great speed.

Jami Fairleigh – Baking with Meryl Streep

Jami Fairleigh
Baking with Meryl Streep

Whenever I forget to feed Meryl Streep, she starts to stink. You could even say she goes a little boozy. A boozy floozy. I never imagined I’d have a relationship with Meryl or a relationship of any kind with something I keep in my refrigerator, but that’s the magic of these crazy times.
      Long before the rebirth of sourdough, before our Instagram feeds choked with images of glorious home-baked loaves, I’d ordered my copy of Ken Forkish’s book, Flour Water Salt Yeast. I’d poured over the descriptions, I’d read about the merits of home-ground flour, and I’d confidently begun a starter. And then another, and another. Each ended in disaster and the loaves of bread I tried to craft were bricks of doom: flat, lifeless, dead. I put away my fantasy loaves and did the sensible thing; I bought bread from the store.
      My foray into the world of baking was mirrored by my attempts at writing. Yearning to translate the stories my imagination conjured into real books, I bought a few books about creating fiction and got ready to write. That fresh document, that unsullied notebook with all those blank pages—they provided a sense of promise. Here soon, a story would be born, crafted of imagination and dreams.
      Like my baking, I soon learned that stories didn’t just happen; one could not write a novel armed with a wisp of an idea and the desire to have written a book. Sadly, I concluded that the magic of writing, that alchemy of creating something from nothing, was just not for me. I was a person who would buy my bread and buy my books.
      Then a tiny-tiny virus put the great big world on pause and suddenly, I had time. Time to worry, time to eat, and time to clean out our closets and my bookshelves. Time to reexamine my life, time to dust off old manuscripts, and time to revive story ideas that had been languishing in the recesses of my mind. I started again. I pulled out the draft of the novel I’d been working on, I revived my neglected blog, and I began a new sourdough starter and named her Meryl Streep.
      This time it worked. This time I had the secret ingredient, the magical component that had eluded me before; Time. Time to focus, time to experiment, time to dream. Now, I’ve picked the launch date for that novel, I’ve rediscovered how writing feeds creativity, and I’ve learned that when you make time for it, you can actually create something from nothing. I’ve also learned that a little of Meryl goes a long way. AQ

Lawdenmarc Decamora – Quarantine: A Song

Lawdenmarc Decamora
Quarantine: A Song
Somehow the cure is kept
in the hips of the wind,
in the neck of the trees
in your village where
you waited for me
to declare, oh, my mouth’s
a closed souvenir shop.
There was in my breathing
an image long quarantined,
a feeling squirming
through tiny cracks
and tight checkpoints.
A fresh start to trace
my path to your fever
dream’s thousand tremolos.
I kept silent, my lips fuller
from your pain’s sweet
medicine. They’re wet
with what you’ve overcome.
And like sugar in the new
normal’s breath, you gave
me morning, my dear,
as you gave abundance
to agriculture. Light
would embrace the shades
again. I thought I saw you
standing by the silver lake,
and then I thought
I found the cure.

Laurel Feigenbaum – All I Wanted

Laurel Feigenbaum
All I Wanted

All I wanted to do this morning
was get out of bed.
Pick up my old life.

Do my ablutions.
Dress. Make a protein shake.
That’s all I wanted.

Jump in the car. Green light my way.
Join yoga classmates.
Pick up my old life.

Grab mat, bolster, blocks, blanket.
Sit cross-legged.

After, order coffee or tea at the bakery.
Share a scone or cinnamon twist.
That’s all I wanted.

Instead I’m home, alone
in a room with Zoom.
A make-shift imitation of my old life.

A flat screen and thumbnail images.
Om, Namaste in virtual yoga.
Not at all how I expected to spend
these last single-digit years of my life.