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.

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.

Daun Daemon – The 2020 Christmas Cards

Daun Daemon
The 2020 Christmas Cards

Dear Aunt Jean,

The whole family misses seeing you and hopes you are well. Everyone knows the staff nurses at Sunset Pines take extraordinary care of the residents. I hope to drive the four hours to stand outside your window and wave at you soon.

Dear Bob and Laura,

I heard through the grapevine that you plan to leave California — and move to Arizona of all places! The fires were really frightening, but I’m sure you’ll miss those hills, the wineries, and the house you rebuilt so magnificently after the previous fires. You’re leaving at a good time. Too many people out there are having big parties and running around unmasked.

To my sweet sister and her husband,

Christmas will not be the same without our family gathering this year. Please keep Mama safe — you really shouldn’t let the kids and grandkids come over.

I know our politics often clash, but one thing we can agree on is that we love each other no matter how misguided in thinking we believe the others are. I won’t gloat this year because I recall how I felt four years ago.

My cherished BFF,

Thank you so much for the wonderful Advent wines! I know I’m supposed to sample one a day, but I’ve already pulled out a few bottles to “taste test” as I write. (I just finished the card for one of the sisters, so the wee bottles are exactly what I need right now.) We WILL go on our Caribbean vacay next year! Let’s spend time planning all the wonderful future adventures we’ll have and not crying over the ones we missed this year.

To Dr. Shannon and staff at We Care Cat Clinic,

Many purrs to you this holiday season from da boyz: Maximus, Boris, and Dude! All of us miss our sweet Josephine, and we thank you for taking such good care of her at the end. Though February was many months ago, it seems like just yesterday that she crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

                        (← sorry about the wet spots there)

I wish I could drop off a tin of cheese straws this year, as usual, but I understand why you are letting only the kitties come in right now.

Dear students who are no longer my students,

HAhaha. This isn’t a real card but I’m writing it anyway. Wish I could send it. Ha! That was a sentence fragment. MMmmmmmm this pinot noir is really nice. Better than the cabernet. Ooooh . . . the next one is a prosecco. Anyway, I just read my evaluations and want to say thank you to the ones who understood that online classes are JUST AS HARD FOR ME as they are for you. The rest of you seem to think the world revolves are you. It does NOT. Try harder to appreciate what your teachers do and offer CONSTRUCTIVE COMMENTS not petty diatribes. Oh! nice rose this is. Ha! I just Yoda talked. OMG is that a BAROLO?

Deap Ptraiec,

mY bets freend EVER — thnak you or the vines. Dudes snffffing hte merloo. LOL alreefy wrot youre card!!

[cat paw prints tracked from wine]


Dear Mama,

I wanted to send you a separate card from the ones I sent everybody else. Isn’t the photo of the sleigh pulled by eight tiny kittens adorable?! I want to come visit, but I’m staying away to make sure you stay healthy. Please wear a mask when the grandkids and great-grandkids visit. I know you want to hug everybody, especially the babies, but you need to stay healthy. Your 89th birthday is just a few months away! If the vaccines work a miracle for us all, I’ll see you then.