Desperation

Katrina K Guarascio

is not merely a flash of color.
You can caress it, cradle it,

wrap it around your fist
like the links of a chain.
It pinches the skin,
cuts to the pink.

I am not one to chew lips
or graze nail tips, but
on nights like this
desperation crawls beneath surface,

lurks inside rough veins roped around arm,
treads under the soft tissue of neck,
I can see it pulse.

The salt of it can
not be denied,
the stink can not
go ignored.
I have been playing
fill in the blanks
with crossed eyes only
to come to the conclusion
that all of this,

ALL OF THIS

is for nothing.

Can’t you see that?

The hiss of heartbeat
is not generous enough
and with every scratch
the healing takes a little longer.
If the skin is already dead,
then the venom will recede.
Not even a scar remains.

The cut was never that deep.

I tended my own wounds
before you ever had
a chance to see them.
There was never any pain,
I just didn’t realize
how easily skin could split.

Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga
stands on my street corner,
collecting autumn fog in her bag,
where she hides the moon;

She plays hide-and-seek with the crows
in the old graveyard across the street,
coaxes my storm-battered shutters
to open to the crisp fall air;

And the crows sing
a funeral dirge,
calling me back everyday;
I have always been attracted to melancholy. 

I have always played this same game
of hide-and-seek-again from fear,
from feelings,

But when Baba Yaga catches my eye,
I see a change
shining back.

Still, I wonder:
“Old crone, do you bring Death?”

She answers, “No, not I,”
though Death is there
at my doorstep
Everyday

When I open my window
to the street
where Baba Yaga
sits atop her gravestone throne.

And yet, 
this witch,
with her circling crows:
harbingers of bad omens,
brings Hope

but maybe not for today.

“Tomorrow,” she says,
“when I release the moon
from my bag
and fall’s fog becomes winter frost
and when spring blooms

Then you can name the stars Hope again.”

Baba Yaga
stands on my street corner
collecting autumn fog
in her bag

And I’m still waiting
for her to
give the moon back.

Protestant Burial Ground, Chapleau Ontario;
photograph by Maxine L. Peseke, 2020.

© Maxine L. Peseke, September 2020

Today

The cold air surprised me,

in addition to the fact 

that I couldn’t remember if the word surprise 

is written with an s or with a z.

I also forgot that last week 

that I ordered chocolate 

for my grocery pickup order today,

discovered it in the bottom of the bag.

I rip through the simple cardboard,

the delicate foil, place an inch and a half 

of deep brown cacao with salt flakes 

on my tongue, rest it at the top 

of the mouth to smell the flavor. 

Decadent, my friend says, irresistible, I say.

The noises of my tongue fully engaged.

My taste buds, wrapped around memory,

around the heart of all we forget.

This chocolate smells like Easter as a child,

a holiday whose scent, to me, is not of grass 

or white patent leather shoes restricting 

the feet with white tights, not of Jesus dying 

or gone missing and reappearing, or the scent 

of a holiday ham, but of sugar. 

Chocolate in the shape of a rabbit,

rainbow colored flavors of beans, colorful 

plastic eggs stuffed with candy, waiting in the yard. 

They are unlike the roses that collect 

dust, as if the only way to have peace is to grow old.

Candy that waits to belong 

to someone’s mouth’s desire, in spring. 

But now, the autumn of the heart 

has brilliant colors, ones that do not know 

suffering, protect the self 

from the wind and storm they did not birth.

The many things we can ask the heart 

may be a surprise. A surprise with an s 

may be softer than one with a z,

but a z always seems to be 

a letter that is more fun.

ask your heart–

ask your heart

I.

May I be happy?

May I be loved?

May I be worthy of that love?

May I be at peace?

May I be strong enough?

May I be okay alone?

II.

There is so much happening in the world and with all my roles–mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, neighbor, voter…I sometimes forget the role of SELF. The role self and all I need in order to have harmony. On empty, I can’t accomplish much.

III.

On empty,

I won’t get very far

if I am driving –my body– this vehicle, on empty

will putter, stall, stop. Getting nowhere. I’ll just be stuck here, stuck with these emotions, stuck with these fears, stuck on EMPTY.

IV.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

ask your heart

May I have energy?

She will say, yes. She looks out for you. Pumps life into you without any other reason than she loves you. Once-in-a-while, she’d like you to take a moment in gratitude. Place your hand on her, feel her strength and say, “Thank you.”

So Heart,

“Thank you. Thank you for beating all these years, for giving me life for all these years. Such a gift to see my daughter grow, to see my son grow, to see the sun rise and set 16,790 times–truly, that’s a miracle.

I am

grateful.”

Gina Marselle, 10/17/2020

Hermosa Beach, Cali | July 2019 | Gina Marselle

Puttering Around a Haunted House

by Emily G. Bjustrom

Ghosts gather under the refrigerator
Behind the dresser
And on the coat closet floor

In the milky daylight
The ghosts hunt for memories
To dance with
-a 12th birthday party-
-that day at the beach-
-a girl alone, left on the front steps-

In the day it’s plain
The past stalks the present
In shadows and from the corners of eyes.

A cold home.
A woman unburdened.
But haunted still by the weight
Of a dirty faced child
A demanding desk
The heavy gaze of a girl waiting on the steps.

Lydia + The Cradle

Poet’s note:
Every October, there is a bittersweetness in the air. To quote L.M. Montgomery, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” October is the marking of my secondborn daughter’s birth, but it is also a marker of remembrance: as the month of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day (October 15th), I felt stirred to share two particular poems of mine. I am #oneinfour and will not be quiet about my experiences, both hopeful (as in Lydia) and mournful (as in The Cradle). I am glad to live in a world where there are Octobers, and where I am not alone.
Thank you for reading. — Maxine

Lydia

There is an empty pit in my womb
that cries out for the existence of you.
Hoping this is not a test, but truth instead
and even though we could never afford you
and ends are hard enough to connect;

I still feel you, in the deepest part of my womb,
feel your heart beating between mine,
crying out with that old, familiar song:
I love you, I love you, I love you;
Lydia.

You already had a name,
Daddy already saying “she” and “her”
as if he knew, and craving to hold you, just as I did.
Lydia, you already had a name.
Lydia, a place reserved in our hearts.
Lydia, never doubt you were wanted…

But Mommy and Daddy couldn’t afford you
and we never intended to be rid of you.
Though this empty pit in my womb is all for the best
and just so you know, in your non-existence;
I cried at the first sign that you were gone.
Mourning you in the same fashion mothers mourn miscarriages.

Because Lydia, we loved you before we even knew for sure.
Lydia, this empty womb waits for you.
Lydia, Lydia Lydia; our joy was in a waltz with fear
but we had such hope for you:
A dream for our little family, my little dear.

and Mommy’s been here before,
but there was never hope waiting
There was never solidity, never the want,
there was never you: our baby.
Lydia, wait for me until we’re ready.

The test is now negative,
guilt replacing you in my empty womb

But Lydia, I’ll wait for you.

The Cradle

This body was not carved correctly for a baby

That’s what I tell myself when you fell from my womb
cradle dropping bloodied chunks of my uterine lining
when I turned my stomach inside, outside, inside again
(I tried to hold you in)

While my tree linings swung cradle
from thin branch to thin branch
only to crash, to fall, cradle and all;
and I tried to hold you in,
tried to carve my failing womb into a cradle to house you

And she fell from the womb too soon
my womb, my body, unwilling to hold her in
while my mind was so desperate
to carve tree branches
into something sturdy

but my womb was made up of something brittle inside
and then tree branches snapped, then the cradle falls

And I wonder what my innards are carved from—
whole pieces of the child that was beginning to stain my underthings
Tree branches so brittle, this cradle might have been carved from bone
and I’d give up my ribcage just to hold you in
I’d give up my whole life just to know my body was carved correctly
to make a cradle for the baby I miscarried

I’d become a carpenter just to cut down that tree
before it falls, before cradle comes crashing down, baby and all
and this was all happening inside of me, so I wonder:
weren’t we carved from the same tree
wasn’t my body strong enough to carve a cradle rather than a casket

Weren’t you strong enough to sleep through it all;
Baby, sleep, don’t cry,
don’t fall.

© Maxine L. Peseke, 2015

Lydia is previously published in Swimming with Elephants Publications’ Catching Calliope Winter 2015 edition and The Cradle is previously published in Parade, Swimming with Elephants Publications’ 2018 anthology.

Maxine L. Peseke is a writer, mother, and sometimes freelance editor; she also works closely with Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, as an organizational assistant. She is currently living in a small Northern Ontario town, transplanted from New Mexico respectively where she originally met each of Saturday’s Sirens as part of the Albuquerque poetry community.

Since the pandemic, she has rejoined the group for regular virtual meetings.

Great Divine Mother Isis

You have helped the dead enter the afterlife,

The dead, who have carried their 21 grams 

of soul, so much less than a pound, 

even less than a kilogram, the weight of our essence,

a summation of all we have been and seen,

the weight of us and the depth 

of how we have loved.

Royal Isis, with a throne upon your head,

I beg you now to turn people away

from the land of the dead,

to evaluate the recent population growth there,

keep the gates closed to new entries.

On earth, it is a new moon, 

the night sky is dark and we are overwhelmed 

with death, can’t suffer its antics, 

its bad jokes, its salty cold tea. 

The songs of the mountains reach to us,

but we cannot hear the lyrics or the melodies,

just a whine of the hollowing of trees. 

We try to hold the colors of the sky, 

but instead, end up balancing its weight 

on the edges of our 21 grams.

It’s the fear, Isis, 

that we are beginning to hold of each other.

It began with the fear of contagion,

turned to fear of breath, of touch,

of all that makes us dangerously, gloriously human.

When people come in their full party dresses,

their holey pajamas, their strained smiles,

their chests gasping for air, ask them 

to turn back. 

Then take a vacation for yourself.

Close the afterlife down for another time

when we’re more ready with carnations,

waiting to say a proper goodbye.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

Image by Darla Hueske:: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sierragoddess/

Thirst

Dedicated to those fighting fires.

Thirst sits heavy in my throat
Opaque smoke hangs
Confident in the New Mexican sky
Our ancient sky is now a holder of smoke
For all the fires burning to the west, Northwest
As the winds shift
The Southwest
Wraps the smoke into its four corners

I pray for rain to clear the atmosphere
I miss our blue sky
Miss seeing the Sandias
Then I feel guilt

I have no right to miss the sky
A family misses their child more
Their small son and his dog—the dog stayed with his boy
As the smoke stifled both
Found together, the pup curled in his lap
Reading the news article, I just can’t—
Tears for this lost. Tears for the raging fire
The angry fires that burn
Mother nature can be vicious in her descent

She may also be loving
We pray, I pray, on my knees for holy water,
For rain to fill the fiery sky
For a tsunami of water
To drench the burning lands, tress, homes

Loss of life is too much, we are already fighting a pandemic
And protests.And police brutality.Andunity.And.And.And—
It’s too much
I want to drown my thirst into moments of peace
Gulp tranquility, HOPE
Until my belly is full and I’m bloated
I want to breathe water
Inhale, exhale
I pray for a universe of water to drench
Destructive fires—gift each life a chance

Water is humble—
It is difficult to ask for help
With faith, prayer, I look up and within a blink
There is a portion of the New Mexico sky
Giving me hope that eventually
The smoke will settle, the fires will succumb
This thirst quenched with life-healing water

© Gina Marselle September 16, 2020

Note: This work was inspired by a call for poets to write on the theme of water. I recorded this poem and it was shared during the “Volume 27 of Wednesday Night Poetry Virtual Open Mic, Poetry Through the Pandemic.” Poet, Author, Teaching Artist, Photographer and Host of Wednesday Night Poetry, Kai Coggin, invited poets to share poems about water to bring on the rains to drench the fires raging the west and Northwest parts of the United States. “Wednesday Night Poetry is physically held each week at Kollective Coffee+Tea in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, but is now held virtually to poets all over the world!”

© Gina Marselle | Offering | 9.18.202

The hour that stretches–

into a day
looking forward to the end,
before the first bite of coffee
nips at my lips

I’d like to fall asleep before I’ve even woken.

into a week
wishing everybody could have
a Wednesday holiday,
just to offer midweek reprieve
between Monday blues
and Friday’s hopeful praise

I’d like to have a reason to wake up on Wednesdays again.

into a month
wondering when summer fades
into fall
and what will September bring
when July has already felt too long

I want to backtrack to November’s first snowfall.

into a year
I’ve seen thirty of them now,
and remember half as many:
prior to twelve is foggy
from sea of bad memories and trauma;
beyond twenty, I have recollected memories
and pushed more to the side,
and I’d prefer the next ten years
to be peaceful, and come in stride

But this hour pushes back, instead,
stretched
to infinity.

Sunset over Chapleau, Ontario.

© Maxine L. Peseke, July/August 2020

Guest Poet:

AC6B6C63-B90C-4491-BA7D-17BB570B6F73

Maxine L. Peseke is a writer, mother, and sometimes freelance editor; she also works closely with Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, as an organizational assistant. She is currently living in a small Northern Ontario town, transplanted from New Mexico respectively where she originally met each of Saturday’s Sirens as part of the Albuquerque poetry community.

Since the pandemic, she has rejoined the group for regular virtual meetings.

Abecedarian for Abrazos

Abrazo is the word for hug in Spanish.

Brazos is the word for arms.

Carrying arms, calm arms, crazy arms wrapping around you.

Daring to love you.

Even just for a moment’s greeting.

Fleeting and quick or perhaps, at times, longer.

Grab you out of your own space and world, no, that’s not the type of hug I’m talking about.

Hopeful, held, healing, those are the embraces I speak of.

I miss the casual abrazos from acquaintances.

Jolly.

Kindhearted.

Lovely, put you at ease, hugs.

Make you feel like you know each other, trust each other, at least a little.

Not awkward, but a simple greeting.

Or hugs of friends that might linger, like you’re holding onto something precious.

Perhaps love, a caring, an importance.

Quiet, unspoken, the work of brazos.

Reaching arms, reaching for you, for me, reaching love, reaching.

Sacrament, sacred.

Trust.

Under the sky we have all been hurt beneath, the same sun, the same moon.

Volumes of possibility.

Where we all feel closer, safer, stronger.

Xerox copies of hugs seem like all I have right now.

Yearning, I swear, I yearn for that closeness.

Zero hugs from friends, zero from acquaintances, zero is too few and yes, I miss them without having known I would have.

-Liza Wolff-Francis