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Three Poems by Briana Craig

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Crisis Economics in Three Parts
I.
Supply and demand. You have learned there are two things in supply and three in demand. You walk to the market with only your adolescent body and a locked front door. You ask the salesman whether he stocks safety, compassion, or at least a birthday cake. Supply is low. Demand is high. You cannot afford this. You wish that pocket lint and welts operated as currency.

II.
Prices depend on preferences. But sometimes gold and pyrite look the same to the unfocused eye. A miner sifts you out of the river and holds you to the light. You do not know whether you are gold or pyrite – all you know is that this man’s eyes eat at your glimmer. But this hand feels more comforting than the rush of drowning. Yes, even if these eyes judge you, even if this hand pockets you for later.

III.
Information is a resource. Was it the first drink he threw in your face? Or was it the first time you spilt a drink and didn’t profusely apologize to the imagined raised hands and voices? That bystander who intervened – did he teach you that men too, could show compassion? When did you learn how fools handled gold? When did you learn the agency of your supply and the power of your demand? Can you put a value on the knowledge that safety and happiness could be yours to hold?
Is that how you escaped it all?

Ruminations

It is 1:40am. A brain can knit threads together all evening,
Weaving cashmere thoughts, wool images, strings of consciousness.
I will crochet sweaters from the lonely night air when…
My mind is on loop.

It is 2:33am. A brain can plan layouts of a hundred arboretums:
Here is where we grow hawthorn hands, willow words, bamboo breath.
But planning and planting good intentions are different things when…
My mind is on loop.

It is 4:15am. A brain can shuffle among the spirits of moments
Sit among the conversation graves, dignity coffins, anger burials.
Every night I rebuild this cemetery to honor these memories when…
My mind is on loop.

Appalachian Spine

My brother once pulled a crawfish
From the stream. He held it in his
Hands, gave it a name, and kept in in a
Tank outside – but it froze that night.

I hear the echoes of the South. My
birthplace, the stage for my becoming.
I owe Appalachia for my grits, my spine,
My gift for comforting others.

But I know about the words carved on trees
Marking the purest form of destructive love.
I know for whom the church bells ring.
I know the clay is red for two reasons.

Can a crawfish survive an overnight freeze?
Should we have let the water thaw before
discarding the tiny body in the morning?
Or was this death unrecoverable?

Unlearning is an act of self-love.
But I understand hesitation to turn
the pickaxe on your own foundation.
To let yourself thaw and see…

Schrödinger tell me… Do you
cut away the roots that drank poison
instead of love. Drank poison and love?
Dead or alive – are you unfrozen?

I see dead crawfish when I think
some things are better left alone.
But what if there was a chance?
There is still unlearning to do.

Briana G. Craig (she/her/hers) is a researcher who moonlights as a writer of stories, poetry, and plays. She prefers to write about the experiences of women and recently published an all-female one-act play titled, Purple Ink (Pioneer Drama, 2020). She credits caffeine and her cat, Navi, as her main sources of inspiration.


Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Two Poems by Maggie Bowyer

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Losing Sight

You were the first person

I reached towards,

A single, shaking arm

Plunged into the thick

Fog of fresh grief.

You pulled me through

The first awful snow,

The first month on Earth

Without her;

You pulled me through

Blunt smoke in a strangers

Bedroom, ash covering

Bedspreads (which we would

Soon spread our bodies against).

You pulled me through

A dissociative dream that was

Spring semester;

Part of me fears

I will be a Junior forever.

You pulled me through

Long class lectures

And unfamiliar hallways.

You pulled me through

Relationships and wreckage,

Much of which, I’ll admit,

I created.

You grasped the horns

Of this life (a few too many times)

With all of your might,

Until that last night.

Until you were pulled

(A bit too deep)

Into the diseased drugs

Clouding our hometown.

I’m so glad I got out

Alive.

(I’m so sorry I didn’t

Have the strength

To pull you through).

Devoured

I just thought you should know

She twists every story into

Something you’d devour

Faster than a piping pretzel.

I thought you deserved to know

She doesn’t just crack us like eggs,

She has left half a dozen of us

To rot with our shells shattered.

I thought you deserved a warning:

If you don’t run for the exit now,

She will toss you out along with

The leftovers from two weeks ago,

The other ones she forgot about.

Maggie Bowyer (they/them/theirs) is a poet and the author of The Whole Story (Margaret Bowyer, 2020) and When I Bleed: Poems about Endometriosis (2021). They are a blogger and essayist with a focus on Endometriosis and chronic pain. They have been featured in Germ Magazine, Detour Ahead, Poetry 365, and others. They were the Editor-in-Chief of The Lariat Newspaper, a quarter-finalist in Brave New Voices 2016, and were a Marilyn Miller Poet Laureate.


Image by Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Kerze — 2021 — 5491” / CC BY-SA 4.0

Four Poems by Katherine Anderson Howell

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Morning Class in Washington, D.C.

A sparrow collides, falls
glass to concrete

Beak opens, body spasms.

A student looks:
me, bird, back.

She wants instructions.

Touch the bird
to do what?

Stun it back into life?

Set it upright, so instinct
will hop it away?

We exhale, watch

tail feathers, black, brown,
trimmed in white, stutter, relax.

Look another second for a light,

a lifting, an indication that
something is gone.

She stares, harmed by silence.

I open the door,
motion her through.

Fourth of July, Petworth

Green sparks buzz,
screech through the cedar,
the intersection ablaze
with spinning wheels.
The crepe myrtle hides
the flames of bottle rockets.

Boys, exhausted, sleep.
We drink wine
on the porch, jump
as the neighbors set off
booms; laugh at the lull
when the police cruise by.

Mortars echo like cannon
fire, sounds of joy and revolution
and war. And for a second,
we are scared,
like the baby
who will wake
every two hours,
cry at the sound
of closed doors
for two days.

Two stray embers
separated from a peony’s
crackle, float
orphaned through the smoking
sky, refusing to burn out.

Mary Cassatt Plays Cards

Hands on knees, she leans
forward, bends elbows.
Clever hint of smile.
That black dress.
No time for your
nonsense, shows her
hand, twists the cards
as her thumbs touch.
You still won’t win. Visibility is
concealment. You can’t
destroy what is completely
seen. She knows, cuts
her eyes to the side.
Her life spent painting
relegated to a contemporary of Degas.
Look at how she played that one:
center of the gallery.
Draw in around her,
learn her name, sense her face,
know the artist you thought
mattered loved her. She’s beaten you
by showing everything.

Katherine Anderson Howell writes and parents in Washington, D.C. She is a licensed esthetician, independent scholar, 2020 Best of the Net nominee, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work can be found in places as varied as Whale Road Review, Misfit Magazine, and Burnt Pine, among others.


Image by Antonio Manfredonio, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Remembering Those Who Lived These Lives by Joe Baur

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Slovakia countryside

I’m in Bardejov, Slovakia with my camera, looking for a link to my past. Photography has never been my primary trade, but rather a complement to my writing over the past decade. A month earlier I had never heard of this northeastern Slovakian city. Nevertheless, there I was, following my family line back to Slovakia on a tip from a newly discovered distant cousin on a genealogy website–all with the unabting enthusiasm of a puppy tracking a scent.

My ancestry search began with a DNA test the year prior. I always knew I had Jewish heritage, but I never considered it in terms of peoplehood or culture. It was just a religion I didn’t grow up in. However, seeing my DNA results displayed on a pie chart changed my perception and fueled a desire to know more. I realized my Jewish heritage was an irreplaceable part of my genetic makeup. 

I moved to Germany two years before my adventures in Bardejov, hooked on the overseas experience after a summer in India and nearly a year in Costa Rica. Germany wasn’t by any means the end goal, but it was where the opportunity first arose to live in Europe. I could experience a vast array of cultures and languages and visit them all by train. 

The Rhine river was flowing outside my office window as I reviewed my DNA results. Out of pure happenstance–or fate if you believe in such things–I was in the cradle of Ashkenazi civilization, a relatively short trip away from the shtetl of my ancestors. I had to see what I could find.

Partially restored synagogue ceiling in Slovakia

A local researcher meets me within hours of my arrival in Bardejov. He’s the archetype of a good-natured grandfather: opinionated, jovial, and occasionally contemplative. One minute he’s laughing, the next he’s lamenting the loss of the local Jewish population and the incomprehension of a people targeted for extermination simply for being.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why he’s offered to show me around the region and visit the restored synagogue. In the end, I chalk it up to his grandfatherly charm. It reminds me of when my father met my sister-in-law for the first time and channeled his excitement by driving her down every single side street in Northeast Ohio, pointing out this or that along the way despite her obvious car sickness.

Moving around town, I realize I don’t know what I’m looking for. All I know is that any link I find to the past is bound to be abstract at best. It’s not like popping by your childhood home, decades after you’ve moved out, looking for the handprints you left behind on the garage cement; it’s stopping by a neighborhood halfway across the world after two world wars because of a tip from a guy you met online.

Like far too many corners of Europe, almost all traces of Jewish life have vanished in Bardejov. Even the lives of those who passed long before the Shoa are hard to imagine. Some details are still there, but they’re easy to miss, like the small piece of faded doorpost where a mezuzah was once set.

Easier to spot are the tombstones, at least the ones left standing. A wall protects a Jewish resting place not far from that lost mezuzah. There’s a Hebrew inscription at the gate with a number you can call to get in. But inside, it’s virtually empty. The tombstones have all been destroyed, save for a few slabs of stone left standing amongst the wild grass. I take a photo of the emptiness as my host explains that the tombstones were desecrated and turned into cement for roads.

“Reconnecting” by Joe Baur; A tombstone emerges among the brush in a cemetery in Bardejov

We continue to another cemetery. This one was left remarkably unscathed in comparison; perhaps because it’s slightly more inconvenient to access, being situated on a small hill.

I keep my camera ready by my side. At this point, I let instinct tell me when to frame a shot. I capture a few wide shots of the cemetery with the tombstones standing in neat rows. Only a couple appear to have lost their grip on the soil. As I wade between tombstones and loose, naked springtime branches, I decide to capture a closeup of a headstone. I’m surprised by its ornateness. Something this old, I expected a worn slab sticking out of the ground with faded text. The Hebrew is as legible as a Haaretz headline.

Later, I leave my camera at the hotel and go for a run. Meandering around the trails, I wonder what it means to return to the shtetl of my ancestors. Do I feel more connected to my Jewishness? Is my Yiddishkeit activating like a lion returned to its natural habitat? Or am I just happy to be traveling someplace more peaceful and low-key than Paris or London?

Weeks later, I’m watching a film about a far-right, anti-Semitic Hungarian politician who discovers his own grandmother is Jewish and survived the Holocaust. Rabbi Boruch Oberlander joins the politician in a long journey to try and make amends while reconnecting with his heritage. In one scene, the two walk side-by-side in a Jewish cemetery. Rabbi Oberlander explains to his student why they made the journey.

“You come to the cemetery to think. We have to remember those who lived these lives and also the fate of the Jewish people. So coming back here is in fact reconnecting with your ancestors…”

A light bulb suddenly blazed inside my brain. I need to remember these lives, and appreciate how my life is tied to the fate of the Jewish people. I decide to dive deeper, to learn and experience more. Who were my ancestors, and where did they go? I return to the genealogical puzzle that is my Jewish heritage, determined to solve the next mystery and find the next shtetl.

Joe Baur was born outside of Cleveland, Ohio. In 2015, he received his Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University For Peace in Costa Rica while reporting for The Tico Times. After a brief stint back in the United States, he moved overseas to Düsseldorf, Germany where he published “Talking Tico: (Mis)adventures of a Gringo in and Around Costa Rica” on his time in Costa Rica and served as Managing Editor for trivago Magazine––a digital travel outlet. Three years after his initial move to Düsseldorf, he relocated across the country to Berlin where he regularly reports for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and pursues other writing, photography, and filmmaking projects that often focus on identity. Website: www.joebaur.com.

Joe Baur is an artist featured in “Authenticity and Identity”, a visual arts exhibition curated by Ori Z. Soltes on display at Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C., April 6 to May 15, 2021. To learn more about the exhibition visit https://authenticityandidentity.com/.

Two Poems by Marianne Szlyk

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Bellevue Library

I remember this library as hidden
in trees, perched on the hillside,
pierced by birdsong.

I looked out from the second floor
to see the oak trees, not the cars
parked up and down Atlantic Street
or the woman my age
pushing her cart of stale bread,
hamburger meat, and limp greens
home from the bus stop.

I think about Bellevue Library
in these days of quarantine.
Some patrons have
become ghosts waiting
at Metro’s closed stations
for the trains that no one
living rides anymore.
I think about the women
I wrote with when we were birds
perched on the hillside, singing.

But this time
I’ll see the woman my age
pushing her cart of fresh greens
and pineapple to juice.
She is walking home past
the library, her library,
not yet open these days
of quarantine.

Imagine That You Are Walking
After T-Square, 2020, by Tara Hayes

Lines drawn onto the wash of color
could be walls, steps, billboards, tiles.
The design in the corner could be
a Chinese character or graffiti.

You could be walking the corridor
to the Orange or Red Line.
Except for the fierce blue.
No ceiling in public
could be that pure.

You are outside.
If there are trees, they are part
of the wash of color,
some green, some brown.

This may be winter,
before you stayed indoors,
sketching on napkins from cafes
that may never open again
or from the place on Centre,
the Chinese takeout that still delivers.

It may be spring, a scene
glimpsed from a window
while drinking homemade coffee
and reading the obituaries online.

This may be fall or next summer,
the future when you can walk
outside without a mask,
brush past people you do not know,
sit inside a café, take a bus
to see a movie, even
leave this city.

Look long enough
and benches emerge
just as flowers and bushes,
stained glass windows
and the last wooden gingerbread
emerge when you are walking.

Even in your imagination,
you don’t sit down.

Marianne Szlyk is a professor at Montgomery College. Her poems have appeared in of/with, bird’s thumb, Setu, Verse-Virtual, Solidago, Bourgeon, Muddy River Poetry Review, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, and the Loch Raven Review as well as a few anthologies. Her books On the Other Side of the Window and Poetry en Plein Air are available from Amazon. She has revived her blog-zine The Song Is… as a summer-only publication: http://thesongis.blogspot.com. She and her husband the wry poet Ethan Goffman lead It Takes a Community, a poetry group that is now flourishing on Zoom.

Image: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=220717