Two Poems—Aaron Sandberg

The Dog Wakes Me Up to Talk to Witches

The 2 a.m. nose nudge
              tells me it’s time to take her out

(our ritual that
              conjures me awake)

but she stops short of the grass
              and motion-lit sense

which would consume the lawn
              to yawn, sit for a spell,

and stare into dark
              where I assume

she barks to commune
              with the wind and the witches

huddled by the fence
              who flap whispers

that flick at
              her pricked-up ears—

too low or high
              for me to hear—

as I wrap robe over chest,
              sigh this side of glass,

and wait for what hex
              or curse comes next.

Shame

Your sad ghost
              who saw said

shame on me,
              shaking her finger—

even after all
              of these years—

thinking it matters
              if we redraw

the half-erased line
              between what disappears

and what lingers.

Aaron Sandberg has appeared or is forthcoming in Asimov’s, No Contact, Alien Magazine, The Shore, The Offing, Sporklet, Right Hand Pointing, Halfway Down the Stairs, Burningword Journal, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, you can see him—and his poetry posts—on Instagram @aarondsandberg.

photo by Freddie Marriage (via unsplash)

Obituary—Helena Steel

An old man hiding from the morbid heat, 
sits in a dusty bar on the edge of town,
orders a double bourbon, swats away 
a fly, reads out loud from the newspaper.

The Changeling whose hunt and capture we reported on last fall, tonight has died of heartbreak in the Louisiana Correctional Unit for Women.

Born in the forests of Killarney National Park, Ireland, The Changeling (whose given name she takes to her grave) made her way to the U.S. in search of the American dream. She eluded capture for fifty long years, taking control of countless teens across the states. ‘My son was possessed from the age of fourteen to twenty-one,’ said one mother. ‘My daughter turned from a sweet loving child into a vile witch overnight,’ said another. On the witness stand during trial The Changeling told the jury, ‘Parents should be queueing up for my help.  I possess their teens, yes… but think what monsters they would be without me. Mine is an act of compassion.’

Believing that few would mourn her passing, a small funeral had been planned in the unit’s chapel. However, a book of condolences for the inmates tells another story, as do the letters that have been flooding in from round the world

The old man, swigs his drink 
pushes the paper towards the barman, taps it.
The barman reads, is no longer in the dusty bar 
but on a lit stage in Manhattan. For that is his dream. 

Remember…

I climbed Old Oak 
found you there crying
ebony tears. You said you were 
universally misunderstood,
you were only trying to do good.
Remember how we watched the sun
set over frosted fields and talked of escaping to 
more temperate lands? I wish I’d told you then: 
with you under the light of the ice moon, I felt warm.

Rory R (postmark Kerry, Ireland)

All I ask 

Please bury her in a child’s coffin.
To cremate her would be to fuel
the practice of burning witches.
A coffin for her dignity. Please.

Angelica (from the book of condolences) 

Visitor 

After the storm cooled 
the fire in the air 
and the village
slept and dream
once more, I lay awake 
in tangled sheets
listening for the beat 
of your raven wings 
the stomach cramps
my darkening mood 
warned me you were near
I felt your presence before 
your searching eyes were
at the window
the hushed notes 
of your song
were the waves on the sea 
they pulled me to you 
and pushed me away
pulled me
pushed me away. 
Let me in you said
as I did I felt fear 
and unexplained shame.

Anonymous (Delivered by hand)

The barman closes the paper. 
A single tear 
falls 
down 
the old man’s cheek.

Helena Steel is an Anglo-Italian writer from North London. She is the founder of The Story Room where she runs creative writing workshops and book clubs for children. She loves her job! When she is not working with words, she plays with them and dreams about them. Her poetry has been published in Between the Lines, South Bank PoetryPoetry for Good and Enfield Poets Anthology.

photo by Pixabay (via pexels)

Two Poems—KB Ballentine

Midsummer Spell

Deluge overwhelms, divides the river
 in desperate rush and roil,
dryads clinging to mossy stones.
 Rhododendrons drip, petals sloughing,
drowning in muddy puddles along the path.
 Sheer madness to come out
when even the cuckoo hides quiet
 in the hedgerows. But the pull of this place
draws us further into the glen, 
 off the trail where the woods close
around us. A greening of the air –
 the sudden silence a sign.
A twig cracks, smell of wet wood and loam
 rushing toward us, time tumbling around itself,
grasping to make sense of day, of cricket sighs, of us.
 Slipping in the in-between – moon and sun, 
water and fire together before, behind us –
 breathing with us as the mountain shivers,
tugging us toward the white door.

Shadow Words

In that space between crows,
 between wing and feather, quill and beak,
an ancient language lingers.

An alto moon dreams across a forest
 pale with frost. We’ve forgotten
the music of winter, of crystals on the tongue,
 syllables clinging to our teeth.

Two or four, together crows boast,
 low vibrato from a cello – wood calling
back to wood. And we shiver,

not from cold but from our bones
 humming over pools of ice solid and slick 
as gravestones in the rain.

The space between kissing and crying –
 where crows blur into shadow
still murmuring like ageless druids.

Listen –

KB Ballentine’s seventh collection, Edge of the Echo, was released May 2021 with Iris Press. Her earlier books can be found with Blue Light Press, Middle Creek Publishing, and Celtic Cat Publishing. Published in Atlanta Review and Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, among others, her work also appears in anthologies including The Strategic Poet (2021), Pandemic Evolution (2021), and In Plein Air (2017). Learn more at www.kbballentine.com

photo by NEOSiAM 2021 (via pexels)

Home—Alba Sarria

The door opens,
creaking.
You can smell the rust coming off the hinges
like fresh blood.

The night has arisen twisted—
Moonless
Starless.

Your childhood halls smell like winter:
The beginning of christmas,
Gingerbread cookies.
That nasty cinnamon candle 
your father ran from 
and your mother lit
like a victory.

Your feet—too big
—for the papaya rug
at the foot of your bunk bed
curl
in the dusty fabric.

There is old rosemary hidden under your pillow.
You used to eat one leaf a night,
puking your father’s genes out of you
while your mother spent her nights
with an ear pressed to the bathroom door,
hoping.

Your top bunk was always empty,
to adults.
In the twilight you would watch
pale boney feet—
toes not fully formed—
dangle over the side of the top mattress
and 
             wiggle
until you couldn’t feel your skin.
And in the dawn,
when your mother slept and your father
roamed
the feet would slip,
weighted,
and a body unformed would splatter
all over your bright orange papaya rug.

Your feet
fully formed
now curl and claw at the rug.
The door is still opening.
The soles of your feet are oozing
warmth
sucking up all that was yours
and that you denied yourself
for petty morality.

Your father comes in with a black trash bag
weighted
sloshing.
It drags along the same floor you 
dressed your dolls on.
Soundless,
he opens it.

“Your birthright.”

You spent so many nights 
performing exorcisms on yourself 
in the mirror.
So many dawns burying yourself alive 
in the yard.
So many birthdays baking rosemary
into your cakes and stabbing your palms
with stakes.

Your father pulls a hair tie out of his pocket
and you 
you 
you

“Partake.”

Alba Sarria is a poet and flash fictionist fascinated by all things eerie and disquieting. Alba is the 2018 CSPA Gold Circle Award winner for freeform poetry and an avid lover of orchids.

photo by Alekon pictures (via unsplash)

boneseeds—Jane Ayres

they opened us up
the peel of ripe fruit
intricate

burnt jam
little fists
glowing

slivers
chafing
this shadow ache 

the remedy
a key that 
makes the monsters

you tell me
i know a
safe place

but i’d rather 
see 
the world 

the way it used to be
& just because 
i’m not here

doesn’t mean i’m not
here     
doing the right thing

fruiting unthought
it was never 
dismantled

adjusting to the 
tongue collar
acting your

age
your rage
unravelling sobs

giving soft yellows
& bleeding 
cherries

UK based neurodivergent writer Jane Ayres completed a Creative Writing MA at the University of Kent in 2019 aged 57. In 2021, she was nominated for Best of the Net, shortlisted for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award and a Laurence Sterne Prize winner. Her first collection edible was published by Beir Bua Press in April 2022.  

photo by Monika Grabkowska (via unsplash)

Two Poems—Andrew Walker

content warning: some gore

My Arm, Caught In A Bear Trap

I do not have nightmares 
               of my teeth falling out—
they are all there every night
               in spades, like spades.
I gnaw through this stubborn arm 
               caught, catch tendons between the gaps,
swallow enough boiling blood
               to make water taste weaker
than coffee. I can still feel
               my fingers grip the air as if they
have the strength enough to hold me.
               Dark now, the Sun 
is setting but I am still trapped, still 
               hungry, still ripping at the bulbous
veins that noose themselves 
               around my wrist, still chewing
as if the bones beneath were boiled
               in the sweetest brine
my prisoner tongue has yet to taste.

Consider Skin

Even a body rooted in soil 
enough for its anxious, 
tender breath can rot.
                                             Consider skin,
how it protects what is more vulnerable,
a starving mother watching
her children eat: It is not enough, it is not enough
                                             over & over.
It’s the waiting that does it, rips
fresh from dirt like skin from bone
between teeth & tongue. 
                                             Long enough &
the Earth will not recognize it,
this ravenous consumption.
Membrane holds a yolk.
                                             Sew what’s spilled—
hold the Earth & its bodies,
inhale the beauty of two things
blended, bound, together.

Andrew Walker is a writer living in Marquette, Michigan. He is a poetry reader for No Contact and his poetry and prose has appeared in Kissing Dynamite, HADPidgeonholesZero ReadersEckleburg and elsewhere. You can find more of him at his website, druwalker.com, but you can find most of him on Twitter, @druwalker94. 

photo by Raphael Brasileiro (via pexels)

Snow White Goes Gray—Jeana Jorgensen

For every silver hair I plucked
in my thirties, I am sorry;
now they spring up,
a reverse snowfall from
a bed of coal-black hair.

I am sorry too
about the red-hot iron shoes—
sorry that I accepted the corset stays,
the comb, the apple,
reveled in them, even;
sorry that I mistook
every sign from you as
hostility, not a warning.

Married to a prince anyway
I miss my mother,
and I am sorry
we will not grow old together,
because you never showed me how.

Jeana Jorgensen earned her PhD in folklore from Indiana University. She researches gender and sexuality in fairy tales and fairy-tale retellings, folk narrative more generally, body art, dance, and feminist/queer theory. Her poetry has appeared at Strange Horizons, Nevermore Journal, Liminality, Glittership, and other venues. Her recent book Folklore 101 is available and is perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about folklore.

photo by Priscilla Du Preez (via unsplash)

Persephone’s Seeds—Vanessa Maderer

In rolls a begotten fog 
Smelling boggish, of
Crushed sage and old pomegranate 
Seeds. The scent roots me here, like
Sleep paralysis dead awake. And,
In my periphery, there lurks
Some otherworldly shadow 
All made up of
Skeletal lace; petrified petals greyed and 
Sheathing an emaciated
Figure. Only her eyes 
Are alive, so quick and angry, and 
Trapped too. 
I tremble and think, is this his
Pomegranate queen?
Buried beneath the weeds, trapped by 
Just those few seeds? 
The injustice radiates from her  
Withered form, with just a wisp
Of former glory, old beauty. 
And then the shadow decays away, leaving 
Just a moldy fragrance that 
Reminds me of 
Rotten roses once 
Sublime
And I know I will never 
Accept the promise of seeds again 
Lest I become 
Persephone’s legacy.

Vanessa Maderer was a young reader turned editor, writer, and finally enthusiastic poet who has recently debuted her first chapbook entitled, Cusp of Dusk after a decade of revision. Now, she has an insatiable appetite for new ideas and themes, and can be found most easily through Twitter at @MadererV. 

photo by Thought Catalog (via unsplash, with credit to quotecatalog.com)

A Swarm Unto Herself—Barlow Adams

I know a woman with a beehive for a head, big as the pyramids, a basket woven by slave hands, fit for a queen, too small for a princess, labyrinthine and honey-trap. She sits in a cemetery older than art, raw-rubbed limestone slick before the first mammoth graced a cavern wall. A buzz, aflame, she sits among the dead, mouth open, a drawbridge for drones—in and out—thoughts and feelings. Sticky feet like muddy boots, treat the wounds even as they scrape her lips. 

I sit in the sting zone with a swollen tongue and golden fingers, dusted with pollen, making charcoal rubbings of ancient gravestones whose names have been stolen by wind and rain. 

“Here lies. Here. Lies.” I trace the truth, place it in her palm, but my words aren’t sweet enough for any servant to carry into her well-combed mind. 

She sings of summer in a thousand voices, yellow and black and labor and sun. We’ll be two more bleached bodies in an orchard of bone. After we’re gone the bees will still carry unspoken words from my throat to hers, as long as strangers bring flowers to honor beloved dead they never knew. Long as I can’t imagine a sweeter place to die. 

Barlow Adams is a writer and poet from the Cincinnati area with a pronounced interest in ghosts, faeries, basketball, and Godzilla. His stories and poems have appeared in many print and online journals. Follow him on Twitter @BarlowAdams

photo by Ante Hamersmit (via unsplash)

Afterimage—Sarah Kennedy

The dead, the gentle dead—who knows?—
In tungsten filaments abide. (Pale Fire)

They say that the souls 
of the dead we have loved
find their way home 
by the lights we leave out.

I lit up the house 
with the blaze of your loss,
white and silent as a winter afternoon.

No marshlight this, no burning reed 
nor wisp of tallow; no dancing flame
nor candle-glow, but strong and constant
as the wire snare that laps the throat.

I wait for you, warding sleep,
your cheeks lucent and your gaze dark,
trailing icy finials of night. 
I yearned for the caught breath 
and the locked eye,
the singular rapture of recognition. 

Did you appear, drawn blindly
by waves of incandescent 
brightness? Are you shadow or outline, 
Stranded on the farther shore?

Tungsten casts a cold light,
And the empty phonograph offers no voices
in its ragged dispersals of sound.
There is no vision gorgeous enough to trap you

No diode ever made to catch the crystal of your voice,
but only this ghost at the back of my eye,
A radiant fiction such as
we must gift ourselves in sleep.

Sarah Kennedy is a writer and critic based in the UK. Her work is grounded in the deep magics of ecological process, in myth, metaphor, and metamorphosis. Her poetry and fiction is immersed in the landscapes of her native Australia, of Dartmoor, and of the north downs in Kent. She tweets @WildThymeUnseen.

photo by Devon MacKay (via unsplash)