With the COVID-19 situation, our Open Mic Night meetings were temporarily derailed. However, we kept our poetry community engaged through Online Open Mic venue.
We had such a wonderful response, we’ve decided to keep the Online Open Mic poems online and available for viewing. So if you missed any, you can re-visit the poems that were submitted during the Summer of 2020.
We hope you enjoy our poets and their thoughts in these trying times…
We stand by the fire with the cave
at our backs. Have yet to explore
life here. This could be safe shelter
or a den full of beasts with teeth.
We just stopped to rest, but something
is coming. So we stand by the fire tossing
rocks into dark, marking a boundary,
casting a circle against what might come;
wolves, or ghosts, or Covid.
We hold our line against the jagged things.
We roll out small boulders slowly
toward the shadows. Slow, because
we are no longer innocent. Slow, because
we lack the brutal strength of youth,
know no stone can stand off death.
Still we try familiar motions, rituals
to keep imagined shapes at bay.
Time and time again and we throw
our stones against the jagged shadows
who claw ever closer to our circle.
Above the river
A solitary American White Pelican
These birds travel
In flocks of ten or more
Large and ponderous
She wings west
I also go
As I obey social distancing rules
She longs for her flock too
Mark J. Fuzie
Reading “Dover Beach” During Lockdown
Circumstance trapped perhaps
We are. And for you, the rain may conjure the Aegean
and the tranquil bay, the French
Coast fading in the darkling plain
“confused alarms of struggle and flight,”
You read as the orchard fades into night.
But the way rain tipples gravel tonight —
I say, “uncertainty is the only certainty.” “Perhaps,”
You say, still reading amidst news reports of sanitized flights
Death on death stacked in hallways of the aging,
A virus spreading like wild fire on the plains
The plague crashing the NHS in Italy, the French
All drowning in waterless beds — Arnold’s fading French
Coast, crumbling white cliffs, inevitable night
And ignorant armies, seems a duller metaphor to me; plain
Dumb enzymes, mechanical RNA, replicate, perhaps
Unintended kill. Un-Romantic. The sloshing Aegean
Devoid of love, light, tourists, not even discount flights.
For neither diseased nor non can take up flight.
Where can symptomless victims, caregiver, destroyer, French
Or Wuhan, New Yorker, Yakimite, young or aging
Go where they aren’t an ignorant army roaming the night?
Without herd immunity, a vaccine perhaps,
All people become a darkling plain.
Add another fire to your darkling plain,
CO2, CH4, O3, N2O, a flight
Of blanket gasses we can’t kick off. Perhaps
It’s not too late. Perhaps the French
Accord could turn down the heat for a night
And send the poor refugees home across the Aegean.
And then comes the purpose for Arnold’s Aegean,
His soldiers and their darkling plain.
There it is. The tired carpe diem trope: tonight
Could we make our own true love take flight?
My qualms are all those aging French.
OMG we’re in the middle of a pandemic! Perhaps
You’ll get it if the Aegean were between us in our pinioned flight.
Your true love seems plain English boy lust with all that French
Kissing death… But with the night still young, a Netflix stream, perhaps?
BY MATTHEW ARNOLD
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
FOUR HUNDRED YEARS AND STILL
“I CAN’T BREATHE.”
“I can’t breathe.”
Four hundred years ago, a Black Man kidnapped from Africa gasps out these three words from the slave ship, White Lion’s dank and cramped hold. Human cargo to be sold as a farm implement to the highest bidder in Jamestown, Virginia.
“I can’t breathe.”
Among the last frantic thoughts of thousands of African American’s lynched following the Civil War across the Nation.
“I can’t breathe.”
A young Black Woman, no more than a girl, moans as Klansmen gang rape her along the banks of the Mississippi River.
“I can’t breathe.”
Hall of Fame baseball player, Jackie Robinson confides to his wife Rachel during of one of the many panic attacks Number 42 suffered during the historic 1947 major league baseball season. Jackie, a Black Man, silently endured death threats, physical attacks, and thousands of fans screaming at him “Nigger” every day at the ballpark while becoming the first Negro in seventy-five years allowed to play in the game lovingly referred to as our “National Pastime.”
“I can’t breathe.”
Civil rights protesters have screamed out across America’s cities since the Sixties as they gag on the fumes of tear gas oppression.
“I can’t breathe.”
Firefighters have called out to one another as they have bravely battled the incendiary flames spread by angry mobs from Watts to Detroit to Newark and all across our Nation.
“I can’t breathe.”
Eric Garner, a dying Black Man’s last plea for help, as New York City’s finest choke hold the life from his limp body.
“I can’t breathe.”
George Floyd’s dying words as a Minneapolis police officer’s knee to neck restraint suffocates the life from one more Black American Man.
MY LIFE AS A CHAIR
Before the pandemic,
I would flee the honey-dooz—
the paint flaking from the trim,
the loose boards on the fence
waiting to be nailed,
the invasive species that has
taken root in my backyard,
the hedge in need
of a haircut as badly as me.
Now I’m a piece of furniture
trapped in my own house,
as wooden as the desk
at which I sit writing these words.
I may write a poem
called My Life as a Chair
because I am learning the feeling
of simply occupying space,
gazing out the window
at the same patch of grass
waiting to be mowed,
the same flowerbed
wanting to be weeded.
My wife and I hardly speak.
We’re not mad at each other,
just numb, as though we’ve
been hit with a zombie stick.
She sits in the living room
and listens to audio books.
I sit in my study
and scan the headlines
on my laptop news feed
for signs of relief.
But all is bombast—
a fat face like Jabba the Hutt
telling me I’m old, expendable,
that facts are fake news,
that snake oil cures all
and nothing’s as bad as it seems.
It’s an alternate reality
like an alternate fact
we imagine until it becomes true.
The people walking past
on my street look lost.
We’re all pinching ourselves.
We want to wake up.
Once we slept like spoons
Love waves through safe distance now
Nursing home window
A Shelter of Connection
Amid the deafening sounds of solitude
I fly to the back yard
to my outdoor desk
on the pergola-patio.
No issue of distancing here
as – surrounded by lawn,
by sky, by life
in its leafy, petaled extravagance –
Nature wraps her arms around me,
offering potential inspiration,
promoting my close conversation with the page,
providing feathered frolic as entertainment.
House sparrows fuss and discuss,
ravens and jays issue orders,
California quail – the Keystone Kops
of the bird world – dither about
with chukars chasing and racing them
like third-grade boys playing
Gray movement like fog rolling
in snags my attention. A cat oozes
from the neighbor’s wall down
into my garden, slinking through iris
and roses, intent on cat business,
sufficient unto itself
as only cats can be
and do in such aristocratic manner.
My kissy sounds, intended
to entice it to my spot
with the offer of free affection,
fall on perverse ears.
Employing the Big Ignore
as only cats can do
so well in haughty manner,
it spurns my overtures
and carries on, keeping its distance
while looking at me askance
in undisguised anti-socialness.
Disdain, thy name is Cat.
As quick as a tail-flick
it decides that social distancing
is for the birds and trots to me,
tail erect in anticipation.
Its little motor reverberates at my touch –
touch, here, not only permitted,
but mandatory. Somersaulting in ecstasy,
overcome with pleasure from our connection
and the power of whim, it jumps
onto my lap to bless me with feline hugs,
divining, with god-like wisdom, that even
introverts crave companionship.
Time and desire exhausted,
it turns to pursue other cat activities,
but my coo of thanks and well-wishes
draws it back for one last caress.
Then it steps beyond my reach,
sniffs at something, licks its fur
in measured nonchalance and saunters
off without a parting glance
leaving me again alone,
leaving gray fur
on my black leggings,
leaving a smile in my soul.
Home alone, embraced by lawn
and sky, birds and cat,
we made a shelter of connection.
And I made a poem.
In the old photograph they stare back,
the men white-shirted, black-trousered,
the women’s cotton dresses stretched
to their ankles as if tugged by toddlers
or by their farmer husbands too tired
at the end of the day to lift another thing.
They picnic in a park, the dark grass
in the foreground bleeding
around the subjects toward darker trees
looming behind them like the kid who
won’t be in the photo until someone begs.
In the black-and-white world no one laughs.
Aunt Marie clamps her false teeth
on Uncle Carl’s hint that Aunt Evelyn’s
potato salad is better. If she had anything
left to give him, right now she would take it away.
My dad isn’t grinning exactly, just smug
knowing that Carl is deaf,
and Dad can tell him whatever he wants.
Dad doesn’t know that soon,
as they sit down to eat, a child will swoop
from a swing, and when all but him
rush to the boy’s aid the empty bench
will dump him and his hot coffee
so that he can offer to wring
out his pants for a cup.
But now they stand side by side,
agreeable, for a few seconds equal,
their Nordic faces hammered soft by winters.
I tell my kids I am descended from trolls.
As they stare at the old photos, they extract
from those faces knobby noses and warty chins,
something not quite human
from which we have almost evolved.
They fit extra-long on my dad
younger than me now, his round impish
face a short fuse to mischief.
They say, “He looks like you, Dad!”
So he does, suspendered as if to hold
his coffee pants to white-shirted rectitude
and keep the kid in him from devolving,
spilling everything, dumping swings and tables,
wrecking a photo, bleeding all the neat
black and white to coffee brown,
blowing the whole line-up of unchosen people
into lumpy, snarling trolls.
Months later, in another album
we find my high school photo
where I am suited, tied, my crooked
smile proclaiming it’s no picnic.
At first glance my daughter declares, “Troll.”
W D Frank
In memory of ‘Big’ Jim Ellis and Cletion ‘Skate’ Richards
I shared a good laugh with Big Jim during our final visit at the nursing home. We were talking about that July morning decades ago when three of us stood wrangling over our work plan, the temperature—already intense—amplifying the smell of fresh-cut hay just beyond the fence. Jim and his pal Skate had fled the Jim Crow South to end up as ranch hands in Wiley City and I’d done summer work alongside them both for years ever since I was a teenager: and on this particular day, each insisted that I drive the flatbed truck. But I was adamant we take turns with the heavy labor, hoisting hay bales chest-high on a day soon approaching a hundred degrees. So, Jim got behind the wheel first while I walked down the green rows with Skate who puffed away on his pipe with nonchalance. After half an hour, giving all I had to wrestle eighty-pound bales onto the flatbed, Skate looked over at me and shook his head, teeth clenched hard onto that pipe.
“We wanna get this job done by noon,” he said, “so you let Jim finish up with me.”
Dejected and ashamed, I crawled into the cool shade of the cab—and Big Jim just smiled. I shifted into first gear and watched through the mirror and the shimmering heat as he and Skate tossed those heavy bales one-handed up onto the truck hour after hour, bantering in their musical Louisiana patois – enigmatic, lyrical, unforgettable.
And I only wish that at the end of our chat, I could have said something to Jim that day more lyrical and unforgettable than my insipid farewell. But there was a tremendous weight slowing me down once again as I struggled to say goodbye for the last time then shuffle back down the corridor to the parking lot. Outside, my eyes were stinging, perhaps from the sudden bright light. Or maybe because I had no one left out there to offer respite from the sweltering Yakima sun.
Take Care of Yourselves
for Walter and Sarah
You’re hunkered down at Tamarack Farm.
Take care of yourselves,
Hike to the mailbox, ski a few trails,
Read some, research the web,
Write a poem or an act for a new play.
And cook and slice,
Some potatoes and vegetables,
Steam some rice and boil some noodles
While you sip hot water
To sluice your throats.
Anyway, that’s what I’d do.
Down here in the valley,
Chong-hui is singing,
Boiling noodles and grains on the wood stove.
She’s filling us with her fermented kimchi creations–
Yellow onions, chili peppers,
Garlic cloves, carrots, celery,
Green onions, cucumbers, cherries, and grapes,
And mulberry leaves, dogwood berries,
Leeks and radishes,
Steelhead and smelt.
Apples, oranges and ginseng tea,
Rounding things out with black caramelized ginger roots.
And I’m beating steady on this deer-hide drum,
Blowing off smoke, burning pine and sage
To chase out bad spirits,
Making prayers to Mother Earth
To keep us all living.
Coyote Springs Farm
Okanogan River Valley
March 21, 2020
Just as I am moping from a lack of hugs and handholding from friends…
I hear a soft knock at the door.
It is the daughter of a friend.
She backs away,
smiling and waving.
On our doorsill, a plate,
lemon and chocolate macaroons.
On our daily walk
where we keep our distance,
a neighbor in her garden cries, “Here”
tosses us a bag of fresh arugula.
We catch it,
eat it for dinner.
We want to join this parade
On our next walk we carry
plates of walnut coffee cupcakes,
set them on porches, knock
and run away.
On May Day, we find
hot pink azaleas, lacy ferns
white velvet ribbons;
a nosegay hangs on our door!
We bring it in; its cheerfulness
Virginia Van Amburg
Gardening . . .
one of the few joys
Little trips to the nursery;
a chance to leave the house
to find beauty in flowers
and spread it in my yard,
having a plan in mind
and seeing it bloom!
Blue flowers in my flower box
echo the blue door.
Shades of pink dianthus
in pots beside the bench.
A hanging basket
features a trio of flowers.
Azaleas and rhodies
bloom pink and lavender.
climb over the arbor.
Marigolds and mondo grass
make a laughing border.
There’s more room
and more time
to indulge in this
Death sings in my heart
My voice will rise
I am singing death everywhere
The death dance follows me
Jocular sprits laugh
My vanity pleases them
They wash me and throw me into the street
In the company of dogs
I rush to the meadowlands
My life is no longer a reflection of sickness
The death song becomes a song of fulfillment
The death dance becomes a dance of children
The sky is open
Like a cat’s tongue
rain laps across my skin
covering me with a cloak of burlap
It is tasting me
by Anna Pascoe
An occurrence that is common enough during this time of year,
Yet rare enough in other seasons to cause pause.
To create the desire to capture the moment.
To listen to the gentle rhythm blanketing my roof,
Buffering the typical neighborhood noises.
To watch the droplets spattering across the sidewalk,
Caressing the leaves and petals of my garden.
To smell the earthy dampness,
Washing everything anew.
To feel the cool, refreshing shower hit my face,
A brief escape into the refuge of the outdoors.
My senses will store this all away
To be remembered on a non-rainy day.
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