I circumambulate Mt. Rainier, tallest of the Cascade volcanoes. My friends come and go for different legs of the journey. They take away my dirty socks and supply the next days’ food. Everything is calculated— 93 miles in 9 days, the weight of my gear, the calories of my food. It is summer and I am between teaching. I won the lottery. You can only circle this volcano if you’ve won. I’ve been given a gift— being able to skirt danger at rest. I walk clockwise, its summit in view over my right shoulder. For days, I put one foot in front of the other, one thought spilling into the next.
I am 16, driving for night-hours in my white mini-van on country roads truncated by suburbia. My friends and I sing Dylan, Joplin, and The Doors. We belt “White Rabbit” until catharsis strips our vocal chords and empties us of everything that was misunderstood by day.
Beside the volcano, I catch up with each of these friends in my head—I haven’t seen them in years—before dropping them off one by one. I pull up to my house and kill the engine, abruptly putting an end to Dylan’s raspy drawl. I look up at my house looming still and dark as if my newfound hollowness conjured up the dreams that cradle my brother’s schizophrenia and the sleep that holds my parents’ silence.
Who knew then that someday I’d be 36, circling a volcano, thinking of the smoke rising from my childhood chimney and oak leaves backlit by streetlamps? Of the way my house appeared at the top of a hill, like a fortress, on those late nights?
The crater steams from vents that lead deep into the earth. The hot air sculpts ice on its way to the surface. I never asked when the last eruption was, or when the next might be. I imagine phantom rumblings in my solar plexus.
I cross bridges over icy rivers. I look into heads of glaciers slithering down valleys, ancient snakes so cold against the warm emptiness below. I walk among the purple larkspur and yellow lilies blooming atop the volcano’s fingers. I am at home beside a mountain that can gut itself at any moment.
Caroline N. Simpson
Caroline N. Simpson was a 2020 Delaware Division of Arts Established Artist Fellow in Poetry. Her chapbook, Choose Your Own Adventures and Other Poems, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. She has thrice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, both in poetry and nonfiction, and in 2013, a collection of her poetry won Honorable Mention in Hot Street’s Emerging Writers Contest. She teaches high school English at the Tatnall School in Wilmington, DE, and has taught at international high schools in Turkey and Spain. You can follow her at carolinensimpson.com.
When we were kids, in junior school
in Pembrokeshire, we didn’t do wild
or joyful, didn’t do great and glorious.
We wore limp ties, half-skewed,
over blue-green cotton shirts, grey shorts,
and tugged long, drooping woollen socks.
We hoarded foreign stamps, played marbles,
were drilled in tables, verbs and chalk,
hoofed at a soggy leather football.
There were a few quick early sallies
down the rapids of River Joy, first sounds
maybe of Elvis, first scents of dances,
first date .. but that was soon washed up
on the banks of embarrassment.
One first big joy, first rush of rhapsody,
was our trip to the London Planetarium,
the sunrise scene, to Morning from Peer Gynt,
and the sense of a wondrous opening-out.
The price, as I remember, was a shilling.
First weeks in university. Posters and politics
and arguments over midnight coffee
and then, with such a shot to the emotions,
the new black friends in the hall of residence,
Femi from Nigeria, Zac from Ghana,
Astley from Jamaica. Back home we’d read
of Windrush and Brixton and rioting
and landladies (no dogs, no blacks, no Irish).
Now suddenly these charming, genial men.
The fellowship. The joy of it.
That was October 1960
and it seemed absurdly simple.
Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet whose work has appeared recently in the USA in San Pedro River Review, Main Street Rag, Third Wednesday, Burningword Literary Journal, and many online journals. He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
If right now everything stops, and there is no longer re- but only de- (decay),
Autolysis: self-devouring. Your cells deplete themselves from the inside out. Within seventy-two hours, your swollen heart desists. Orange peels decompose six months later. Cotton socks decamp within a year. Wool sweaters and milk cartons depart in five. (Every carton of milk you drank in elementary school is already gone without a trace, and isn’t that surprising?) Twenty-five years later, your leather shoes defect. Tin cans and tissue (the kind which makes you soft to hold) take fifty to degenerate. Bones and batteries, a hundred years defiant.
Plastic, that twentieth-century debutant, carries on through the 2500s. Only the sun will touch it, photodegrade those polymers into microscopic morsels. Half a millennium to demolish the great graveyards of Dasani, Fiji, Pellegrino, Aquafina, Poland Spring, oh, La Vie. Half a millennium despoiled by every diaper you ever shat. And the ocean breaks down its microplastic detritus last.
Your teeth do not decay for tens of thousands of years. That is not as long as it takes to depose the skyscrapers, debris fields crumbling down to quartz for the wind or the water to disperse. Anthropic fossils press patterns into stone: earth’s interior design. There are mosquitoes deposited in resin, resins deposited in rock, rocks deposited in water. Pirates’ gold fillings do not depreciate, and neither do the diamonds of the brides. Glass bottles, those stubborn webs of silicon, take a million years to deteriorate to sand.
Then finally it is the deathless age of Styrofoam. A quiet planet blanketed with desiccated snow.
And a plaque on the moon still bears dear Richard Nixon’s name.
Hannah Story Brown
Hannah Story Brown is a writer and dramaturge based in New York, dreaming about green cities. She graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University in 2019, and her work has been published in The Seattle Times, the Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism, and the Columbia Daily Spectator.
I bet the four flush—
worth next to nothing
but looking to all like the key
to the kingdom of heaven.
You told me once
was half luck
and half bluff.
They had just
cleaned you out again
at the Friday night game
above the body shop on Sutter Avenue.
You and your six
passing a cheap bottle of rye
and shots at each other’s parentage,
in a room
full of reefer
and the sweat
of day labor.
You told me once
you had no luck—
having given it
all to me.
And I pictured a medallion
bestowed upon the younger brother—
no small burden
you’d hung around my neck—
as if the family’s fortune
was riding on my narrow shoulders.
anyone who knew us might think to ask.
“But, you’ll never be a bluffer,
you told me,
for that you need a pair—
and in our family, I got them.”
Cold as cobra’s breath
I bet my four spades
as the better hand folded.
You never were a judge of character—
friends and enemies.
Steve Deutsch lives in State College, PA. His recent publications have or will appear in RavensPerch, MacQueen’s, 8 Poems, Louisiana Lit, Burningword Literary Journal, The Write Launch, Biscuit Root Drive, Evening Street, Better Than Starbucks, Flashes of Brilliance, SanAntonio Review, Softblow, Mojave River Review, The Broadkill Review, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Panoply, Algebra of Owls, The Blue Nib, Thimble Magazine, The Muddy River Poetry Review, Ghost City Review, Borfski Press, Streetlight Press, Gravel, Literary Heist, Nixes Mate Review, Third Wednesday, Misfit Magazine, Word Fountain, Eclectica Magazine, The Drabble, New Verse News and The Ekphrastic Review. He was nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2017 and 2018. His Chapbook, “Perhaps You Can,” was published in 2019 by Kelsay Press. His full length book, Persistence of Memory was just published by Kelsay.
An Exploited Body
You claim it’s a dwelling grasp. I still fall
out of a tree—naked & thick,
hauling myself to beat
exposure. I fill myself in
in desperate clusters. Unable
to find a deep hole for my body,
I turn over the earth & rip the ocean
floor—give a final blow
to deprivation, hunt dead & run large
in the streets. I lurk
in hives, collect & attach you
like an eyeball—a blind silence.
I search for bony bundles
& drain my body—an empty constant.
The Day of My Wedding
I stayed inside because of the rain.
From behind the bay window
I watched a funeral & a family
I watched a wild horse
run away from the field—
gaining freedom to ground
The grass webbed with dew
for the rest of its days.
& cars stopped passing
For the rest of my days
I watched a child
fall backwards at the bottom
of the staircase, just out of my
Annie Cigic is a second-year student in the Rhetoric and Writing Studies PhD program at Bowling Green State University. Her research interests include critical pedagogy, community-based learning, advocacy writing, and student agency in writing assessment. She received her MFA in Poetry from BGSU. Her poem “Afterlife of a Dumped Body” is nominated for a 2021 Pushcart Prize by Driftwood Press.
We went to see him at night. Upstairs, third door on the right. One room with a bed, chair and table. Clothes hung on a metal rack. A bathroom down the hall. He was working—taking the foil from an empty cigarette pack, folding it, cutting it with a razor blade, unfolding and folding it again, cutting it again. Finished, he laid it flat on the table and slowly pressed the creases out with his thumb. I couldn’t stop looking. Do you have more we can see? We moved aside as he got down on hands and knees beside the bed and pulled out one large ring binder after another. Is this all of them? He smiled. No. I’ve got more. Fascinated by nature with edges, creases and spaces, I spend an hour sitting cross-legged on the floor, slowly turning pages, examining each one up close just as I have Van Goghs, Mondrians and Kandinskys. No two are remotely alike.
On the way home:
How did you find him?
I heard about him from a friend.
We should show his work.
What about the committee?
We’re going to show his work.
I’ll talk to him about it.
What do you mean?
We’ll see. I’ll do my best.
Opening night, the place is packed. The artist has brought his daughter and granddaughter.
He has a daughter?
I don’t get it.
Something else I didn’t tell you. He has cancer. He’s dying.
Why didn’t you tell me?
Would it have changed anything?
I look at his daughter’s face. Proud of her father. Astonished at the hundred or more people milling around and the dozens standing in front of his work, politely jostling to get close enough to see in detail the corners of the cuts, the faint lines of the creases.
Under the light, I look at his face, covered with creases, intricate in design. Shiny. Perfect.
Michael Harold, who also goes by the name Michael Aro (his father’s birth name), is the author of five novels, five volumes of poetry and two chapbooks. His work has been published in The American Poet, The Journal of Experimental Fiction, Identity Theory, Smokebox, Harvey Bialy’s bialystocker.net, Steve McCaffery’s North American Center for Interdisciplinary Poetics, Unlikely Stories, In Posse Review and in the Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind Anthology by Unlikely Stories and the Dirty, Dirty: Anthology by Jaded Ibis Press. He has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, once for a poem, once for a novel. He lives and works in Louisiana.