—said by a Wuhan nurse survivor
What we don’t know and what we don’t need:
Is it better to shut down the economy or not;
Is it better to catch a little dose from a crowd
Or suffer alone with your head unbowed;
Does an old drug work or is it just a rumor;
Does the viral dose count or the time of exposure;
Does wearing a mask make things better or worse;
Is it better to give hope or suffer a curse;
Is immunity a careless fib or a malignant lie;
Is disunity more dangerous than viral disease;
Is a shortage of adult behavior just an evil seed;
Are our children really safe playing close to the edge;
What good does hate do in stirring the danger?
So much we don’t know amid much we won’t use.
Michael Salcman, poet, physician and art historian, was chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. Poems appear in Arts & Letters, Hopkins Review, The Hudson Review, New Letters, Notre Dame Review, Poet Lore and Solstice. Books include The Clock Made of Confetti (Orchises, 2007), The Enemy of Good is Better (Orchises, 2011), Poetry in Medicine, his popular anthology of classic and contemporary poems on doctors, patients, illness & healing (Persea Books, 2015), and A Prague Spring, Before & After (2016), winner of the 2015 Sinclair Poetry Prize from Evening Street Press. Shades & Graces (Spuyten Duyvil, 2020), is the inaugural winner of the Daniel Hoffman Legacy Book Prize.
Ten inches of snow accumulate
with low temperatures like
some Arctic escapade the night
before Ken is scheduled to have
his catheter removed.
The flight of the dutiful son
who had arranged to accompany
him has been cancelled due to
the snowstorm so Neil is stuck
at home in Texas, and there are
no Australian relatives in Chicago
to drive Ken to his appointment
carrying his urine drainage bag.
Then a deus ex machina
from the seventeenth floor
of our apartment building:
the nice Irish guy e-mails,
If I can do anything to help
after the operation…
Ken is at the curb at nine
the next morning as his neighbor
suggests, to drive together
the few blocks from Lake Shore
Drive to Northwestern Hospital
where the snow has been removed
for personnel as well as for patients
who are scheduled to have
their catheters removed.
Jan’s three chapbooks and first full-length poetry book, I Wanted To Dance With My Father, were published by Finishing Line Press. Besides the books, Jan has had 325 poems published or accepted in journals in the U.S., Australia, UK, Canada, Czech Republic, India and Ireland in journals like; Atlanta Review, Chiron, Main Street Rag, and Phoebe. Her poem, “Not Sharing at Yoshu” has just been nominated for the Pushcart by Orbis, Great Britain, 2020. Jan and her husband travel a lot but like to cook for friends when they are home in Chicago.
When you come home
your mother will be silent
like a queen in a new fairy tale.
In once-upon-a-time, you heard her
(first sound to greet
your ears). You grew
to her voice, her counsel
guided you. Perhaps its vibration still pings
against, or within, a secret recess,
which you will rediscover
if only you sit quietly enough.
Her throne reminds you of succession,
of evolution, in its inevitable emptiness.
You might choose it for yourself
and picture how she dropped her shoes
to curl her stocking feet under her on the cushion.
You might take up the paperback
left on the spot, and riffle through it
hopeful for a pressed four-leafed clover,
some further evidence of resonance.
Pamela Hobart Carter
Pamela Hobart Carter earned two degrees in geology (Bryn Mawr College and Indiana University) before becoming a science teacher. After more than thirty years in the classroom, she decided to see what writing full-time was like. Her work has been published by The Ekphrastic Review, The Seattle Star, and Fly on the Wall Press, among others, and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Carter also writes plays, fiction, and non-fiction from her Seattle home.
“May I please have a piece
of candy, grandma, please,
may I?” Water runs in the kitchen.
She doesn’t hear. Little boy’s hand
reaches into green glass bowl,
on the coffee table, waist high.
His fingers grab the golden candy, hold it up
like a trophy, the cellophane crackling. “Young man!
Her lips line up, a race he cannot win.
“Did you ask? Did you say may I?”
His bottom lip quivers, he looks down
at the pink carpet, down
at his Buster Brown shoes, one untied,
at the candy, golden juice
on his sweaty palm. He feels
his lips close around it, smiles
under the shag
of his bowl cut.
“Look at me
when I talk to you.” Her nails
jerk his jaw up. His hair flops back,
the candy too
to the back of his throat
where it sticks. His eyes reflect
the sun above the empty courtyard
outside. She reaches
for his ankles, one in each hand,
pulls him up. His hair brushes
the carpet, a drop of drool runs
over his forehead, lands.
“Spit it out! Spit
it out! Do you hear me?
Do what I say!” Up, down,
up, down. The candy
flies from his mouth, sticks
to the carpet. Up. She lets go.
He lands, forehead, nose, then cheek,
coughs, and cries dark spots onto the rug.
“You just lie there and think
about what you’ve done.” Grandma
knits her hands together, thumbs rub fast
over her fingers. Ten red crescents
bloom on little boy’s ankles.
Shawna Ervin is an MFA candidate at Rainier Writers Workshop through Pacific Lutheran University in Washington state. She is studying nonfiction and poetry and is a recipient of the Carol Houck and Linda Bierds scholarship. Shawna is a Pushcart nominee and attended the Mineral School residency thanks to a fellowship from the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Recent publications include poetry in Tampa Review, Euphony Journal, Evening Street Review, Hiram Poetry Review, The Phoenix, and Raw Art Review; and prose in COG, Apalachee Review, Front Porch, The Delmarva Review, Summerset Review, Superstition Review, and Willow Review. Her chapbook Mother Lines was published in January 2020 by Finishing Line Press. She lives in Denver with her family.
Molly stood at the window
and looked down at the ghostly
street. Flowered gossamer swirled
around her legs—that had barely
seen a newborn sun for ages.
Here and there a solitary walker, but no
crowds waiting at lights, no city traffic.
She lit a menthol cigarette
with regular matches,
the windows closed. Scents
of mint and sulphur—
reminders of nearby parks
and working class yards
behind the buildings stinging her
An ice cream truck parked
in a driveway for little kids
climbing on jungle gyms after
school, and union men on break;
no rule says you have to be under
the age of eight to like a cone.
None of this climbed up to Molly—
just mint, sulphur, and memory.
She was a people painter, believed
grace required the breath of humans.
—a couple peeked down from the terrace
across the way and she knew
she could paint. With one motion
she stubbed the cigarette, set up her easel,
closed her eyes. Molly wouldn’t paint
this couple she’d met casually,
she just needed them. His tapered writer’s
hands, her witty brilliance, their living.
Molly’d saved her heart, her time, her canvas,
painted all the absences this couple could bear.
Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” was published by Cholla Needles Press. “Symmetry: earth and sky” was just published by Main Street Rag. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).
You should never rip off your shirt at a picnic, exposing your breasts
to your second cousin’s children, unless, of course, this is your only
recourse for twenty-seven years of raw-turkey Thanksgivings and rejection.
But if you do, ignore the cloud in your head, clouds everywhere,
in the basket with the mustard and plastic forks. Ignore the sounds around
the cloud, the yells and shouts, the sudden blanket on your shoulders.
You are holding a jar of cornichons, the ones that were supposed to remind
you of France, Paris, the house in the suburbs where the mother-in-law
sent jars and jars to the family whose house you lived in. You ate them all.
You’ve carried each day since then, a beacon beating home, home, home.
But Paris isn’t home. Home isn’t home. You shrug off the blanket,
grab your shirt, struggle to make sense of sleeves and buttons.
What is the point? There’s nothing in your pocket but regret, sorrow
that has stolen your nights. People you thought were part of your heart
threw every last moon at you, leaving only stars to navigate back to yourself,
which you are not now, not at this picnic with all this past and history.
You wish you weren’t waiting for someone to call out as you walk down the hill,
to the lake, out on the path, buoyed, pushed to who knows where. You don’t
know, but you are going, listening to the gulls, holding the cloud, the cornichons,
the blanket, letting go of the past, the old beacon, finding the right direction
that is light, dazzling, seamless, at least for now. You skimmer, go.
Jessica Barksdale’s fifteenth novel, The Play’s the Thing, is forthcoming from TouchPoint Press in 2021. Her poetry collection When We Almost Drowned was published in March 2019 by Finishing Line Press. A Pushcart Prize and Best-of-the-Net nominee, her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in the Waccamaw Journal, Salt Hill Journal, Tahoma Review, and So to Speak. She is a Professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches novel writing online for UCLA Extension and in the online MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University.