Little Secrets

I press the button attached to the IV attached to my arm, and the sweet burn of morphine runs through my veins. The drip, drip, drip drowns the music of newborn cries, coming from down the hall. Obstetrics, gynecology. Same wing. Same floor. The baby nursery is right next door.

Maybe I should count sheep.


One little lamb. Two little lambs. Three …

“Don’t be greedy.” My surgeon’s words on speed-dial in my brain.

“You have three healthy children.”

This is what he tells me, when he tells me my cervix has to go.


Three little lambs. Four …

The lights on the ceiling, flush mounts they’re called, look like breasts, breasts heavy with milk.

Polished nickel nipples, ready to feed.

There’s an army of ants. Yes! An army of tiny black ants climbing the wall across from my bed. I laugh. The newborns across the hall wail. Time to press the button for more morphine.


Four little lambs. Five …

My father used to call me shefele. That’s little lamb in Yiddish.


Six …

And then there was Jay. Met him in July,1976. The summer of the Bicentennial—a good sign, if you believe in those things. I was just fifteen.

Married in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was President and Sally Ride, the first woman in space. “Every Breath You Take” had just highjacked the airwaves.

Why do I feel I can’t breathe?


Seven, eight little lambs …

“Even nuns get dysplasia,” that same surgeon tells me, after he tells me I have cancer, the unruly

child of a runaway STD.

“Even nuns have affairs,” the words of my Catholic-school friend …


Nine, ten little lambs. Eleven, twelve, thirteen …

Jay and I were each other’s firsts.

I thought I was his only.


Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen …

The nurse comes in. I pray she won’t notice my brave six-legged friends, climbing the hospital wall.


Seventeen, eighteen …

  1. Jay had just ended his second affair.

Bill and Monica’s story broke that January, amidst semen stains and cigars.

Arnold had fathered his housekeeper’s child.

The year prior, Kathy Lee—and the world—found out that Frank was fucking a flight attendant.

So many men wielding their fleshy swords …

I’m afraid I’ve lost count.


I look up at the tiny soldiers. They’re busy, those ants, driven to move in their stick straight line. I wonder how they do that, march so fearlessly, black against a cold white sea.

What would it be like to be so bold, to move forward, even at the risk of being seen?


Diane Gottlieb

Diane Gottlieb received her MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles where she served as lead editor of creative nonfiction and as a member of the interview and blog teams for Lunch Ticket. Her work has appeared in Panoply and Lunch Ticket. You can also find her weekly musings at

Ceasefire Pantoum

openmouthed, we grasp our children

this is what it means to start

from the beginning

shivering in one’s skin


what it means to start

a truce with face and form

soothing in one’s skin

the familial, a mother’s love


a truce without face forms

a dead son awash, the tiny body

familial (a brother) loved

now lifeless arms


dead son awash, a tiny body

to his mother still through gunfire

now lifeless, disarmed

on the corner by the playground


his mother still, though gunfire

crosses her son, the border (lengthwise)

on the corner, the playground

widens with neglect


cross with her son at the border

from the beginning

we widen with neglect’s

openmouth gasp, our children


Brenda Serpick

Brenda Serpick received her MFA in poetry from The New School and is the author of three chapbooks: ‘the other conjunction in it’ (Furniture Press), ‘No Sequence But Luck’ (3 Sad Tigers Press) and ‘The Female Skeleton Makes Her Debut’ (Hophophop Press). She was a participating poet for Tupelo Press’ 30/30 Project (July 2016), and her poems have appeared in Requited, Tule Review, The Potomac, Free State Review, eccolinguistics, Printer’s Devil Review, Spiral Orb, LIT, Lungfull! Magazine, and Boog City – among other fine journals. She currently teaches English and creative writing for Baltimore City Public Schools.

On Growing Old and Discovering Truth

My days are measured

By bottles of discount wine,

My weeks by clean linens;

Each morning

I seek salvation

in a cafe benison.


Sleep, sleep divine,

Why should eternal sleep

not be heaven?


For religion begins

Where knowledge ends.


My little fame in life,

I know,

Will be confined

to a freeway sign:

“Missing Elderly,”

numinous against

a gray morning sky,

Flashing, flashing, flashing

above a highway exit.


The door was closed

and did not open,

So how did the cat

go out again?

But remembering to floss

gives each day

a bright new meaning.


So knowledge ends

Where religion begins.


Italy’s third volcano,

what’s it called?

Not Etna or Vesuvius,

The one in the movie we saw?

I forget, though I should know;

And not Olympus,

with Hera and Zeus

and Jove.


For us mortals what does it signify,

purchasing stain remover

by the gallon?

Pessimism of drooled spaghetti

or long life’s delusive

grand ambition?


All hail Staphylococcus,

with my name on it;

Where fear reigns,

religion gains.


Dough, the financial guru says,

you’ll need ’til you’re ninety five,

or perhaps, I think,

to .38,

Or maybe I’ll rob a bank

or fail to pay my taxes

for a prison bunk

and hospital bed.

But what about the poor teller,

the cop

and the unlucky feller

who has to clean up the mess?


But hark!

The coffee grinder churns,

the espresso machine

still renders,

so why should I surrender?


Yea, verily, I declare

on my life’s embers

that where true knowledge ends

unyielding ignorance begins

and religion wins.


James Garrison

A graduate of the University of North Carolina and Duke Law School, James Garrison practiced law until returning to his first loves: writing and reading good literature. His novel, QL 4 (TouchPoint Press 2017), set in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War, has won awards for literary fiction and military fiction, and it was a Distinguished Favorite for the 2019 Independent Press Awards and a finalist for the 2018 Montaigne Medal. His creative nonfiction works and poems have appeared in online magazines and anthologies. Sheila-Na-Gig nominated his poem “Lost: On the Staten Island Ferry”‘ for a 2018 Pushcart prize.

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