There were fields around our homes, Joel,
some fallow for a season, others full of maize.
Around them were the woods, in winter
a filigree of witch-fingers clutching at the sky,
in summer, overgrowing every boundary.
Enclosed within the symmetry of corn rows
and houses, we slept well at night, although
boys’ thoughts drift and shape-shift.
We could see there was no reconciliation
between the earth and our back and forth
attempts at order. Fences falling groundward
succumbed beneath vines. An orchard grown wild
was our prototype for Eden. Its apples were picked
by deer, or left in the grass as God intended,
rotting with their wasted cider.
In the north country now, I imagine people are burning
leaves. Fire runs through them like a loose dog.
From the hillside, you can see smoke rising, a man
standing there beside the bonfire, watching. A woman
comes out from the house. It’s almost a ritual scene.
There are no leaves burning in this yard.
I hear voices from inside the cafe, but I’m alone
beneath a locust tree, drinking coffee,
watching two men in the next yard over
gather tomatoes they grew somehow amid the ruins
of a Brooklyn townhouse. Odd angles, old brick
mold-mottled, and those green, gaunt vines
that twist and zigzag, and branch out, emerald lightning.
The property was abandoned back in March
when they cut the chainlink fence. Together,
they cleared as much of the soil as they could
of stones and glass. Boards protruding from the ground,
like the bones of a half-buried animal, they pulled loose
and set up to hold the twine they used
for a makeshift trellis. They planted their sprouts.
As the season advanced, they appeared more
at home. One of them hung art on the remnants of a wall,
portraits painted by children, his own, I guessed,
faces composed of bright colors that matched
the beans and peppers, and tall sunflowers whose
big dials of yellow petals counted down the hours.
Someone mid-summer tried to mend the fence.
A sign was posted: NO TRESPASSING!
PROPERTY FOR SALE.
It didn’t stop them. Today, they are laughing,
picking the ripened fruit and vegetables,
gathering the good in baskets, tossing the bad away.
Their joy, their exuberance in their work,
how could it be for just tomatoes?
Whenever I saw them weeding in the sun,
shirts off, sweat curdling through their skin,
they reminded me of the parable about a man
who sold everything he owned in order to buy
the field where he found a hidden pearl.
Have I misunderstood them? Maybe that heavy, red fruit
is more than enough. But we lived according to the poem:
living within, / you beget, self-out-of-self,
selfless, / the pearl of great price.1
Joel, we haven’t talked in years. I can’t guess anymore
what you are feeling, if your optimism we shared survives.
Addicted to the opium of poetry, I foster in myself
that one impurity, hoping to work it into luster,
but it’s funny to think that all it takes to undo a pearl
is one cup of vinegar.
1 H.D. “The Walls Do Not Fall” 4.43-46
William Welch lives in Utica, NY, where he works as a registered nurse on a critical care unit, and also as editor of Doubly Mad, a literary and visual arts journal published by The Other Side of Utica, Inc. His work has appeared in numerous journals, most recently in Thimble Literary Magazine, Rust+Moth, and Stone Canoe. His poem “The Border” was a finalist for the 2020 Adelaide Literary Award for Poetry.
Toss… turn… kick at the blanket… flop on the belly… bury the head in the pillow. Henry’s arm pokes out from under the covers. He pats the mattress, feeling for his phone somewhere along the edge of the bed. His hand finds it, drags it under the pillow. Henry opens one sluggish eye, peeks at the time. Four thirty-eight. He’s been in bed since eleven. Tossing and turning, flipping and flopping. For the dozenth time, he yells to his brain, Sleep, godammit!
Henry flops onto his back, straightens his legs, props a pillow under his knees. With one hand on his chest and the other on his stomach, he slows his breathing, counts his breaths. In through the nose… out through the mouth. Inhale… exhale… The exhales last longer than the inhales.
Soon the breathing is pushed into the background, and Henry is sketching buildings and bridges—a whole city—in his mind. The practice has often calmed him, given him peace. Now he colors in the buildings, adds some landscaping, draws the happy people he imagines would be living in his designs.
But it’s not working. And this is his third try. He must be trying too hard.
He stops the construction in his mind and opens his eyes. Stares at the ceiling. Once again, Henry tries to slow his breathing. Please… he begs his brain. He checks the time: five twenty-one. Please, please… Instead, the more he pleads, the more his breathing quickens, shallow and short-winded, until great tremors quake in his chest.
A wounded animal howls; Henry is taken aback by the strangeness of his voice. The quaking has dislodged something, and now the solid mass fissures, releasing an anguish that has clung to the bedrock of his soul, refusing to yield. Now it tears toward the ceiling of his chest and trembles at the surface until it finally escapes the barriers of his body. For a moment it hovers over Henry’s face, soggy with tears. And then, it vanishes.
Henry’s breathing slows into deep, protracted sobs heaved from an unfathomable well through difficult passages. The strange sphere of hardened mass had held all his heaviness, and now he longs for it, so used to its chain; chained to little Henry, with his rosy cherub cheeks, five years old, playing with his sister. Playing with his father’s shiny pistol while his sister laughed and tossed her halo of curls before the deafening sound of the world ending.
The first glimmer of dawn creeps through the edges of the curtains. Henry dozes off at last, grateful to forget.
M. Ocampo McIvor
M. Ocampo McIvor was born in the Philippines, raised in Toronto, Canada, and currently lives in Seattle. After a career in technology, Ocampo McIvor has returned to her roots to follow her calling in literature. Her work has been featured in The Bangalore Review, Conclave Journal, and Storgy Magazine. She is the author of Ugly Things We Hide (uglythingswehide.com).
Tell me what’s so wrong with walking in
when the door is open
and nobody answers your “hullo”
and you’re tired after walking all day
in circles in some stupid wood.
The place looked like they’d run away,
food still on the table,
each bowl microwaved a different temperature,
the middle one hardly heated at all.
And it’s like two cents worth of porridge.
So I’m sorry that chair broke.
What kind of chair is so fragile
that a size zero can’t sit in it?
I said I’d buy the kid a new chair
but noooo, his chair was special
‘cause Daddy built it.
Now they’re calling me a speciesist
because of that remark about opposable thumbs.
Well, how could they have built those chairs and beds
without thumbs? And what are bears doing
with sheets and blankets when they have all that fur?
Plenty of people don’t even have a blanket.
This is a set-up; you just want to use me as an example of
I have feelings, too! But you don’t care.
None of you care that you’ve ruined my life
and I had to wipe out all my social media accounts.
I’ll have to dye my hair—my trademark!—
and build a brand all over again.
Do you have any idea
how much work that is?
Sherry Mossafer Rind
Sherry Mossafer Rind is the author of five collections of poetry and editor of two books about Airedale terriers. She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Anhinga Press, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission, and King County Arts Commission. Her most recent book is Between States of Matter from The Poetry Box Select Series, 2020.