Poetry | By Gale Acuff | Issue 34 (Sept, 2020)

Straight Dope

Miss Hooker is going to be my wife
one day, one day when I’m old enough to
qualify as a man, I’m just a kid
now, 10, she’s 25 but by the time
I’m ready she’ll be extra-ready if
she’ll stay single for me, she waits for me
until I’m up in years, too and though I
can never match her since fifteen years is
fifteen years, I can catch up by counting
not numbers but something else, I don’t know
what to call it but I mean the older
she gets the older I get, too, and vice
versa, until one day we’re both grownups,
adults anyhow, and I can ask her
Will you marry me, Miss Hooker?–I hope
I’ll know her first name by then but that’s not
absolutely necessary, not for
me, anyway, Baby will do fine, as
will Honey, Darling, Sweetheart, Sugarlips,
and like that. After Sunday School today

I practiced my proposing on my dog,
who couldn’t answer, naturally, so
I pretended that he was overcome,
which accounts for his slobbering on me
–maybe that’s how Miss Hooker’s tears will be
when I’m 21 to her 36
but I doubt she’ll kowtow or shake her rear
or lick my face or fall to let me
scratch her belly, but on the other hand
who knows what goes down on a honeymoon?
I ask around about that but my folks
just clear their throats and say, Well, you’ll find out
in all good time, just be patient, and friends
make fun of me because I don’t get how
babies are made even when they explain
–my friends, not babies–they must be putting
me on, and last week after Sunday School
when I hit up Miss Hooker for the straight
dope she suggested that I ask my folks
so I only hope that by the time we’re
spliced–I mean Miss Hooker and I, not my
folks and yours truly–I’ll know my duty.
But then again Miss Hooker’s a teacher
even if she’s really a bus driver,
I think that in a pinch she can show me
what my part is in our matrimony.
With any luck I’ll fall asleep before
the hugging and kissing begin to get
serious. Mother says that’s what Father
did on their honeymoon but he says nix,
she was the one who conked out, too much Schlitz.
If I have to choose, I believe Mother,
I’m not sure why, maybe because she’s
not one of us. But then neither am I.

Gale Acuff has had hundreds of poems published in eleven countries and is the author of three books of poetry. He has taught university English in the US, China, and Palestine.

Poetry | By Debarshi Mitra | Issue 34 (Sept, 2020)

On the right to plagiarise/subversion as an act of reading
/ a way of rejoicing in incoherence

Hold the pen,

turn the page

how does one write a poem,

where does it begin,

what shall the first word be,

the one gleaned out

of the subconscious

making itself amenable

to psychoanalysis.

Write it! the word I mean,

stain the white with ink

each letter a blot

on this vast expanse,

which reminds me

someone once said

poetry is a thirst

for more space

which further reminds me

I had once said

space is the absence of language,

which is of course

not very revealing

once it is subjected to examination,

but what is examination

if not of the wrong thing,

only a life unexamined

is worth living,

someone might have said

or not, I don’t quite know

which is not surprising

given that there is a lot

that I really don’t know,

what I do know however

is that knowing is not

the same as embodying.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

and that has made all the difference.

BTW I have been meaning

to ask, Carlos your plums

where do they come from?

I’m not sure I know what

a plum is, but somehow

the question feels familiar
if only slightly so,

anyway poetry is a fruit too

I think, they call it

the inaudible whisper

of the terra incognita.

I like to think of it as a fruit

with a particularly hard shell,

perhaps there is light in there

and mystery and more,

I went there once

in the days of my youth

but now that I’m here

in an unfamiliar room

at an unfamiliar time,

it is almost as if

I never went.

Debarshi Mitra is a 25 year old poet from New Delhi, India. His debut book of poems ‘Eternal Migrant’ was published in May 2016 by Writers Workshop. His works have previously appeared in anthologies like ‘Kaafiyana’, ‘Wifi for Breakfast’ and ‘Best Indian Poetry 2018’ and to poetry journals like: The Scarlet Leaf Review, Thumbprint, The Punch Magazine, The Seattle Star, The Pangolin Review, Leaves of Ink, The Sunflower Collective, Coldnoon, Indiana Voice Journal, The Indian Cultural forum, among various others. He was the recipient of the The Wingword Poetry Prize 2017, The Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize 2017 and was long listed for the TFA Prize 2019.

Poetry | By Stephen Lefebure | Issue 34 (Sept, 2020)


If a song is true, each time you hear it,
Does it seem to flow from deep inside you,
From the spring where words drip out of stone?
Summoning the courage to appear, it
Plays the sound that always amplified you
In your grief, no longer just a moan.
When you cried, that sound became your spirit.
Singing is your self that life denied you
As you grew, returned to be your own.
What are feelings but how you draw near it?
Your lost self brought to you as a bride. You
Sing, and in the song are less alone.

Let instruments cease their wavering timbre.
Unplug the amps and muffle the snare.
Let someone run for booze or else steal it.
The band may hang where musicians prefer.
Music this loud (the crowd is aware)
Has too much force to ever appeal it-
Self to the heart. It may well occur
That arrangements hide what they should declare.
Being is intimate. To reveal it,
Giving it words, a hoarse whisperer
Intones the very same tune with such care
That only then can everyone feel it.

Do we fall in love, or merely fake it?
When one says “I love you,” do we feel
Happy, or as if we have been lied to?
Each relationship – do we forsake it
In advance, as if it were unreal,
Could not be real? Many of us try to.
Does serene disdain fulfill an ache? It
Fascinates some, promises to seal
Bonds more powerful than love implied to.
Yet this lure – our conscious choices make it,
Buying consolation in a deal
Those who doubt their worth sometimes decide to.

In our age we no longer expect
Miracles, or deeds which count as such.
Are we in a steady, long decline
Of wonder, still unnoticed? We reject
Sentiment, and yet a simple touch
Stops our endless falling. By design
Bodies want each other and connect
Desperately. Fingers scratch and clutch.
From the start our plan is to decline
Love, but we transform through an effect.
Spirit drinks – where does it find so much?
It there any word but the divine?

Is the sacred real, or just invented?
What is perfect awe, that we can feel it?
Wonder squished together, so we hold it?
Temporary godhead that we rented?
World itself. Compacted, to congeal it
Into spirit, so that we unfold it
In a vision, not a dream, presented
As reality. More than surreal, it
Is excess of being. Void may mold it
In the multiverse, where time is vented.
Where else can it come from? To conceal it,
We destroy the shamen who behold it.

Could a man descend from lucid song?
His parents were Apollo and the muse.
As an infant he could play the lute.
Descending, chanting all the way along,
Orpheus began with no excuse.
His words repudiated the acute
Silences expecting him so long.
Stone or shadow, nothing could refuse
Pity, nor by any art refute
The prize which lovers share when they prolong
Time, almost eternal when they fuse.
The prize death cannot cancel or dilute.

Mortals subscribe to absurdist belief.
Many mythologize, want living more
Good against evil, warfare then peace.
Orpheus’ song described autumns when leaf
Stayed upon limb. This was not merely lore.
Years when no season made branches release
Blades to pose strangely, stricken with grief.
Years when men waited in lines to adore
Women, and so serve the goddess. Increase
Pride through abasing themselves. (The relief
Men obtain shamefully now.) To implore
Love to forgive us, who rape for caprice.

That was the time before Boreas’ cold
Winds, sang Orpheus, time of warm starlight.
Time of great harvests that never ended.
Centuries men aged, and as they grew old,
Passed beyond measurement. Years when the right
Seeds would feed many, more than intended.
Years with one season. Orpheus told
Weapons for hunting, no cause to fight.
Good years unnumbered, long years that blended.
Then. Many goddesses harshly controlled,
Seized, penetrated, with no chance for flight.
Lovely Persephone… descended.

From Persephone’s mother Demeter,
Autumn and winter came swiftly to show
Barren landscapes extending inside her.
Before men could harvest their wheat, her
Sorrow covered the country with snow,
A pinkish silver, as if she cried fur.
Vague piles of color stacked at their feet. Where
Winds blew they searched for her. Everywhere, no.
It seemed an immortal had died. Per
Arrangement, they loan green Demeter
Her daughter, for just spring and summer, so
Joy and suffering sharply divide her.

Imagine landscapes of pink and blue ice.
Those are what winter remembers each year.
Land bridges linking the continents so
Peoples could migrate if they paid the price
In fingers and feet. Lakes that were clear
Prisms dissecting the sun under snow.
Hades rejecting all others’ advice,
Loving Persephone, holding her near
(If it is love to abduct one below).
When you are cold and invent paradise,
Think of how grief caused the world to appear
Frozen by sorrow that time long ago.

The darkness held a hidden spirit
Neither alive nor dead, but suspended,
Unwilling to speak. Not inclined to.
Orpheus sang to her. She could hear it
As foreign language, so she extended
Her arms – because arms are designed to
Hold something, or pull oneself near it.
Orpheus, in the dark, comprehended
Her proximity. His song outlined to
Death how loss could face and never fear it,
And informed Sleep what love found most splendid:
Mortals sharing lives they are assigned to.

Song is like water – it seems without force
When flowing, but do not hold it back.
Suddenly liquid can bite like a cuspid.
Orpheus’ song arose from the source.
What is authentic has power we lack,
Who rule from thrones in the dark and forbid.
Hades had never before felt remorse.
He let them both go with an odd drawback.
The man preceded his shadow. Well hid,
A shadow in darkness. At last of course
Orpheus looked. She faded to black.
An afterimage stayed on his eyelid.

Song is an art we do not need to guess.
His lover could never complete her climb,
But we acclaim our eloquent hero
For more than superficial success.
Orpheus explained in one lifetime
How being works, so creatures would know
That spirit alters from joy to distress
Wordlessly, as silent as a mime.
In these bodies we all undergo,
Orpheus was able to express
Existence welling, not as space in time,
But void completely filled past overflow.

Speechless things have languages as well –
They would sing to us if we could hear them,
If we paused to listen to their tongue.
Of all poets, Orpheus could tell
Beasts their natures, venturing so near them
That they felt their deaths when they were young.
This was like the breaking of a spell.
Awake, Death on his throne could fear them
For their prescience. They shared among
Each other time, the way we hear a bell
Overlap its clangs. Their doom would clear them
To live in each note as it was sung.

Who among us singers will intone
The song to waken every living being
Into sentience? Long since, the last
Success became a myth, inside a zone
No one can believe without their seeing.
Do we require magic for the vast
Empathy we constantly postpone?
Listening to stories, and agreeing
With the legend, feeling may recast
Song so that no being is alone.
Then the language that we need for freeing
Beasts will happen without being asked.

On our way to speech, we move our hands
As the primates do, because we must
Express existence we cannot convey.
We ask what everybody understands,
Settled answers which are not discussed.
Feeling the anxiety which they
Hide, we are like men in foreign lands.
Imbued with being as if breath were lust,
Time proceeds for us like one long day.
We are oceans wetting distance sands,
Planets with no solid surface crust.
What we speak we are not there to say.

Like Orpheus, our footsteps leave no trace
As we descend the path no one can see.
There is no guide into the vast unknown.
In this darkness no one has a face.
Echoes in great caverns seem to be
Voices issuing from living stone.
Finally our path enters a place
Where the floor extends out like a sea.
Here our song must find the largest tone
Possible, and slowly, with its pace,
Explain that each of us must finally
Take every step into our death alone.

Poetry by Stephen Lefebure may be found in his own volume, Rocks Full of Sky, and in Wild Song and Going Down Grand, two anthologies of nature poetry, as well as in journals like Wilderness, Oxford’s ISLE, and Bangalore Review. He lives in Evergreen, Colorado, USA. 

Poetry | By TS Hidalgo | Issue 34 (Sept, 2020)

Lolitas Store

It’s usually argued:
the Old World descends, say, from Jerusalem, from Athens;
misogynist really, since the dawn of time,
i.e. droit du seigneur, or burning of adulteresses.
In Ancient Greece,
the nobles had a predilection for their ephebos
(from behind… is that love too?),
with the females relegated to a secondary circle;
in the sacred scriptures they’re referred to as vipers,
synonym of perdition
(word of God).
Taking it to an extreme and familiar case,
we find misogynists like Voltaire, like Frederick the Great,
proponents of enlightened absolutism.
Ehh…I’m not sure,
in the same boat as well, perhaps, Mallarmé
(“Perdition was my Beatrice”).
In that way even Marx, even Engels:
women stopped then from being marked territory.
Are you not going directly home today, sir?
Well… You can always hire someone.

TS Hidalgo (47) holds a BBA (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), a MBA (IE Business School), a MA in Creative Writing (Hotel Kafka) and a Certificate in Management and the Arts (New York University). His works have been published in magazines in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Barbados, Virgin Islands of the USA, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Turkey, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, Romania, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, China, India, Singapore and Australia. He has a career in finance and stock-market. 

Poetry | By Debashree Majumdar | Issue 34 (Sept, 2020)

Summer’s Undone

Summer smells of rot,
Sweat, masks, death,
Rotten berries bleed purple
In summer’s heyday.

The sky brightens,
a featureless blue
It stays the same each day
Unknown to human misery.

News keeps pouring in
Of deaths and derangement,
Men stalk the streets
Their homes endless long hours away.

There’s a pestilence out there they say,
The planet’s reminder to all those who
Choose to erase
The forests, rivers and the thriving nests.

The sun still shines though,
Over these futureless men
Their governments forever bailing,
Their children hungry and wailing.

They walk on regardless
In hope of a home,
Where need would end
And living begin.

Debashree Majumdar is a writer-editor from India, currently living in Switzerland. Her writing on travel and food has appeared in National Geographic Traveller, Mint Lounge, The Hindu Business Line, and Open Magazine among other publications.

Poetry | By Sumallya Mukhopadhyay | Issue 34 (Sept, 2020)

It Rained that Morning

with water-feet following me
from bathroom to dining
to the study where finger
holds fire; and smokes
as soft as biscuits dipped in cup
passages its way to the window-
A look outside, to see
a face wink in the sky. A face
like the one trapped in traffic
who looks at you with relief to find
a smile familiar in the unfamiliarity.
And unfamiliarity distances us,
for time travels in drizzling streetlamps
through pavements of sudden springing umbrellas
in cries for autos and taxis
and buses to some nearby airport.
Perhaps, the wink stays
on the moisture that settles on your eyes and hand.

Sumallya Mukhopadhyay stays in Delhi where he is currently doing his PhD from IIT Delhi. He received the International Oral History Association Scholarship in 2020 to support his research. He celebrates spirit over being, silence over company, resilience over power. His poems have been published in Aainanagar, Cafe Dissensus, The Neesah Magazine, The Bangalore Review, The Firstwriter Magazine, Muse India, The Telegraph (Kolkata), Hibiscus: Poems that Heal and Empower among others.

Poetry | By Tom Paine | Issue 34 (Sept, 2020)

Strawberry Moon

Sitting on the shore at dusk on a stranger’s dock,
the skies and trees fiercer in reflection than above,
I was remembering how one winter day my friend’s
crumpled pants lay broken as a violin on the floor,
and how I felt those pants might just stroll away.
Their owner made me jealous in have living pants.
I knew their owner carried sun in his pocket, and I,
at best then, some moon? I say this with a smile.
The clothes in my closet are hanging less dead today.
A god on a Greek cliff once said there is no death.
You will awaken scared and angry in your own flesh,
and know you have been scared and angry all along.
The best thing is to scream. It is like water on a fire.
It is weird to write about those pants, but the world
is probably wrong at how sure it is about everything,
and to me, there was something about those pants.
I have come a long way since those pants on the floor.
I can tell you this: respect all the strange signposts.
Signposts are way more important than the road.
There was an orchid in bloom leaning over the river;
no one planted it there and I had no role to play.
I ate a wild strawberry I had found in a field earlier,
twirling it first it in my fingers like an orbiting moon.

The Anthology of Poetry

My feet crunched in a threat of dark frozen trees.
Was it winter roses? I was reading “The Last Duchess”.
The Duke killed her as she liked whate’er she looked on,
as tonight I suddenly liked breathing in winter.
She liked looking; I liked breathing. Dukes kill
those who they discover like to breathe and look.
I was brand new tonight to this breath pleasure.
I was alone save the bus driver. The anthology
of poetry lay in my lap and I saw the angry Duke.
He has his dagger at my throat. It was a big night:
I looked down again at she liked whate’er she looked on,
and a curtain was pulled aside, and I saw salmon
fluttering over white eggs in the sand, tasting water.

Tom Paine’s poetry is upcoming or published in more than seventy international journals, including: The Nation, The Moth (Ireland), The Rialto (UK), New Contrast (South Africa), Poetry Salzburg (Austria), Bangalore Review (India), Volt, Vallum (Canada), Paris Lit Up (France), Glasgow Review of Books (Scotland), Blackbox Manifold (Cambridge), Fence, The Common, Epiphany, Green Mountain Review, Galway Review (Ireland), Forklift, Tinderbox, Hunger Mountain, Hotel Amerika, Hobart, Tampa Review and elsewhere.

Stories have been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Zoetrope, Boston Review, The New England Review, The O. Henry Awards and twice in the Pushcart Prize. His first collection, Scar Vegas (Harcourt), was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a Pen/Hemingway finalist. A graduate of Princeton and the Columbia MFA program, he is a professor in the MFA program at the University of New Hampshire.

Poetry | By Despy Boutris | Issue 34 (Sept, 2020)

First Day of Spring

Sunlight speckles your skin, shadows of moon-

like crescents highlight your hair. The day breaks
free, ready to freckle your face and bleach you

blonde. You are ready for this, this springtime,

ready for the breaks to set and the bird bones
of your hand to pick peaches again. You’re ready

to unfurl your heart from its fist, for the dust

to scatter like stars, to spatter your chest cavity
like sparkles. You’re ready. Open the blinds

and let the light come in.

Despy Boutris’s writing has been published or is forthcoming in American Poetry Review, American Literary Review, Copper Nickel, The Journal, Colorado Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She teaches at the University of Houston, works as Assistant Poetry Editor for Gulf Coast, and serves as Editor-in-Chief of The West Review.

Poetry | ‘1959’ & ‘Limerence’ | By Carl Scharwath

Carl Scharwath’s thesis on duality is piqued in well-crafted miniscule phrases that bear testimony to imagery. 


Two children plaster forms

A decorum of the 1950’s

Embellishment, quietly grace

The family road trip.

Baseball cards on the floor

Gum under the seat

A façade of happiness 

As billboards swoop by.

Telephone wires, a dizzying array of surrealistic lines crossing the clouds and pointing the way. Last-chance gas stations, diners with dead-end jobs, the radio static filled with a revival preacher, admonishing the listeners to repent. Everything turns to Utopia.


Mom in the front seat

Dreams of a new washing machine

Perhaps a new house coat

And a husband who would love her again.

Father, eyes straightforward

Thinks of the next two martini-lunch and

An evening rendezvous with his young secretary

In a secret hotel close to home.

Like a thick novel with empty pages-four lives down the highway in a metal casket with tail fins. Route 66 attractions beckon for attention and a sparked conversation. This nuclear family just one of the forgotten many in the proto-industrialization of a historical timeline-a contaminated generation.


You are alone

I am ashamed

We walk among the lavender, wilting in the heat of our passion. Wisteria releases tears of dew drops on a lover’s pillow encased in short-lived memories. Tattered vulnerabilities, crushed velvet revelations filter through the flower field. This is the territory of asbestos laced pollen. The martyred pathway sinful and filled with misty lies under the shadows while the world is changing. 

The end of the beginning

Is the beginning of the end

Carl Scharwath’s poetry, short stories, interviews, essays, plays and art photography have appeared in 150+ journals. His photography was featured on the cover of six journals. His poetry books are – ‘Journey To Become Forgotten’ (Kind of a Hurricane Press) and ‘Abandoned’ (ScarsTv). His first photography book was recently published by Praxis. He is the art editor for Minute Magazine, Poetry Editor for TL Publishing Group, and a competitive runner and 2nd degree blackbelt in Taekwondo.


Poetry | ‘Chennai in Frames’ & ‘Sestina’ | By Saranya Subramanian

Saranya Subramanian’s poems have gasps-and-wonder-in-punctuations taken from places like Bombay and Chennai or grown from the life of Perumal Murugan and his interiority. Such variety!

Chennai in Frames

Thatha’s Ambassador croaking at us
Heavy air carrying sweat and grime
Sandalwood’s scent peeling off walls
Winter trips to Madurai by bus
Heat washed away by Marina’s sweet lime
Beach memories packed in volleyballs 

A backyard of our sleeping cricket bats
Red earth keeping warm Tulsi’s feet
Dinner on the terrace dipped in starlight
The grumbling generator housing rats
Tamil Soaps forming our home’s heartbeat
Downstairs toilet burping through the night

Comic books replaced with medicines
Laughter: once family, now visitor
Walking sticks: the new pillars of the house
Cancer taking his body, not his grin
Solemn-looking, weepy mourners
Patti’s tears filling wells, saving droughts

Dirt standing where home once was, once divine,
me standing in Chennai, but seemingly stuck in the wrong paradigm.

For Peumal Murugan

He licked his thoughts along
the envelope seal, shut it tightly
and posted it to no one. Inside it
were ideas we’d never see—sharp
pebbles that cause multiple ripples
over still waters. 

It is sinful, they said, water
must reflect a frozen image along
its banks; it must be calm, devoid of ripples,
to show calmness in return. His tightly-
clutched pen was snatched. Their sharp
swords granted him a life without it

and left him with a blank page. But it
was deceptive, like how the surface of water
bodies hide fields of algae below. The page’s sharp
border fell into a coastal shelf. Peppered along
its bottom were baby wordlings, tightly
packed and jostling against one another. Ripples

were birthed from this chaos; every ripple
sprung from a crowning word as it
locked arms with other words tightly,
peeking up from underwater.
There was no stopping them. Crawling along
the coast, they appeared as sharply

dressed sonnets and sestinas, sharp
enough to slice through sand. Ripples
met with a lyric here, marching along
to the beat of rebellion, a ghazal there, in all its
glory, glorifying the gods of fire and water
written out of law. Tightly

bound, they were the Songs Of A Coward, tightly
tied together in cowardice. Their sharp
melodies caused creases on still waters,
as they united to form one fearless ripple
that grew into a tidal wave. It
ran towards the shore, tiptoed along

its path and crawled along the prison walls that tightly
shut the writer within it. Each song’s sharp teeth
gnawed off his chains. A ripple trembled into roaring waters.

Perumal Murugan was to be read again.

Saranya Subramanian is a 22-year-old literature aficionado, based in Bombay. She spends her time singing to herself and watching Madhubala videos (sigh!). And she writes because, well, it’s all that she can really do.