Thursday, March 19, 2020

Poetry Expressed Vol. 5, Spring 2020

The authors and Poems below find their way onto the page in alphabetical order by given name.

Editor’s note: This was a fun issue to put together (but I apologize in advance for omissions and mistakes).Enjoy these interesting, engaging works. Bruce Bagnell, editor.
Want a paper copy? Email us. The print version will follow BUT without images except the cover, and that in B&W, since our poets' survey showed a preference for a $5 paper version.
Poetry Expressed, Vol 5, Spring 2020 

Lotus by Tom Stanton


by Barbara Atkinson

Speech is the greencard
you hand to the ferryman.
Leaving your backpack,
you take the leather briefcase
and watch your cowfields recede.

Always I lived by the bank
having no tongue but the one I invented
living with those who vowed never to cross.

Now I study calling cards and conferences
as a second language.
For those who can affect the dialect
the vocabulary is the same.
No one guesses my accent.

Ashamed and proud,
I talk and talk.
Hands move furiously 
into letters home.

Security Blanket

by Beau Andrews 

A glance into my closet would betray a certain affinity,
a presence of flannel that affords me great comfort in my world.

What historically was means to camouflage my insecurity,
now has a bright new future showcasing my most important decision.

Each shirt tells the story of a different day, 
a glimpse of my recovery in a myriad of cotton colors.

Deep red with rich brown and orange plaid awakens
delirious, seeing double and unable to speak in a hospital bed.

I ask for a change of clothes upon returning home—
discharged with the operating room clinging to my body.

Dark grey with thin lines of black and yellow 
cloak my new compression binder; just a touch too tight.

The feeling of artificial tightness in my chest,
it’s nothing my flannels haven’t seen me through before.

Two days post-op now and yellow Traveler's Tartan, 
buttoned all the way up, reveals my newly flattened chest.

As I step outside my front door 
for the first time since Thursday morning,

A classic two-tone flannel— forest green and black— 
show the world the resolution of a lifetime of suffering.

I have used these flannel shirts to hide my pain,
but now they help to illuminate and amplify my freedom.

And each time I exhibit my state-of-the-art symmetrical scars, 
rest assured that flannel will accompany my newfound confidence.

I-80 Blues

by Becky Bishop White

The traffic fumes me;
it’s always in the same place
by the Berkeley Marina
where I can see kites flying, boats sailing,
people walking and biking,
all fueled by muscles and wind.

Here’s the bridge.

I’ve inched through the toll, past
the arteries, the pulse of the overpass, the underpass,
systolic, diastolic: the pull and push of the bay,
rushing in toward this mass of rumbling engines, 
now drawing out to sea –
The blue whale’s heart the size of a small car.


by Bruce Fessenden

My Mothers’ Mother was a gentle woman
    I remember her deep set, brown eyes.
She had a hearing aid, like a little microphone
    all that was available in the 50s.
She had her hearing aid as long as I can remember
    her hearing impaired by typhoid fever
    is the story I was told.

An uneducated woman living in a rooming house
    as a boy I felt we were connected close.
Two quiet souls, filled with empty time
    and the occasional unfriendly ghost.
When in high school, I’d drive
    her to her solitary room
    in my fathers’ forest green sports car.
He never gave her a single penny
    he was blind in so many ways.

Often I wonder why a few rise up
    while the others struggle and fall.
Hands of the clock easily seen
    but the inner gears remain hidden.
I’ve heard it said
    broken ones of this world sacrifice themselves
    discarded fruit enriching the soil.
She liked menthol cigarettes and dime store crime novels.
Who was the kindly elementary school teacher
    who taught her how to read?
Welfare checks and food stamps, TV in the lobby
    Bathroom and showers at the end of the hall.

The last forty years of her life
    spent in that solitary room
    with her paperbacks, her cigarettes, her silence.
For the forgotten ones, it’s almost a blessing
    to be so broken, and disassociated from their grief.
She lived her life a little bit stunned
    in that way we are so much alike.
There was not a single instance her entire life
    where my father realized
    that she actually existed.

Its October now, my favorite time of year
    angle of the sun so sublime.
I don’t even have a photo of her
    my memory of her face grows hazy in my mind.
Too many people never find their place
    punch the clock, ground up for fodder.
A choir sings sweetly
    from the other side of the horizon
    I stand tall and take the next step.


by Bruce Isaacson

On hearing the rock star croon about love

I am sixty-two years old finally love 
doesn’t seem mostly about what
we feel, deep inside or elsewhere.
Or the beauty of the beloved.  It’s more like
twelve hundred meals together, a sharing
so complete we nod our heads comfortably 
in silence. It’s friendly eyes that believe in you, 
that are young and old at same time.
It’s the daily things we do for each other with 
the hymn of a birdsong at twilight.
It’s the voice you heard from the womb.
If we feel deeply, as we should, let it be 
the spark for what we do in the world, 
in our lives, as the crimson sky turns
lavender, then gentian blue, then chilled.
In the end, despite cold flesh, I’ve known
eyes with gentle lines of sympathy. 
It matters. What we each do in the world 
to help.  She was my dearest friend.
Let her song fill the evening sky.

Knocking on doors

by Carla Williams-Namboodiri

The knowledge door
lay wide open 
to some minds
with clear slates

Just a crack of light
can get through
the rules of order

Time keeping
Of lessons based on 
One kind
Of mind

No one says you are bound
For greatness,
Not even your father,
who says,
 “Keep your nose clean
And your mouth shut.
Maybe someone will
Let you keep a job.”

At school you hear, 
Then use required language--
“I can’t allow you to disrupt
people who want to learn”

A man-child shouts,
“I been disrupted since 
Day One,” 
plus a few
other related expletives

Until security men 
enforce the safety
in the learning space
by dragging a black boy
Off in chains

Carla Williams-Namboodiri is a humanities teacher in Oakland schools and writing to stay alive.

By The Way, She Is

by D Jayne McPherson

Still lost yet held between two places like pages 
from a journal documenting history, she, alone 
without the comfort of another life’s beat or 

breath to open her, welcomed this foggy day by 
walking under the canopy of trees outside. Blown 
winds, released the scent of honeysuckle, bay laurel 

under threat of a predicted retina-burning solar 
eclipse, retreated in summer coolness. Her thought, 
“It’s too dark to write” beamed ahead as the yellow

rose planted for her sister bloomed. And a neighbor, 
whose shared territory is the calling out of first names, 
waved over a dividing redwood fence. How close

first eye-contact flew on a wren’s wing, stopped to 
gaze into safety. Somehow. Something spoke when
a flapping monarch hard-turned as a roundabout, 

muscled cracking code as if Morse: Love was not a 
prelude on her lips, true. But if it at all felt like kissing, 
why not kiss back with all you have? 

No Other Planet

by D.L. Lang

Through these mighty golden hills I must roam
before they’re mined to heat someone’s home.
Upon these roaring rivers I must gaze in awe
before overfishing and pollution ruin them for all.

In these forests I must inhale fresh air so deep
before raging fires and loggers make us all weep.
Upon these beaches I must stroll with my ocean mother
before she is swollen from garbage, starving our animal brothers.

Upon this earth we must all turn around,
stopping all this destruction of her grounds.
We all are quickly running out of time
all because profits turned our hearts to grime.

The animals are disappearing from their homes.
We will be next. No other planet left to roam.

D.L. Lang is the author of 12 poetry books, and served as the 2017-2019 poet laureate of Vallejo, California. She can be found online at

After All

by Dale Jensen

an angel of death floats softly up to you
rolling emptiness in her dented tin cup
her wings stay under her jacket as she
keeps herself close to the ground    begging
hunger    hunger you can accept that
as part of an afterlife    no one
can spare you from your own desires
that you’d think would not be part of you
once you’d met death

she follows you in what you perceive as night
but what is someone else’s bright day
people are living in tents all over the city
someone froze to death in a doorway last night
she keeps following you    matching you step by step
you will not evade her by walking away

you need to stop    get people out of her path
if you leave them to her they might vanish into nothing
the nothing she rolls in her cup
you start to notice her tears as she walks
she’s crying   she’s an angel after all

Loss   - Riding   the Waves  

by Diana Feiger

Patchwork   memories, melodies   
   and   notes   sewn together   with threads of   hope  
  quilted   into a picture  
of   love   wrapped   in beautiful   harmony.  

Daylight   robbery!  
    Nightlight   shadows of   thieving skulduggery  
      silently   stalking, to   spring, surreptitiously  
         into   happy moods;   smack! Hit and   run!  
     Messy   work unexpected   feelings,  
guerilla   warfare of   emotions.  

Seagulls   keening,  
    riding   the waves.   Gently rolling   and undulating through   each day.  
      Sewing   together   happy themes,   floating.  
        An   intimidation   of uninvited   notions smashing   through   
         moments   of peaceful   concentration!  
     some   completed  
    some   lost,  
   missed   stitches   unravelling  
repairing   with gratitude  

hanging   in the balance  
   between   here and   there  
    of   parched   yearning.  
      Restless   abstractions   flitting across   state of mind,  
        crescendos   of thunderous   rage  
           cantatas,   breathtaking   views,  
         silent   sparkling   snow.  
       Fragments,   items and objects  
    collected   with conviction,  
   a   bricolage   of intentions  
never   quite complete,  
offering   intimations   
of   consolation   and support,  
salvaging   inner peace  

sipping   tea  
sunset   surrender  
   solace   in Song  

Net Worth

by Poet E Spoken

There's so much going on
It's hard for me to hold
My tears can't
Even shed the weight
I'm breaking down y'all
Yet you keep telling me
To have faith
And all that God
Won't put more on you
Has become a cliche 
Because I watch these
Devils have their way
With success 
As I deal with the stress
Of why and I
Wish I had the type
Of job that I could resign 
But as a mother
I was delegated with a
Platform to elevate you
You see baby
It's more than ignorance 
It is systemic 
When a Black boy dies
From playing with a toy gun
But a white one 
With a real one
Is misunderstood
And though Nike
Will kneel in protest 
They still got you spending 
Your whole paycheck 
To "just do it"
Listen baby style
Has never changed 
The status quo 
Unless it was stolen 
And from the darkest of coal
To the color of clouds
In the sky you were chosen 
In Fact there are more
Black and Browns
Disenfranchised  than
The number who died
Fighting for you
Just to have those
Basic rights
It has always been
Freedom Vs. Franchise 
So just like
The Black Madonna 
I am here to hold you
On high with a plan
To educate your mind
Because  the fear
Is the uprise
That one day
My Black and Brown
Kings and Queens
You will open your eyes
And come to know
Your worth…..

silent retreat, july 2019

by elana levy

monday, 1st of july 2019

the just this-ness 
of it all
this moment
this breath

2nd july

silence allows for
no decisions
just followings

each moment
its own caretaker

5th july 

28,635 days
i've lived

3508 days
till my 89th
orbit around
the sun begins

7th july 

i've never seen leaves dance
this particular dance before
i will never have the privilege
of seeing this dance again
or feeling this joy

8th july 

house filled with 
1 perfect peach rose
from my garden

dear beauteous pale peach rose
what do you ask of me
in this shared moment
of our life together
there is nothing i have to do    nothing
i don't grasp the meaning
some part knows it's true

no requirements
for entry
be sweet means   always
each person doing her very best
to grapple with this
of a short moment
we have named
13th july

if i believe in past lives
in fact, if i know that to be true
(ie, i'm not asking you)
why do i behave as if
this is all there is
14th july

if i learn nothing else
from these many days of silence

let me walk through
this world with the
greatest of Kindness
for  e v e r y  creature
human beings

if i believe we each    
embody GodLight within
let me, embody that very knowing
here too here too here too
lives God
kindness and resistance
not contradictory

i hold them both

Kindness means 
to all humans necessary

Resistance means
by any means necessary

20th july

what would happen if
i started thinking
that i am not not enough

even underneath the insanity
the silence.
25th july

one musical note is exquisite
only because of all the notes before
the rose from her garden
asks not to be displaced
just because her petals are 
curling and dying

the old woman obeys

Capitol City Lullaby

by Ethel Mays

Across the street from a sumptuous mansion 
folks settle under City Hall's vaulted arches 
where cement paths provide hard mattresses.

Behind support columns are the bedding, 
carts, and ephemera that might get picked up 
before office hours; maybe not.

A mile from this shared-space bedroom
are the blue, green, orange and brown 
gumdrop tents of campers

alongside a quiet road, deceiving in its allusion 
to a rural landscape, a short drive from
the foot traffic of a large downtown park.

Snake Trail

by Florence Elon

Packed in this Galilean shack
we hear the news in six
languages, listen
only to our own, then turn
away to eat or talk.
The walls shake, ready to split.

Sick of listening
to war news, I walk out
and wander on 
a snake-trail, winding.…

Brown grass turns yellow.  Sun
slants westward.  Have I crossed
into enemy land?  There ahead:
lush green clusters.

A veiled girl – a Rachel
or a Leah? – bends
to fill her pail
and sees me stomp in boots:
an enemy?

She leads me silently
up steps cut into dirt,
past coops that stink
of dung, to her own hut 
(seams splitting, roof aslant) -
like what I left.

A young man in khakis
opens the door and shakes
my hand.  “Come in.”  She brews
coffee over an open fire.
He tells me this is Akbar:
Arab, “re-located”
because of “incidents.”  I don’t
question further.

We sip from one delicate cup,
passing it around.
Bitter mints melt on our tongues.
“Now we are friends,”
he says, “Are you afraid?”

I Cannot Be A Biotomist

by G David Schwartz

I cannot be a Biotomist
 I have a bio but I am not a miss 
I like water mellon rhines 
But I'm not a rhinoceros 
I Never Played The Saxophone  
I never played the saxophone 
Not in public and not alone 
although I did like the sound 
I couldn't carry that heavy think around  
Eggs Are A Living Being 
Eggs are a living being 
Be they tarantula 
or be they more tinny 
Eggs are the first homes for hen and spiders 
And some say, little sisters. 


Straight Dope

by Gale Acuff 

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 HoneyDarlingSweetheartSugarlips,
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.
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.

 Scooting Along…

by Garrett Murphy

Anywhere and everywhere,
you see them around.
Some are erect;
many on their sides.
Some appear to be off cold;
others look live as hot coals.
You see them on the streets,
mounted or not,
and they ask for only a buck to start.
A Buck to boot!
(or is it a buck-a-roo)
If you don’t watch out
you could fall over one.
If they don’t watch out
they may find some in a lake!
Their abundance is not unlike
that of the homeless.
But the homeless presence is understandable
due to policies that lead to such.
But the policies regarding the scooters 
seem much more tolerant,
though frankly,
those scooters 
along with their makers their riders
and their so-called regulators,
one might wish they’d
just plain

My Thoughts, That Is

by Gary Turchin

They wander in and out 
like cats, un-herded,
well-informed, perhaps,
but loosely worded.
My thoughts, that is,
Are yours any different?
I’ll tell you mine,
if it makes any difference.

They arise out of nowhere,
Consume me like fire,
attend my attention 
like a leaderless choir
at the whims of desire

My thoughts, that is,
Are yours any different?
I’ll tell you mine,
if it makes any difference.

See that man on a ladder,
leaning too far?
I used to do that.
Wonder where my ladders are?
John almost fell off once
He had a nice car
Look at that Chevy
Boy, she put on weight!
Do I look that heavy?

My thoughts, that is,
Are yours any different?
I’ll tell you mine,
if it makes any difference.

Is this the right door
I wore the wrong sweater
makes me look old 
It’s not the sweater… 
She’s older than I am!
She has a job.
Will I ever work again?
Will she ever get home?
Wish I were home 
I was writing a poem
Does that count as work?

My thoughts, that is,
Are yours any different?
She’s moving to a trailer her  
and her dog
Maybe I should get a trailer
Maybe I should get a dog
What would I name it?
Frank, after dad?
My sister would get a kick out of      
Wonder how her new house is 
Right! That’s where my ladders 
Hope no one falls.
I’m thinking of moving in the Fall 
I know, all those cats,
Someone has to herd them.

My thoughts that is.

Coffee at Midnight

by Georgette Howington

Morning shaped the afternoon
a buzz and clamor of
unfolding columns
dropping down, a deck of cards:
the gamble.  
Maybe a long shot.

Late evening closes
in an over-priced restaurant
a bottle of Pinot-Noir empty.
The road home paved in 
egg shells is a ruin of noise 
and uncertainty.

Night casts shadows on the wall
the dogs are sleeping
the wife is sleeping
He sits wide-eyed at the dining
table, bitter day-old dark coffee
poured into his cup

and picks up the phone.

Ladder (20)

by Grace Marie Grafton

It's what the swirl allows that attracts her. To be
stepping in one direction and suddenly see another 
side, a backward glance, second chance. Then 
a third, fourth or a different angle altogether. She 
was stepping in step and now she's praising sky.

A cylinder is made to fit inside something else. She 
pictures: tight. Or something else fits inside a cylinder.
But shouldn't rattle around. Is that true or is she failing
to allow her understanding to expand? After all,
a cylinder is a circle and a circle goes on forever.

A ply is a layer. A veil could be a ply that's meant
to conceal. But when you ply a layer away from another
layer, what's under is revealed. Revelation. A dif-
ferent way, expansion of understanding.
Ply is so close to try. Try is so close to why.

To demand herself to change is abrasive. Scolding
her child, upbraiding her spouse, reprimanding a student.
Raises resistance, sets the jaw. She remembers what
the Tao de Ching advises: water will wear down stone
without ever using force. The dead leaf floats downstream.

The future intimidates. The swivel may take her off course
onto a strange road, her driving skills deteriorating,
her eyesight dimming. She's afraid she won't get to
view Venus in space's post-sunset glamour. She may
find herself eating dinner with an unknown family.

Deep in her brain an ocular refrain, her long-dead
father's advice: 'Feathers aren't only for birds to fly.'
What in the world did he mean to tell her? It has
something to do with warmth, something to do with
soft. Maybe 'Birds of a feather are bound to be beautiful.'

Grace Marie Grafton is the author of seven books of poetry.
Check out her new website: gracegrafton.wixsite/poems.

The Long Ride Home 1972

by Jan Dederick

Thunderstorms are predicted, 
will cool this sultry day.
She loves those buxom cumulus nimbus
roiling up in the west this time of year.
Usually loves trips in his Mustang
top tucked away.
Their homecoming looms like the thunderclouds.
She will concoct some cockamamie 
story about why she was gone all day with Joe. 
Or she will screw up the courage to tell truth,
that the doc in South Orange was the closest
they could find willing to run the risk.
She will take care while taking a seat,
will do so gingerly, whatever happens
will not let the pain of it show on her face. 
That's later. Here, now, convertible top down,
auburn hair dancing in wild Mustang wind,
she cannot feel the breeze, nor look at the boy, 
her colleague in crime. The nether region 
pain on any bump, the memory
of the sounds, the smells,
haunt her. The gnawing cramp in her heart 
defies reason, the spillage on her cheek, 
the wonder who it was going to be, 
whether she will ever get another chance.  

Jan Dederick This is a bio of the poem, not of the poet.  This poem came out of The Writing Salon's Round Robin.   When I saw the prompt, memories of friends of mine who needed abortions before Roe V Wade flooded my mind.   Lots of trauma all around. It's NOT autobiographical.   

Moving Julia

by Jan Steckel

Julie was dead six months 
when her sister Debbie 
asked me to take her 
out of Debbie’s apartment.
“She’s beating up on me.  
You think the dead will be nice, 
but then they’re not. 

At first I had her 
in the studio,
but she kept
bullying me 
while I was painting, 
so I put her in the little room
in back. 
Even there, though, 
she won’t shut up.”

Debbie showed me onto the roof
to the small storage room.
On the floor was a velvet bag.
In the bag was a box.
The box contained Julia’s cremains. 
They were so heavy.

I took her with me when I left, 
swinging her gently
as I waddled down the stairs.

At home I shook her,
just to feel her shifting.
I put her in the corner. 
She minded her own business,
except during medical editing
when she suggested 
my time would be better spent
  writing poetry.
I ignored her 
just like I did 
while she was alive.

Jan Steckel’s latest book Like Flesh Covers Bone (Zeitgeist Press, December 2018) won two Rainbow Awards (for LGBT Poetry and Best Bisexual Book) and was a finalist for the poetry category of the Bi Book Awards. Her poetry book The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) won a 2012 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction. Her fiction chapbook Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) and poetry chapbook The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006) also won awards. She lives in Oakland, California.


by Jeannette DesBoine

I close my eyes...  
I don’t want to see...  
But I cannot close my ears 

I am not deaf  
So I still hear  
The moan of misery 

I cannot see the blood 
But I can hear the screams 

I do not see the tears 
But weeping fills my ears            

I do not see the blows that land 
But still I hear the thud 

I may not see the broken skulls  
But that cracking gives me chills  

I can not see the bodies swing  
But I hear the creaking rope 

I do not see the piles of dead 
But I hear the bullets thump 

I close my eyes so I will not see 
But I cannot close my ears 

I may not see the scabs and scars 
But broken spirits shriek 

I shut my eyes so I’ll be blind... 

But I can’t close my ears 

The Museum of Inner Light 

by Jerry Ratch

On the way to 
The Museum of Inner Light 
Expect delays 
Expect bumps in the road
Expect potholes and such 
Expect a murder of crows 
Rolling acorns over the rooftops 

But what I want to know is who 
Who eats a butterfly 
On the way to the Museum 
Of Inner Light? 
We’re on a different time-clock now 
And time has speeded up 

When we were young 
It never went this fast 
Someone definitely has their foot 
On the gas pedal of life 
And they will not, will not let it up

A Rose for Paris

by Joann Babiak

Oh Paris
City of Light;
Rising from the terrors of one recent night where innocents fell 
And the World went to Hell – except for those of us who might re-tell the story with a different frame
No one with a heart and love of this life will be the same – 
And Yet, with our wounded spirits, we rise.

We reprise these infamous minutes where bullets bled out the happiness of a normal Friday night,
Turned it into another sick milestone in an ISIS fight 
Instead of end-of-the-week respite 
For those who work each day from morning to night. 

Oh, believe me, we stand strong
We will be all right.
We will not give in to the silencing that bullets might bring without strategic oversight.
We cannot seek comfort from what now lingers in the cold after-light of what was meant 
to be a crushing blow.

It was not, you know.

But loss of even just one life is profound, all that – AND we are more resilient than 
the rat-a-tat tat of a rifle, 
the horror of one battle in an urban civilian zone.
WE are not through with ISIS, and recall that 
NONE of us

Like the rose left here for Paris, 
Like the words laid down this night
Like the tears we cry that fall like rain from the sky, 
The bloom is yet to unfold.

So be what you are supposed to be
Live your life as an emblem of “free”,
Raise your voices shouting “LIBERTY”
Keep your course, Democracy

Do what you can to join in solidarity with the people who survive the attack on Paris.
Do what you can to blossom and be free…
Just like the rose – one single rose – left here for Paris
And for those
Who have the vision to see 
That a rose, emblematic of timeless beauty,
Still has thorns

Love’s Meditation

by Johanna Ely

For Nina

We walked the labyrinth,
knowing it was practice
for walking back into oneself—
to follow a long, winding river
flowing towards the origin of life—
a desire to understand the mystery of death.
In the courtyard of an old church,
we found the entrance— 
a narrow stone path that curved 
and snaked back and forth 
towards the promise of infinity, 
a circle within a circle.
We remembered this journey—
a puzzle deciphered long ago
by midwives and the moon.
A joyful return to an ancient
encompassing womb—
Love’s meditation.
When we reached the center,
there was a circle large enough 
for us to stand together
and raise our arms in triumph,
before following the path 
back to the beginning—
two women, two friends,
twisting and turning 
down the moon’s birth canal,
born again into a wild, wet world.

©Johanna Ely

Hardware Store Cathedral

by Judy Bertelsen

A week after the Boston Marathon bombings 
the hardware store man knew on the phone what I needed 
to hook up the new hammock 
to the old stand. 
What aisle? who will help? 
“Joseph. I’ll be here.” 
And he was. 
Measured and cut chain, located S-hooks, clamps. Ordinary-looking man. Competent. Plain. 
I know this store: rows of shelved useful things, 
nothing fancy. No one trying 
to sell you something you don’t need. 
If you ask about garden hose washers or toilet flap 
units, they walk you over to the stuff. 
The check out woman, 
not a self-service computer, 
does her job quickly but no rush, 
nothing extra. 

Judy Bertelsen is a poet who has made her living as a physician (geriatrics and internal medicine) and before that an academic political scientist. She lives in a little house in Berkeley and built an earth oven from the native clay soil deposited in her yard eons ago by an ancient river. The oven formerly made great wood-fired sourdough pizza, but that activity has been retired, what with concerns about air quality.

Garbled Catholicism                                                      

by Judy Wells

Szymborska says in our dreams
we light dark tunnels
with our eyes….

And what do we see?
Is it the future or the past
or simply the present moment?
Am I making love
with that lover of 20 years ago,
do I want him again,
or is he my husband today?
Is that troll under the bridge
myself, my unconscious,
or a stupid ass on the computer?
Is that horn I hear each morning
from the real train a mile away
or an angel blast
ready to summon me to Heaven,
to Hell, or to the disappeared Purgatory?

Oh how we all cherished Purgatory—
We could still sin, in a minor way,
and still get to Heaven eventually.
The Catholic Church keeps weeding.
There goes Limbo, there goes Purgatory—
or am I wrong—only Limbo was cut.
St. Christopher got the shaft.
Such a loss—picking up the child Jesus,
the weight of the world, carrying Him
across the river with his staff.

Did St. Jude get the shaft too?
I hope not—St. Jude
helping us with hopeless causes 
finding lost objects
perhaps even our cars today.
My own name so similar—
Hey Jude! Hey Judy!
What’s the difference?
And if I am lost
can I find myself
by invoking my own name?
Hey Judy! Hey Judy!

Or do I need the complete Pantheon
St. Christopher, St. Jude, and Jesus
to guide me to Purgatory
cleanse me in hot water
then on to Hallelujah! I’m in Heaven!
I told you this is a dream.
Czeslaw Milosz regrets the loss
of the Second Space of Catholic dreams.
So do I. So do I.
Judy Wells’ 12th collection, Dear Phebe: The Dickinson Sisters Go West, poems about her Dickinson ancestors who traveled from Massachusetts to California in the 1860s to establish new lives, was published by Sugartown, 2018. The Glass Ship completes her trilogy of Irish-themed poems, including Everything Irish and Call Home. 

Poverty Tax

by Kelliane Parker

The hand that holds you down
Sits on you
Looks down on you
Never fails to keep its hand out for more
The long lines, extra fees
The long commute
The multiple jobs
The so-called American Dream
Was built on the backs of the poor

Just save your way out of poverty?
Kinda hard to do when the only thing left to cut
Are RX and groceries
You see the lie tells us
That a perfect credit score is virtuous
That poverty is cause by mismanaged money
But mostly of laziness
But those without safety nets
Can tell you just how hard the ground is
Every time they have hit it
And got up the next morning
To again launch from wrung to wrung

But hear this

The cause of poverty is greed
Yes, the cause of poverty is greed
The romanticism of this country
Built on cattle, chattel and cash
And works like this
Those on top are standing on the backs of others
The worship of money, of things
The worship of the zero sum game
Where I can’t win unless you lose
This is the ultimate lie of so called success
Every farm in this country, was an entire village
Of people who had been here 15,000 years
Every cattle ranch, the land of entire tribes
While the capitalist monoculture of GMOs
Eradicates indigenous food as weeds

So, I’ll take subsistence over moral poverty
Still give the last dollar I have
While the comfortable class worry about capital gains
I’ll be fine with bridge toll and gas
I’ll be fine with art and poetry
I’ll be fine foraging and growing 
My worth cannot be measured in gold

Kelliane Parker’s poetry can be found in various anthologies. Her work focuses on de-stigmatizing dissociative disorders and other effects of trauma. She co-hosts My Word Open Mic in Berkeley. 

By Watching

by Hiram Larew 

I listen to your advice so closely
That mice stop to look back over their shoulders at us
And I read the corner of your eye
Even though it’s worrisome as frost
Your hand I remember from years ago
But with age it has become a new enemy
A lovely hill that slowly turns around
As if trains were still with us
Sometimes I think your hair decides my future
It flows freely from a radio I can barely hear

Your feet and ideas are most important to me
They’ve become more and more like pigeons
Or anything else I can’t scare away

Altogether what you’ve done for me
Looks like a set of spoons 
Tastes like towels do at the edge of water
And lasts as long as anything does 
In a wide blue frame.

This poem appeared in Trend Magazine.

Birds and Drums

by Leah Steinberg

Birds and drums
Call to me
Sing to their mates

Ospreys, puffins, crows, egrets,
Eagles and redwing blackbirds
Trill, peep, harmonize in tunes I do not understand

Congas and cymbals
Hands clapping
Backbeat of the spirituals
Find movement in my feet
From the Congo Square of New Orleans past
Up the Mississippi to the 
Blues Clubs of my hometown

To a walk through
The Art Institute of Chicago
As a child

To a poster on my wall
The Song of the Lark
Sung at sunrise
Clear notes and trills, harsh buzzes and churrs
I always thought it was sunset until I found
The lark only sings at sunrise

That poster
Followed me to college
Hung on my wall for decades

A song of the fields
I heard in
The strokes of Jules Breton’s paint brush

Did they sing work songs?
Did they call and respond?
Like the slaves
Like the birds

The drums of the underground railroad
Follow the drinking gourd
Their feet moving in the
Rhythm of the tired
The rhythm of the shuffle

Through the rows of cotton
Along the river, the rhythms of the earth
Listening for the call of birds
Going north

The underground birds fly
Calling to me
Calling their mates

Drums and birds
Birds and drums
Heartbeat and soul of the world

Keeping the blues alive
Beneath the frozen snow

Ile de Plaisir

by Lenore Weiss

Let us sing of Ile de Plaisir 
each room set up 
to teach another cruelty

children ushered through gates
red, yellow, water balloons
render interviews on the fly—

no parents, no charges at the turnstile
herded to brokerage, camps
where matches flame spontaneously 

until children run away with a woman dressed
in a skirt of serpents and a necklace of skulls.
You are my children, she sings, and leads them

to the bottom of a well where they drink from
fire, grow fins and gills, kiss stones
learn how to speak 


by Leticia Garcia Bradford

Scanning the downtown skyline
Oakland, California
The Tribune Tower stands tall
marking the blocks where business turns 
Inside the city landscape
the clock marks off time of long ago

What’s below the elegant structure?
Do you see the dirty sidewalks
Illuminated by a full moon
Gutters filled with a river of refuse
escaping to the underground sewer
Sidewalks cracked with uneven payment
A small wind sends a chill
over the bundle huddled
in the entryway of an abandoned storefront
Nearby books are stacked inside safe
No use for the homeless man 
making the streets his home
His silent eyes peer into nothingness 
Another lonely sleepless night


Flying West

by Lucille Lang Day

The sunset flares rose, orange 
and gold above a sea of fog
streaming in from the Pacific.

We pass over clouds tinged
pink like cotton balls
stained with nail polish.

The clouds, small at first
and far below us, grow larger
as we descend toward SFO.

In my window seat, I mention
none of this to the man
beside me, his head bowed.

He wears dark glasses. His
black jacket says “Blind Boys 
of Alabama” on front and back.

I’ve heard them on YouTube,
singing “People Get Ready,”
but I cannot hear the music

I think must be playing now
in his head. So much beauty
unshared, so much unsaid.

Lucille Lang Day is the author of six poetry collections and four chapbooks. Her new collection, Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place, will appear from Blue Light Press in October 2020. She has also coedited two anthologies and published two children’s books and a memoir. Her many honors include the Blue Light Poetry Prize, two Josephine Miles/PEN Oakland Literary Awards, and ten Pushcart Prize nominations.                                                                                                                                          

Across the Internet

by Mark States

(with gratitude to The Beatles' "Across the Universe")

The messages are an endless stream
flowing past my face
I listen to the sound
as my finger hits the Page Down key.
The sound lulls me as nature would, drifting lazily
while words crash like water against rock.

So much anger here
they this, they that, they rant
they don't, they won't, they thrash and splash
drowning in a sea of antipathy -
where is the 'we' that floats downstream
basking in sunlight, enjoying the scenery?
Why do we curse the cloud that gets in the way
when all it is doing is rolling on
just like we toward the future?

We forget to remember the sunlight returns in just
a moment, right after these messages ...

The messages drone on and on
conceived in secret, they fly by undetected
till they drop their payload
and we are bombed by belief.
We've heard it all before, still there's more -
and sun sets behind a mushroom cloud of sadness yet again ...

They call to you, they call to me
they call but it does not mean we have to answer
let it ring
let it hum like the drifting waters
beneath the trees whose leaves rattle in drifting wind

Fish move in and out along with the tide
that guides their lives
we are what we choose to see
and I'd rather enjoy the view.

Mark States, now living in North Carolina, is a former editor of Poetalk Magazine, facilitator of the “Public Speaking For Poets” workshops at the Berkeley Arts Center, and the founder of Poetry Express.

When Jaguars Licked Salt from My Hands

 By Mary Mackey

burning jungles
once spread out beneath me
carpets of flame that moved and twisted
following the silver snake of the river
like an evil prophecy 

I remember a hot green day
when jaguars licked salt
from my hands
and the shamans turned my body
into a bag of birds

how they pried open my mouth
and stuffed me with parrots
macaws   crested eagles   Fire-eyes 
Monjitas   Tinamous and Cotingas
filled my lungs with feathers
stripped off my skin and replaced it
with a layer of greasy down the color of
rotten mangoes

I remember how my hands became claws
my nails talons
how when I tried to speak
a thousand beaks
came out of my mouth
and my tongue broke off
at the tip

when they were finished
they wrapped me in a blanket of thorns
tied ropes around their ankles
and climbed to the crest 
of a great tree

fly            they commanded
throwing me naked and nestless
into air so hot and thick I thought at first
I could swim in it

I flew forever before I hit the ground
flew like a hawk looking for prey
like a vulture looking
for death

now back in these lands
where the leaves turn blood red
and pepper fruits fall to the ground
and everything has a golden
diminishment   as if light itself
is finally being observed to die
I can still feel those birds
trying to beat themselves
out of my skull

and I   almost
take flight again
over that vast jungle
of nightmares and 

Mary Mackey became a poet by running high fevers, tramping through tropical jungles, dodging machine gun fire, being swarmed by army ants, making catastrophic decisions about men, and reading, She is the author of 8 collections of poetry including The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams: winner of the 2019 Eric Hoffer Award for the Best Book Published by a Small Press. Mackey’s poems have been praised by Wendell Berry, Jane Hirshfield, Dennis Nurkse, Maxine Hong Kingston,  and Marge Piercy for their beauty, precision, originality, and extraordinary range. She is also the author of 14 novels one of which made The New York Times bestseller list.

Sixteen Apexes

by Melisa Hobbs

The tip of my tongue.
The acme, the peak, the pinnacle.
Pointed end of a redbud leaf.
Top of the spire of a mollusk.
Wide point of a butterfly wing.

Very high frequency radio broadcast.

The point a racing car touches 
on the inside of a turn, driving the proper line.
The spin of our solar system around the sun 
touring the Milky Way.

The climax, the capstone, the zenith.
The period of highest performance.
Top center where two equal sides 
unify Greek architecture.
The climax zone of a civilization which
we hope discovers its Creator.

The humblest point of my heart
gathers this waterfall
to whirl me with you, you
and You.

Melissa Hobbs uncovers truth, unity, and love, sneakering on trails, flying with birds and living in Albany, CA. 

 He is only a symptom

by Michele Ritterman

But he is a symptom that will kill you.
By the time
each broken segment of the broken society--- We, the dying—know that they will soon be dead, it will be too late to save them/U.S.
So this is all bigger than you, me, they, we it is a force
that blows through
so-called humanity
that sweeps through, really
killing off first the innocent and the trusting.... isn't trust good? kindness? empathy?
we ask
still hoping
for divine intervention
We do know that prayer brings out the best in us, But is it heard by some collective or greater cosmic Someone?
Hello Hello! Radio Mortal Here.
We acknowledge
that he is only a symptom
of Our Greed
of Our Shortsightedness
of Our Species Divisions
of our Walmarts and plastic wrap and drones and bombs
and the killer drugs and racial justifications and poisoned food.
But still...
Come in please. Fast. Now. Give us a chance,
to do better
to heal the body politic
that festers now with this open wound of a Madman. 

Michele Ritterman: First poem published 1958, when I was 12, against capital punishment, “we’ll probably get the right one….” and racism, “I love my neighbor, it’s just that…..”.  As Psychologist-Poet, have had a Life-long commitment to social justice, both within the family and in the world:, and to the discovery of life-lines to save the soul (The Tao of a Woman). May we learn to love and not fear Truth.

At the Piano

by Penelope Thompson

After Bill Evans,  Peace Piece

He plays a single note
there is silence
long enough that you 
lean forward
calling for the relief
of a 3-note trill
before silence
falls again

like a lover 
caressing you
into deep response
then stopping
so the air vibrates
between you
and only at the edge
of intolerable yearning
strokes your keys


by  Richard Loranger

He’s random and a stranger but you’re curious so you shadow him for blocks to see what strange things he might do, and he walks quite a ways, then stops, walks a bit further, and stops, stands in the shade himself for a minute, the day has grown quite hot and he walks into a store and returns with a bottle of water, you wish you’d gone into the store but you were afraid, what might he have done in there, anything strange now went unseen, he might have shuffled the candies, played with the gum, fingered a donut, pocketed something you’ll never know what, you’ll never know, so he opens the bottle and sips at the water, walks on, closes the bottle, walks, opens the bottle, sips more and leaves it open, sips more and leaves it open, all the while walking, the sun is bright but he hasn’t a hat, why does he not have a hat on a scorching day, he walks in the sun and sips at the water, sips at the water, closes the bottle and sets it down alongside a building, it’s one quarter full and he leaves it there, there’s a strange thing, maybe not, still seems odd, who’s going to take it, somebody might, you stand there looking but he’s gone ahead, he’s quite up the walk and now you might lose him but don’t want to clue him by hastening, you walk on, he walks on, you walk on, he stops, you keep walking, he stands, you keep walking and wonder if you might surpass him, he turns to his right and walks into a market, you follow him in this time, what else to do, and of course you might witness some oddness, some strangeness, but what if he sees, what of it, you’re just walking too, now you’re here in the market, both of you, but for different reasons, you to observe him, he to do what, you don’t know, presumably to purchase what, you don’t know, you gather your wits and conjure a strategy, gazing at pretzels, gazing at crackers, it’s not a big market just two meager aisles surrounded by coolers and freezers, you gaze at detergent trying to look like you’re looking for something while finding a spot to observe what he’s doing, when all that he’s doing is staring at mangos, standing and staring, unblinking, unmoving, what is he doing he’s staring at mangos, strangely, oddly, normally, who knows, and now you’re staring at him staring at mangos, possibly for minutes but likely for seconds, you’re staring, he’s staring, he notices you staring and falters his reverie, you turn away and grab the nearest item, a bottle of water, in fact it’s the same kind that he had been drinking, how odd, but you grab it and head for the counter, he’s there right before you buying his mango, pays deftly and exits relief as it is without looking your way, you fumble with bills for your unforeseen purchase, complete the transaction and exit yourself, look left then right and catch him just turning a corner, you walk toward the corner, open the bottle and sip at the water, walk, sip at the water, walk, sip at the water, the day is quite warm still and you’ve been walking for some time, you sip at the water, get to the corner and turn and start down the block, glance down the block and there’s no sign of him, no sign anywhere, again a relief, and what matter, you don’t know him any more than when you started, not really, you don’t know him at all, do you really know anyone, you walk and breathe deeply, walk and breathe slowly and deeply, sip at the water, walk and breathe slowly and there he is, just ahead on your right on a stoop in the shadow, sitting contentedly eating his mango, you’re going to pass him and there’s nothing for it, nothing to do except walk, you’re approaching, he looks up, you smile, what else to do, he stands with the mango as you reach the stoop, jangles his keys in his other hand and says with a smile, “Care to come in?”

Richard Loranger is a multi-genre writer, performer, musician, visual artist, and all-around squeaky wheel, currently residing in Oakland, CA. He is the founder of Poetea, a monthly literary conversation group. His publications include the books Sudden Windows, Poems for Teeth, The Orange Book, ten chapbooks, and work in over 100 magazines and journals. He curates the reading series Babar in Exile, and the queer talk and reading series #we. You can find more about his work and scandals at


by Roopa Ramamoorthi

On the chart paper petals
I move my purple sharpie
Writing the names
Darlyn Cristabel Cordova Valle
Jakelin Caal Maquin
Carolos Hernandez Vazquez
And unknown boy
I add a boldness to the name
And below each name the years
10, 7, 16, 1.5

And today at work between meetings
I trace the names of those dead in the immigration center
The photo of Maria Perez, black searching eyes, checked dress
Could have been me in my school uniform, ribbon tied to my two ponytails

Say no I’m not here Sunday, cannot make the march
I did go to the Berkeley event protesting separation
of children from parents in detention
That was convenient between my 
Zumba class at the gym and 
Farmers market for lunch

Evening I go to the gym
Look in the mirror, my lipstick a bit gone
Eyeliner circling my eyes smudged, Look OK
No, I change quickly for yoga
to twist in asanas, sun salutation or surya namaskar
and veerasan or warrior pose

But have to look deeper beyond the mirror
And see someone who wrote the names but has to ask
Was it really about those children crying for their parents 
Or making herself feel better and staring at
my two eyes, what I see I do not like.
So I turn away to get another chai latte.

Roopa Ramamoorthi is a biotech scientist and poet from India who now calls Berkeley home. Her work has been featured on NPR's Perspectives, in the anthologies 'She is Such a Geek', 'Dismantle', and 'Red Skirt, Blue Jeans' as well as in India Currents, The Berkeley Daily Planet, Khabar, the best of 60 years of Spectrum, Ursa Minor and other publications.

A Sealed Glass Case  ————— A Pantoum

by Sharon Metzler-Dow

I find the 80-year-old man who plays Beethoven and chess here every day
in Amsterdam’s brown Eik en Linde pub on Plantage Middenlaan.
At six he escaped deportation from the Jewish Theater next door.
Now a museum, its courtyard silent and empty full of wailing souls, wool-coated they wait.  

At Amsterdam’s Eik en Linde pub on Plantage Middenlaan
I want to ask him how the little boy moved through rooks and pawns in the maze of ’42.
Now a museum, its courtyard silent and empty full of wailing souls, wool-coated they wait. 
Shoestrings long gone, faded felt baby shoes and yellow stars in the glass case.

I want to ask him how he escaped as a six-year-old in ’42.
The admissions ticket in my poet pocket, I follow exit signs through Ann Frank’s dim halls.
Shoestrings long gone, faded felt baby shoes and yellow stars in the museum glass case.
Before I leave, I see my reflection in Ann Frank’s mirror where she questioned her fate.

The admissions ticket in my poet pocket, I follow exit signs through dim halls.
My easy route past museum guards and out onto Amsterdam’s stumble stone streets.
Before I leave, I see my reflection in Ann Frank’s mirror where she questioned her fate.
The mirror that reflected her family’s shock and captors’ shouts, before Bergen-Belsen’s erase. 

My easy route past museum guards and out onto Amsterdam’s stumble stone streets.
In ’45 Canadian forces freed Holland from hunger and horror. 
A mirror reflected her family’s shock and captors’ shouts, before Bergen-Belsen’s erase.
What did the Dutch eat during the hunger winter war?  Tulip bulbs, they say.

In ’45 Canadian forces freed Holland from hunger and horror.
At the Eik en Linde, I yearn to ask the white-haired man about his getaway.
What did the Dutch eat during the hunger winter war?  Tulip bulbs, they say.
Instead I leave the escaped boy to enjoy his “Checkmate!” one more day.

(Note:   Across Europe, stumble stones are small brass bricks embedded into sidewalks
 inscribed with the names and dates of the family members taken from their homes at that
address during Nazi persecution.)

Sharon Metzler-Dow is an internationally read poet/writer published in anthologies and on The Leakey Foundation website, a major global anthropology organization. Her poetry will publish in the Spring 2020 edition of Lilipoh, an anthroposophical journal. She’s a world wanderer.

“When the Devil Came to Berkeley”

by Tom Garry

When the Devil came to Berkeley
speaking not a word.
The Devil simply walked and observed.

People passing by the Devil,
thought of this person. Strange and weird,
as the Devil had a grin from ear-to-ear.
Eyes that just stared while overwhelmingly aware.

Sneering at young children
without adults knowing,
the Devil lived for such innocent fear.

All mortals of Berkeley were unaware
for judgement was oh so near.
Of this,
the human race had nothing to compare.
Soon to be consumed, by Hells own atmosphere.

Because the Devil would judge
not from above, their God.
All the human race,
succumb to the Devils’s hate.
Of all that God did create.

Just a little longer
the Devil would wait.


by Tom Stanton

Light me from the ...
From the ground
Lovely Lotus
Lift me up
Hug me so tight
Into your lips
Into your heart
Beautiful Lotus

No make-up today
Happy tears
From dew just now
Melts nothing on your wonderful face
For fools

Poetry Expressed is created for our Poetry Express Poets and those who attend.

Hey Hey Corona

Corona, I want you with lime,

traveling fizz down my throat,
chasing thirst into the next state over.

I do not invite you vaporized,

turning my lungs into lakes,
I do not want you sneaking onto my doorknob hands.

I sense that you are coming for me,
wandering through airports,

halls and coffee shops,
an immigrant jumping the silly iron barricades.

Gaia has sent you in anger over our swarm
and I am the paralyzed prey

knowing no escape but what you may bring upon me.
Mercy has no meaning to Fate.

We will test my metal.

If I yield, know that life was good, great,
Kill me fast or leave me whole,

I got the best, a life of love.
Corona, I toast you with a slice.
  - Bruce Bagnell, editor of Poetry Expressed

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