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These Few Seeds, by Meghan Sterling.  Terrapin Books, 2021,75 pages, paper, $14,72, ISBN: 978-1-947896-39-0How does one ...
03/20/2022
These Few Seeds

These Few Seeds, by Meghan Sterling. Terrapin Books, 2021,
75 pages, paper, $14,72, ISBN: 978-1-947896-39-0

How does one justify bringing a child into a world of conflict and impending catastrophe ? This is the question Meghan Sterling takes on in her debut collection, These Few Seeds. Even knowing she can’t help but leave her daughter a troubled legacy, Sterling’s overall message is one of resilience and hope.

The poet presents the challenges both collective and individual that are likely to face any human child of the twenty-first century, “whose earth may be scorched / with flames.” She laments “the sad, slow / wash of water as it runs / toward an ocean that’s rising, rising.” Sterling enlarges this sense of foreboding with far-ranging geography and history. Helsinki, Portugal, Australia, and Syria provide the settings for some of these poems. In “The Deeper We Dig,” for example, the poet remembers, and even becomes, her grandmother in a time of conflict, confronting part of her own painful legacy:

I dream I am my grandmother, her face looking back at me
in the train car window, the train rushing into a mountain
in Ukraine, a place we fled before the first World War,
with the Anna Karenina train cars, with the Slavic language

In “Jew(ish),” Sterling claims first only “small traces” of that heritage, but then builds a connection to Jewishness with sensory details such as “a quality of air, like cigar smoke” and “the smell of hair oil.” Through these accumulated sensations the speaker convinces herself and the reader that, despite her secularity, she must own the “dust / of all the dead and the smoke like ghosts.”

As these heritage concerns and the dangers of climate change are part of the mother’s legacy, so too are her more specific human woes. “How Many Times” recalls a former lover when she hears that “the bone-white finger” of heroin “got him at last.” “The Ferryman” describes an abuser who “tried to drown me with force.” In Sterling’s deft hands these losses are part of the collective suffering of the world, and among the experiences her child may have to face.
The poet / mother counters the weight of such a legacy with an almost mythic connection to nature. In “All That I Have Is Yours,” it was the creek and the finches that urged her “to make” her daughter. In “Bliss” she describes pregnancy and the child’s birth as a geological event. The child is first a “mountain inside,” and next, a whale. Then, as though the sea is not large enough, the child becomes the night sky. Even a poem about an ordinary toddler event, “Puddle Jumping,” presents the mother as a part of the earth. When the daughter reaches for her, the mother’s “hand grew out of the earth” as if it were “tree branch, root.”

Finally, acknowledging an earth that may soon be wilting “under the heat of a too-near sun,” the mother passes on nature’s toughness to her beloved child.

to you I bequeath
all the courage
of birds and flowers,
water and stones,
to love enough,
to love with the toughness of trees.

The collection closes with an echo of this inheritance. The poet also bequeaths “these few seeds” which she nudges “into flower as apology.” Seeds represent the hope of rebirth, of continuation, and refer as well to the poems in this book, memories about how much this daughter is loved and where she comes from. The cover art relates to the theme of inheritance. “Snowmelt,” by Betty Schopmeyer, a patchwork of brown, white and blue, earth and sky with clumps of snow, is a close-up of the earth in spring, more abstract than representational, but, like the poems in These Few Seeds, layered, inviting, and ultimately hopeful.

— Jeri Theriault

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Be Holding, by Ross Gay.  University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020, 109 pages, paper, $17.00, ISBN 978-0-8229-6623-4When I f...
03/20/2022
Be Holding

Be Holding, by Ross Gay. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020, 109 pages, paper, $17.00, ISBN 978-0-8229-6623-4

When I found myself playing basketball in the basement with the basket made out of a ping pong table and the action-figure-sized wrestling ring my father made for my brother and me, I practiced The Move, the stretched out, slow-motion focal point of Ross Gay’s book-length poem: Dr. J elevating and wrapping the ball around the backboard in the 1980 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Granted, when I practiced The Move, I was probably using a wiff le ball instead of a basketball, and my little brother was a much less imposing version of Lakers’ center, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. But I practiced the sh*t out of that shot.

And I have a feeling Ross Gay did too. Gay is an incredible poet, who is also an athlete (a former college scholarship football player), and an all-around lover of sports (he founded the online sports magazine Some Call it Ballin). That far-reaching love comes across profoundly in Be Holding.

However, it’s easy to miss that this book is about basketball. Dr. J isn’t mentioned in any of the blurbs on the back of the book, and neither is basketball. Claudia Rankine makes oblique reference to “the history of a game” in her blurb. It’s only the font of the book’s title that gives the reader a faint hint, and you have to look closely to even see it. The sans-serif font is made up of the same distinctive texture of a basketball: many tiny raised dots designed to make the ball easier to grip. As a basketball fan, I wondered why The University of Pittsburgh would make the decision to almost erase basketball from the book’s cover.

And yet, from a poetry perspective, I see why they made this choice. Although the book is deeply about basketball and Dr. J and the witnessing of his gravity-defying move, it is about much, much more than basketball. It is a book that ambitiously seeks to bring serious lovers of basketball and serious lovers of poetry together. And it’s this coming together, this beholding together — that’s where Ross Gay’s miracle resides.

Fittingly, this miracle of two entities coming together is a miracle in couplets. The book-length epic poem is a prolonged moment of wonder and witness that feels like the poet (and, through the act of reading, the reader) is holding his breath throughout the entire poem, extending the couplets in a moment parallel to Dr. J’s gravity-defying flight.

I am holding my breath

with this looking
and looking

And in this long-held breath, the long hours of the night pass throughout the poem: 1:48 a.m., 2:26 a.m., 2:59 a.m., 3:11 a.m., 4:56 a.m. The poet watches and re -watches over and over again the videoclip of Dr. J while slipping in and out of other
far -reaching associations:

. . . when witnessing
the unwitnessable, the way

we do so often these days,
today, witness the unwitnessable,

my own palms twisted again and again
toward the earth,

witnessing the unwitnessable,

If the poem focused solely on Dr. J, I would love the poem, but it wouldn’t feel transcendent; I would feel satisfaction at a skilled poet rendering the art of basketball on the page (no small feat!). However, Gay does more than that — he witnesses the unwitnessable by blurring and expanding our vision. It’s not only beautiful, but also slightly unsettling, as only seems right when one witnesses the unwitnessable.

There are no breaks in this book-length poem, no section markers to indicate transitions, and hardly even moments of transition. One moment Gay is talking about Dr. J and the next he’s on to the Marlborough Street Fire photograph. If a reader doesn’t pay close attention, these abrupt movements could be quite disorienting; in fact, even if a reader does pay attention, they are disorienting. And that’s where the magic happens. Like watching for a magician’s sleight of hand, readers are stunned.

As the smoke clears, they wonder, how did he do that ?

As an example, let’s return to and then extend the above quote:

witnessing the unwitnessable,
which is not unlike their motion

treading water
in a college gallery

Poof! And he’s off into the world of photographs, in this case two Black people falling from a fire escape, a famous photograph that won the Pulitzer Prize for spot photography. Only gradually, or like a gradual bolt of lightning, did I realize that once again Gay was helping us witness the unwitnessable.

Towards its end, the poem, like Dr. J’s famous move, reaches:

we in here talking
about the reaching

that makes of falling flight . . .

talking about holding
our breath . . .

of being beholden,
talking about

how might I hold
my beholden out to you

The result is a magical wind. One might not think words could fly like this, but the couplets are like samaras, those little whirly helicopters from maple trees — and the falling flight is nothing short of miraculous.

Jefferson Navicky

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by Yuko Otomoto avoidthe worldI opt outto be indoorsin the afternoonshade of the daya misanthropic hermitin a modern cav...
03/20/2022
Sunday Cave

by Yuko Otomo

to avoid
the world

I opt out
to be indoors
in the afternoon
shade of the day

a misanthropic hermit
in a modern cave

of the day
of the sun

I listen
to Satie’s Lent
again & again

small candles lit
in the corner
of the room sit as if
they were musical notes

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by Yuko OtomoBIRTH • DAY     for SteveLife & Deathon a clear crisp September ending Sunday —We see a saint’s backon one ...
03/20/2022
BIRTH • DAY

by Yuko Otomo

BIRTH • DAY
for Steve

Life & Death
on a clear crisp September ending Sunday —

We see a saint’s back
on one street comer
& then on another

his face & rosary holding palms

Who is separating Death from Life
or vise-versa?

Not us! For g-d’s sake!

A circle circles in light
as people march
singing “Ave Maria”
on their unaccustomed tongues
standing side by side

We melt each other’s thoughts
unconsciously holding hands
almost forgetting how to talk

Autonomy for one being
autonomy for two beings
autonomy for ten thousands things & more

In praise of love (in silence)

We view & salute the world
as if it were a breeze
“moment” — ing through us

You & I —
light & shadow —
life & death —
like contrasting colors loyally
lay in the same bed at night
& wake up in the morning together

We begin to end to begin a day
to stretch every possible inch
of its festive lucidity

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by Ronald Koertge     Revolutions are not about trifles, but they springfrom trifles.  Aristotle.Baggy overalls and safa...
03/20/2022
Revolutions are not about trifles

by Ronald Koertge

Revolutions are not about trifles, but they spring
from trifles. Aristotle.

Baggy overalls and safari hats that slipped down over our eyes, so
we all looked stupid.

Why couldn’t we be like real safari guides: pants that fit, cool boots, hat at a rakish angle.

When I complained, my fat boss said if I didn’t want the job there was always somebody who did.

So I’m picking up trash around the reptile pavilion. I see a girl from my school so I say, “Hi” and she stares right through me.

Jeez, if I was actually invisible, I’d kick our tight-fisted boss in the pants and take his watch.

Ghost into the crowd, trip rich kids with money to burn, send the girls who smelled so good running for the exits.

Claim the zoo for me and my friends. Money from the till, a hundred free ice cream bars, watching the animals we’d

let out of their stinking cages head for the swanky neighborhoods with three cars in every driveway.

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by Ronald KoertgeAnd maybeyou should sitdown for thisbecause it’ssomethingwe’ve talkedabout a loteven prayed forso I’m j...
03/20/2022
Wonderful News, Darling

by Ronald Koertge

And maybe
you should sit
down for this
because it’s
something
we’ve talked
about a lot
even prayed for
so I’m just now
back from my
poetry workshop
and at last
it’s official.

I’m poignant!

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by Larry GoodellGive me a pot with a little waterto boil my bone.I’m happy with less than I own.All I need is one or two...
03/20/2022
Simple Life

by Larry Goodell

Give me a pot with a little water
to boil my bone.
I’m happy with less than I own.
All I need is one or two molecules of air to breathe.
I have a very humble chest.
I sleep on two threads stretched between
two match sticks.
It doesn’t take much for
a good night’s sleep.
Just bring my wine portion
a couple gallons a day will do it
and I’ll write a haiku for you
or a coan to pee on.

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by Larry GoodellThe purpose of religion is to confer Godheadon lowly humans, make them feel special and blessed.A religi...
03/20/2022
Purpose of Religion

by Larry Goodell

The purpose of religion is to confer Godhead
on lowly humans, make them feel special and blessed.
A religion will do anything to perpetuate itself
and to hell with anything that stands in its way
including Nature.
A religion is extremely selfish and doesn’t like
other religions. It wants to grow and be more powerful
and blesses man and woman marriages
so they can produce children to grow up and support the religion.
A religion likes beautiful houses for itself
and will not pay any taxes.
A religion uses God as its Commander in Chief
to control its subjects and make them slaves to its commands.

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by Bill NevinsKabul Sunset Version IIKabul Sunset — “Mourn Your Dead Now,Land of the Free”(As proud-robed mujahideenGive...
03/20/2022
Kabul Sunset Version II

by Bill Nevins

Kabul Sunset Version II
Kabul Sunset — “Mourn Your Dead Now,
Land of the Free”

(As proud-robed mujahideen
Give wary thanks in bearded faces
To Allah in the ruins
Of Forward Operating Bases
Daubed in sad skull-graffiti boasts
Of long-departed Yanks
In shadows of rusting Russian tanks.)

I have heard or read wise poignant words.
They’ve sewn together my shifting drifting worlds.
Kipling, Shakespeare, John Prine, James Wright,
Lennon, Dylan, whatever gets me through the night

Larry Kirwan’s “Fallujah” song or Patrick Sky,

Diving into the wreck of the Iliad, the Tain,

With sweet Ocean Vuong or some haughty Irish bard

Hoping not to shatter,
I read old battle-poems for wary solace:
My own true minstrel-boy gone to war for so long.

Star-flecked American war-guidons above each letterhead:
“Rest assured, Sir, you are in our thoughts.”

I watched the Albuquerque sun rise

For him, as I feared he had no eyes.

That awful morning long ago.

I was a foolish dad, for he saw, I know.

Went mad a month then as I first wrote frantic lines —

“Dover Base” and other cries,
Bitter sighs. I knew he was dead.
We’ve gone years now to these Coronavirus times —
“changed utterly” as old Yeats said.

Do old poets ever heal, as nations move on?
In Marigold-Sunset blaze of Sunday of the Beloved Dead.

When all holy red sun banners had finally set,
and the dark came to wrap our mortal souls,
Spanish prayers were said
and yes at peace we are, he and I
these many years of peace dropping slow
these years of a war that should have ended long ago

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by Bill NevinsNight-lights and lullabies.Sweet dreams and flying machines.We were never the heroes we dreamed,We are mer...
03/20/2022
Amaranth the Underlying Flower

by Bill Nevins

Night-lights and lullabies.
Sweet dreams and flying machines.
We were never the heroes we dreamed,
We are merely the parents we could be.
Imperfect, we live on.
Under darkling or brightening skies,
We see what we see, we know what we know.
Those perfect young lie dead: daughter or son.
We see more young ones march again to the Somme.
We see craven old men pushing guns.
So many brave youth gather in the streets of Santiago, Chile,
And their eyes are shot out by police:
Vet, black-patched like buccaneers, still they march.
As Victor Jara, long thought dead, lives and still sings,
As Salvador Allende still sings, as Chilean jazzman
Quique Cruz triumphantly sings.
We cling to that last glimpse before death stings.
We cherish the fading sight of age, wearing gold star rings.
We don Kevlar and gas-masks, perhaps.
Black-light scopes. Facebook personas.
Bomb belts. Leather chaps.
We see war. We see America sliding towards night.
We see. As a blinded sniper might,
Raging against the failing light.
Yet, for all our griefs, old lullabies and sorrows,
Our amaranthine children dream bright tomorrows.
As the poet Neruda reminds us,
“Podrán cortar todas las flores, pern no podrán detener
la primavera.”

(“They will be able to cut all the flowers, but they will not be able to stop the spring.”)

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by Eric ForsberghThe Swiss provide it.Civil servants measure outpowder in a glassine pack.A clean shooting gallery.  A c...
03/20/2022
Free Heroin

by Eric Forsbergh

The Swiss provide it.

Civil servants measure out
powder in a glassine pack.

A clean shooting gallery. A chaise.
A nurse to check the riddled pulse.
Not cut with talc, glass dust,
or powdered rust.

Vomit, and the high intensifies.

The state’s the dealer now, so
fewer are coerced to start the trip.
Fewer far.

Yet once exposed, pleasure genes erupt
in crimson yellow purple blossoms
along tight stalks, hollyhocks of DNA,
then a slow wilt
into brownish pulps
at rehab intake:
assist you not to nod at lunch,
set a time for bed,
give you a TV, a toilet,
two tablets of an anti-drug.

Emptier now, treatment centers
erect fewer Babels of billable hours,
investors taking note.
Hieronymus Bosch was right.
Voyeurs eagerly seek the naked, pierced.

Without fresh flesh, Zurich gargoyles
scratch their famished guts,
thumb-lock their Glocks, scrape
their claws along the chapel gutters,
wolfing down their young.

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by Emily H. AxelrodWe looped a ropeover a sturdy branchone late fall day,and swung high over the hillabove the sprawling...
03/20/2022
Rope Swing

by Emily H. Axelrod

We looped a rope
over a sturdy branch
one late fall day,
and swung high over the hill
above the sprawling hospital
where inpatients paced
on porches caged in wire.
A young man watched us
every afternoon,
joking in a loud voice
through the trees.
When he stopped appearing
we wondered where he had gone,
as we had all fallen
just a little bit in love.

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Comments

First Order of Things. The poem is by Wang Ping from the latest issue of the Cafe Review - the Chinese issue - which I just rec'd in the mail. For the song I only put the last eleven lines of the poem to music. love singing these words. It was my birthday yesterday and I spent several wonderful as in wonder filled hours singing this poem into song.
Another excellent review of Between Lakes in The Café Review! With thanks to Mike Bove for his thoughtful attention to Jeffrey Harrison's work. "Despite the intricacy of their subjects, the poems in Between Lakes are not tangled....Harrison’s tight lines are simple in the best sense of the word....Strong writing happens when the poet, after years of practice, engages the machinery of flow to achieve something that appears to have been effortless."
Audio clip for the poem "Diary in self-isolation" recently shared in The Café Review
Thank you The Café Review and Steve Luttrell for the invitation to be part of the Spring edition of this beautiful poetry/art magazine published in Maine. I was also thrilled to see New Brunswick artists @Nancy Schofield and Romeo Savoie featured in the same issue.
Teachers and professors: with Lit Mag Adoption, integrating literary magazines into course curricula is easy, and comes at no cost to you. Participating magazines include A Public Space, Alaska Quarterly Review, American Chordata, Bone Bouquet Journal, Brick, A Literary Journal, Broadsided Press, The Café Review, Carve Magazine, Colorado Review, The Common, Conjunctions, Creative Nonfiction, The Fiddlehead: Atlantic Canada's International Literary Journal, Flock Literary Journal, Friction, The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, The Literary Review, The Massachusetts Review, New England Review, Ninth Letter, One Story, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Foundation & Poetry Magazine, Rain Taxi, River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, Salamander, Sinister Wisdom, The Southern Review, The Timberline Review, and more!
A recording of the one and only Bobby Byrd reading some of his poetry on The Café Review ... Our favorite: "Early Morning, Front Porch."
OPEN CALL: THE OPEN COLLECTIVE is a mentorship program for LGBT poets in New England between the ages of 18 and 28 who have not received a college degree nor are currently enrolled as matriculated full-time students at a university or college, yet have an aptitude for poetry. Applicants need to be open to constructive criticism for the purpose of revision. If you fit this criteria and are interested, or know of someone who would be interested, the application instructions and more details can found here:
The Spring issue of The Café Review features a new poem by Bruce Whiteman, 'The American Poet Ezra Pound Recommends Peanut-Butter to His Italian Friends' - click the link below to have a read. Bruce Whiteman's 'The Sad Mechanic Exercise' was no.40 in our Devil's Whim Occasional Chapbook series.