The Spring Issue of 2021 is full of movement beginning with the extremely imaginative and thrilling ride-of-a-poem-prompt by John Steffler, “That Night We Were Ravenous”. Hold on tight! Jeff Burt’s “Rusk Country Rag” also gains momentum with phrases like “a thin boy, all knuckles and buckles . . . full of bunk and beauty . . . all pants and chance”. Then visit Natalie Callum’s “Nebraska Sky” to calm yourself a little before you dive into Anne Howell’s “Drenched in Spindrift” where her father is born “between river and island creek . . .the river—a scaled dragon—twines through our lives, friend and foe, god and devil” which is the place she knows living in “the big white house at the center of the world.” Vivenne Popperl continues with a harrowing car ride in the Karoo of South Africa. (No spoilers!) Ellen Stone invites us to the Kansas Flint Hills and prairie where we might see “the prairie that’s left and stand in it until we’re swallowed by the switchgrass and the bluestem and we feel braced and insignificant.”
John Palen’s poems appear as Willawaw’s first FOLIO—I couldn’t let any of them go! He, too, brings an urgency to each of his poems comparable to Steffler’s but broken into separate poems, so we can breathe properly between each. He brings the reader to the Missouri Ozarks, to a button factory on the Illinois River, to the “Chicago Cold,” and into the prairie winds blowing off a “Ridge at Meadowbrook.” Like Steffler, Palen’s poems speak to a sense of place and to the power and immensity of nature.
Also in this issue, a second FOLIO by Khalisa Rae whose poems are all drawn from her forthcoming book, Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat, (Red Hen Press). A previous contributor (title poem to the book), Rae speaks of cultural appropriation, banned books about the Black experience, her father’s gardening and parenting (“Horticulture” draws the parallel), and her mother’s music (“Dance Hall of my Mother’s Womb”). One additional poem addresses the immense generosity and burden of the elderly women in her culture (“Before I Speak to the Matriarchs”). The folio concludes with a biography and extended list of publications. Her book launch is planned for mid-April.
Connie Soper, Frank Babcock, Dale Champlin, and Sonia Greenfield offer us cherished glimpses of domesticity including parents, grandchildren, and grandparents. Morgan English is waiting for her life to arrive “like an eager dog.” Irene Fick resists her “walk through that unwilling wilderness” to put words on the page. Susan Donnelly looks for a place she cannot find, an alpine plateau “where nighttime air is a pillow.” Judith Edelstein imagines a nomadic life where “one by one we lay the logs of memory upon the fire . . . telling down the long hours until dawn.” The interior life of the poet, as represented here, is alive and well.
Daniel DeRoux’s large (–think 3’x4’) flower paintings blossom across multiple pages to keep Spring at the front of your mind as you peruse the pages of even more poets. Check out his artist statement on the BACK PAGE. A reminder: things change—our lives, too, will open like these flowers. Soon. Read some poetry while you wait!
With thanks to the artist and the many contributing poets, and to our readers without whom our efforts would amount to so little—
Rachel Barton, Editor
–Lake Fork, Idaho 2020
The show opens every morning.
Little feet patter down the stairs
finding their place on couch or chair,
wrapped in blankets, adjusting to the cold
a new day brings for a time.
Mostly silence holds the room
‘til leitmotifs are ironed out,
then the crescendo builds and bustle reigns.
Little Maggie as Neehaw the donkey
walks the empty stroller round the stage
confronting leopard and panther
brothers who growl in baritone
as best they can, moving aside
for the diva donkey when she demands.
Oliver’s aria counts the eggs,
“Twunty” three, “twunty” four…
Henry shoos the red tail hawk
off the porch with trills and vibrato.
Coloratura grows chore by chore.
The boys swing by rope and trampoline,
feed the hogs, bring in the wood
in strict ensemble. The diva dreams.
When lunch is served the forks and spoons
make drums on tile. The singing soothes,
as watermelon sandwiches
and chips provide a lovely pause.
The work commences soon enough,
the donkey sweeps and panther pounces
on a stack of buckets. Leopard catches
grasshoppers for the preying mantis.
The day winds down on couch and chairs,
they’re wrapped in blankets once again
’til mostly silence holds the room
and children sleep through curtain calls.
Frank Babcock lives in Corvallis, Oregon and is a retired Albany middle school teacher and owner of a bamboo nursery. He writes poetry to share the strange thoughts that rattle around in his head and to get them off his mind. He started with an interest in the beatnik poets, Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg. He has a long way to go and much to write before he sleeps.
Pale and No Wings to Fly
Lying in the grass
beside the rose bush I was dead-heading,
the world has turned upside-down.
A trapeze-artist circus squirrel
is performing at the top of the leafy green tent
for an audience of indifferent starlings and
wind chimes hanging beneath the pergola
call to me like distant church bells.
I consider how strange the descending half-orange
overhead would look if it was a lime as
the cut-grass smell of summer
takes me back to Tennessee,
lying in a field, watching cat-clouds
stalk across the sky.
A crow, sitting unmoved on a nearby limb
seems to stare down at me with disdain
for being so pale
and having no wings to fly
while the tree watches the scene
with its single knothole eye
beneath an arched woody brow.
I feel like I could rest here
forever in the fading light
and I want to tell my wife,
kneeling beside me,
but the lowering sky pressing
down on my chest has left me breathless.
Besides, I’m not sure she would hear me
over the wail of the approaching sirens.
Paul Bluestein is an obstetrician (done practicing) and blues guitar player (still practicing) who lives in Connecticut near a beach where he finds time to reflect on the past, wonder about the future and lose his sunglasses. His work has appeared in Willawaw Journal, Heron Tree, The Linden Avenue Literary Review and Third Wednesday among other publications.. His first full-length collection, Time Passages, was published in 2020 by Silver Bow Publishing.
Rusk County Rag
A fourth-grader, I had run away, or maybe just run,
and now had to come running back
to the nettles of my grandmother’s speech,
grandfather exhausted and sad from searching block after block,
but I had news to tell, a trampled field, a far-flung farm
and now comprehending loss, that I was lost.
clothes rumpled, rambling and rumbling
through the rural decay of Rusk County, rust and ruin,
like a big-bellied-boar rooting up a backyard,
enraptured by pitchfork-piled haystacks, corncribs and pig-shacks,
and in a half-dug hole a skull and rump bone of cow,
I had stumbled sputtering vulgar words too robust
for a thin boy, all knuckles and buckles,
and the shallow fields of new winter wheat and grazed corn,
cattail ditches and duckweed ponds
made my voice a thunderous drum,
I had come full of bunk and beauty knowing plugs
to lure bass-thumps at dusk,
stump-sitting, fence-jumping, tunnels and fox-run,
wigwam, wigwag, zigzag and scram,
delving in depths for crayfish, crawdad, tadpole and toad.
And as I traipsed, I took in the sky blue and precise
behind each definite thing as if I could pocket it,
then broke down with a shudder, a shake,
swallowed by the immensity of each definite thing,
and as I walked toward my grandfather’s home
all pants and chance, I walked on the path
by the Flambeau, river of flowing flames.
In the water the autumn hues mingled,
refracted, reflected, drawn deeper by water.
The land flowed slowly where I stood.
The river stood still.
The tamarack and cedar, maple and aspen,
white birch and black birch, paper birch unbound,
boxwood and oak, butternut, elm,
all danced in rapture without wind.
Feverish and hollow, struck dumb
by the ringing bell of the Flambeau,
I knew this wending ribbon
of water had deceived, had deked
and tricked and taken my spirit with fire.
I remember the river flickering like embers at evening,
the swallows and martins following the lines
of the shore with cries of sharp trepidation,
martins in threes, swallows in throngs,
my immense jubilation, as if pleasure persisted
by the intimate beating of wings.
Entering Lime Bog for cranberries was difficult,
bramble like sidewinders looped and intersected
like rolls of barbed wire at a border.
Days in the fall during college when Dan and I’d visit
the cranberries would still be under water,
and then, pop, some would appear
on the surface on a Saturday morning,
we’d wade with heavy rubber gear,
swing our weighted legs out in half-circle
just to go forward with a step.
We did not need a rake or pole.
As our legs trudged cranberries would surface,
until we’d look back and see a twenty-foot-long
swath of red and orange. Boyish fun,
we were interested in making a line of red
against the backdrop of yellow foliage.
That was our harvest, simply the color.
But we burlap bagged a few pounds,
took them to my landlord Mrs. Vovakovic
who made both a tart jam and relish.
Boys’ joy in men’s bodies.
In winter the third year of our discovery
I returned after snow had fallen
to look at the bog. The impenetrable bramble
now had openings that deer had made
that I could bend and follow
and only a few poking spears of vegetation
came through the snow and ice,
as if fingers motioning for help,
calling for help to churn the water,
for a pop and splash of red.
But Dan did not come, not hearty
for a long walk in the cold weather.
It’s a bog, he yelled over the phone, a bog.
You visit a bog in autumn and no other time.
It needs time to sleep, and you’re going to wake it.
Whether it was the cranberries aligned in a channel,
the vibrant red against the dying leaves
or the companionship of Dan I missed, I did not know.
Like a small child at the door to their parent’s bedroom,
I went week after week, trying to rouse it.
Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California and works in mental health. He grew up in Wisconsin and much of his mental landscape is still informed by that experience. He has contributed to Heartwood, Tar River Poetry Review, and Red Wolf Journal.
The whole of Nebraska
was sky. Reeds bending
to sky, red tails
drifting, darkness inking,
white lines breaking
The horizon surged
in silent streaks, the storm
so distant. Heat unheard. Driving,
we kept driving. Lightning
disappeared as sky
to sky unfolded
to new light falling. Meteors
scattering dust. We fell
silent, the shower of earth-
filling with heat.
Natalie Callum is a writer and poet living between St. Louis, Missouri and Wyoming. When she is not writing, she can be found outside free-climbing and exploring with her much beloved husband. Her work is forthcoming in Amethyst Review.