When you leave the desert, your mind forgets the heat, but your body remembers. When you leave the desert, the smell of wet dust right after rain lingers in your nose, hopeful, electric, forever refreshing. When you leave the desert, the desert keeps a piece of you.
Mārta Ziemelis is a Toronto-based emerging poet and established literary translator. Her poetry has appeared in The Ice Colony and CRUSH Zine. It is also forthcoming in the Sapphic Writers zine “Out Of The Wardrobe”. Her Latvian-English translations include “Do you exist, or did my mind invent you?”, a poem by Gunta Micāne (TransLit Volume 11: An Anthology of Literary Translations, 2017), two short stories in the anthology The Book of Riga (Comma Press, 2018), and Narcoses, a poetry collection by Madara Gruntmane, co-translated with Richard O’Brien (Parthian, 2018).” Instagram.
Across the park, an old clock tower
surrendered itself to moss and vines.
Tendrils coil along the clock hands,
twine the gears and down the shafts.
Finches knit knobby twigs, grass, and leaves,
nesting in vents and through the hollows
where the eaves have rotted, remaking
what we leave behind into the life that follows.
Michael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was longlisted for the Julie Suk Award. He received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award. His poetry has been featured on Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac. It has also appeared in numerous journals including Cimarron Review, Gargoyle Magazine, One, Rattle, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Facebook. Twitter
long rivers, long through the land you flow
long through us will you flow,
flowing from where the rocks widen,
from where pollack feed us.
Piscataqua, Androscoggin, Cobbosseecontee,
where water lies between the hills
through the sheltering place,
to where sturgeon gather together
to red ochre river, color of our children.
Shellfish place, treaty-making place.
our stories flow
through little channels,
bearing rocks and memories
from where salmon leap the falls
to broad open waters,
turning back to where wild onions grow,
With birch and ash along their backs,
long rivers of first light
through our families flowing:
Carol Willette Bachofner is an indigenous poet (Abenaki), watercolorist, and photographer. She is the author of 7 books, most recently Native Moons, Native Days (Bowman Books) and Test Pattern, a fantod of prose poems (Finishing Line Press) Her poetry has appeared in various journals, such as Prairie Schooner, The Connecticut Review, The Comstock Review, Cream City Review, Crab Orchard Journal and others. Her poems have been published in numerous anthologies such as Take Heart: Poems From Maine (DownEast Books) as well as Dawnland Voices, An Anthology of Writings from Indigenous New England (University of Nebraska Press, 2013). She has won several poetry prizes, including the Maine Postmark Contest (2017). She served as Poet Laureate of Rockland from 2012-2016. Her photographs have appeared in various journals, such as Harbor Review (2021) and Spirit of Place where her photograph, ”Rigged” was an honorable mention given by Maine Media Workshop in 2013.
Neelesh lies motionless in a dusty, dark brown ground hollow, in a sand-silt-clay combined earth bowl, his soft, spongy body muddied, bloodied. His extended metallic blue-green plumage with its sea-foam undertone, and its multitude of eyespots, is all askew, spun-out. And, a portion of his exposed, bulging, flesh fizzes with insects, the bug sounds blurring into a long, whirring noise. A white noise almost.
Beside him, that is half of him, bright, yellow, mustard flowers, with their pale green arrow-shaped leaves, and tall, slim stalks sway, even as they release little clouds of nitrate. Pungent whiffs that sting the nose, and the eyes.
Neelesh’s head, and legs are missing.
From over the hollow he lies in, and from the slits in the mustard stalks, you can still see the zigzagged portion of his savagely-cut, bulbous jugular, made light with the loss of head, and blood. As his underside. Made bereft of its support, with his understory completely gone.
It is hard to believe at this moment that his neck, once rich with iridescent blue, swung like a snake in dalliance or in quest for food. Or just like that. Just because he felt like. Or that his even-toed gait, and agile mating dance was admired by everyone who chanced on it.
It is the cool month of February in 2021, at our farm, in Mehrauli, on the outskirts of New Delhi. It is the time when the sun cannot decide whether to dim its light with shadow play behind clouds or shine with a light impishness so as to reflect a mere suggestion of heat. This unlike its avatar in summer where it brazenly flays the skin of the earth, and certainly of people, plants, and animals.
It is also the time when the land is vibrant with water-air-earth scents, with whistling birds who cannot contain their joy, with scurrying squirrels and chameleons, as with buzzing insects.
And, it is most certainly the time when our manicured greens are plump with unruly flowers, gaudy-red poppies, pink petunias, white lilies, mustard marigolds, mauve roses, yellow zinnias, and indigo shoe-flowers, all of who grow in wild abandon.
Ironically, Neelesh, our peacock, loses his life when the earth around us, here at our farm, on the capital of the country, moves uncomplainingly to the rhythms of a diverse life, to the interplay with the world around it. When everything around is so full of promise. When everything is lush with the covenant of growing.
For us, Neelesh’s death is a grand absurdity.
Over the month of January, we see Neelesh, our favorite and regular peacock visitor, ail with what we believe to be some kind of pox in his left eye. He barely sees with it, yet he tries to keep this eye-slit parallel to the grass. This for a prey-eye vision in the world he feeds from. Be it berries, flower seeds or the wiggly mass of worms that squirm in the soil. Ants, millipedes, crickets, termites, centipedes, and flying locust.
Neelesh comes more often than ever that month, every day and evening, his extended plumage and all, to demand his share of grain from our bird feeder.
“I believe he is asking to be fed rather than be allowed to seek his feed because of his condition,” my cook, Reba, asserts.
She is the one who has named this peacock Neelesh, which translates in Hindi as blue, and is the one who feeds him grain on demand, as assiduously as one would feed a brawling baby on demand. She makes small balls of mashed up rice, and leaves it lying if ever he wants “a change of taste”. And, the large cement water bowl that he drinks off is always full, “in case he is wary of bending too low, and is scared of being caught unawares by marauding monkeys or menacing cats,” she says.
By the end of January, Neelesh finds it hard to fly to and fro from his perch on the tall silver oak tree, one among the many that lines our boundary wall. So mostly during the day, he plinks and puckers around our greens, gathers himself together into a ball to rest in sunny patches, frightened by everything other than us, and in the evening, when he eventually decides to rest atop the tree, he emits cries. We believe his screeches to be hollers of alarm, conveying to us his fear of being eaten up by stealthy predators who use the night to subterfuge their intent, and his sleep to complete their kill.
It was one of the many cats that slink around at night on the farm that got Neelesh. At least, we at the farm believe this to be so. We have our suspicions on a tom cat we have named Bagadbilla because he is wild, grumpy, and smelly.
In this month of March, we are still trying to deal with the aftershocks of our experience as we are struggling to pull peacock Neelesh’s story in. It is a fluid feeling. We still grieve for his smell, and fear of death before succumbing to its abyss. For his loss of dignity and privacy in death, that, maybe, we denied by becoming spectators to it. And, for our inability to respond effectively to his beseech for help, for our failure to save his life.
My ex-colleague from a green organisation I worked for, Shoma Arun, who rushes to comfort us, says this, to us, and to Reba in particular, “There is no world in which humanity exists apart from the natural world. It is clearer than ever that our fates are intertwined, that our world should be a circumambient one, one that sees and accommodates the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of living species. So take comfort in the fact that you have tried to cherish, and help a creature as much as you could, and as long as he lived. That you have played a role in nature’s orchestra, not that of an imperious conductor who believes he can control fates or nature’s design, but that of a contributor.”
“Why does the earth pull in a creature’s story thus? Why are we all just mud-marrowed bones in the end? Why do all our stories, human, plant or animal, end in dust-covered death?” asks an insistent, tear-stained, sixteen-year-old, Kunal, our gardener Nandlal’s son, who draws and writes verses in his spare time.
He does not understand Shoma’s words. Or believes that his question is different. I know he also asks because he has just recently lost his grandmother. His mother says to me that morning, “His tears still feel as if they come all the way from his toes.”
None of us have answers for him.
What we do know is that Neelesh’s brutal, abrupt death makes us confront ours. It makes us face up to the fact that death is part of our living. It makes us confront the truth that death, and its aftermath, is frightening. And, that the idea of the oblivion at death being like nonexistence before birth is too scary to think of. To understand.
Days later, our psychologist friend, Leela Singh, brings some instinctive wisdom with her. “While we live in the present, with our brains that shield us from our eventual death with crafty ingenuity, we ingrain ourselves in biology, one that helps us live. We shut down predictions of death, believing that it happens to others, not us. It is called the escape treadmill. Yet death is a leveller. It will happen to every one of us,” she says.
“How does one handle this eventuality, the finality of death, especially if one has no belief in the afterlife? If there is no belief in being absorbed by God or a higher power, realm or consciousness? That at this point we lose the journey’s map altogether? This even as I am a Hindu living in India?” I wish to know.
“You need to cultivate the capacity, and responsiveness to this eventuality across your lifespan. In essence, having a good death is about how you live a good life,” she says reflectively.
Is this our answer then?
That death will come no matter what. In any way that it will. Like the rain that will fall. Like the sun that will shine. Like the wind that will blow. And that what we make of death, and how we react to contact with it will depend on us. It can be terrible, satisfying or seemingly merciful. It can be what we choose it to be. Just as we can choose what we make of our life.
Is it up to us then to decide on how to confront death? To still the fear of dying, as rigor mortis waits to creep in, and before the pronouncement, “Pupils fixed and dilated. No heart sounds. No breath sounds. No pulse” is made?
There is no denying that despite these arguments, and answers, the mystery, and fear of death remains.
I would say, for me, personally, though I have realized that true sorrow is the loss of life, not the state of death or the act of dying.
More importantly, I have come to the realization that there is time to understand the afterlife. Who knows, if I do understand it, and gain faith in it, my fears of death may just fall away? The earth, land, water, and sky may turn alive with possibilities. Of our energies returning in altered forms and states.
Chitra Gopalakrishnan uses her ardor for writing, wing to wing, to break firewalls between nonfiction and fiction, narratology and psychoanalysis, marginalia and manuscript and tree-ism and capitalism. Author profile: www.chitragopalakrishnan.com
clouds still roil, dark as wraiths
who invade my sleep. A shaft
of light pierces their folds, brightens
the field where cattle graze
as though the storm never bruised,
as though they never bawled, eyes flashed
with lightning. They have forgotten, lower
their heads for grass made sweet again,
while I still feel the drench, remember
how thunder crippled me with dread,
how I flattened my soul against the earth
to escape notice by the gods.
Sarah Russell’s poetry and fiction have been published in Kentucky Review, Misfit Magazine, Rusty Truck, Third Wednesday, and many other journals and anthologies. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. She has two poetry collections published by Kelsay Books, I lost summer somewhere and Today and Other Seasons. She blogs at SarahRussellPoetry.net.
beads of sweat lick
my sunburnt nape
paddle and soap dish in hand
off some nameless bank
I slip into the Colorado
the Rio del Tizon
the cool lifeforce
of this southwest desert
as easily as I do
into freshly washed sheets
(I’m still working
the Colorado, he/they and I
have rinsed ourselves
of many a lover
many a male admirer
like John Wesley Powell
like the first time
I skinny-dipped kissed
the first boy
I thought I loved
I don’t find it outlandish
to suggest the Rio del Tizon
branded flaming by colonizers
is a he/they gay
reject the stubborn American West
its invasive cis-het
white male explorers
naming monoliths [ego]
bodies of water [conquests]
assaulting the feminine [recreation]
if the Maricopa
is to be called she
let it be by reflection
by her own accord
as he/they is with me
on this board
cutting through this spectrum
an exercise and practice
of self-love at once
we try and keep things caszh
this river and I
too thin to plow
too thick to drink *
if you know what I mean
we both know
this flight of fancy is seasonal
an afternoon delight
a summer fling
sure to wash out
around this bend
I look for coupling trout
whose rippled darts
fleeing my invasion of their coitus
promise the end
of my own courtship
I have always struggled
even when I cannot tell us apart
submerged in him/them completely
there is peace I won’t grant myself
as surely as my head
will break the surface
I will eddy out
return home to routine
to khakis and button-ups
to commutes and spreadsheets
and plastic promotions
he/they/I/we will be
just another commodity
given back empty
at a cost
for tourist development
as a force that’s agreeable
and funneled, reshaped
efficient pools of labor
that’s not wild
and free and roaring
to an ocean of love
that doesn’t know the meaning
of binaries and borders
the nature of our familiarity
our temporal sojourn
privy only to that
our downy stilt-
is not about the permanence
of our gender but
the uncertainty of our futures
* commonly attributed to Mark Twain (to “the Mormons” by Edward Abbey) but unconfirmed by this author
Caleb Ferganchick is a rural queer, slam poet activist, and author of Poetry Heels (2018). His work has been featured and published by the South Broadway Ghost Society (2020), Slam Ur Ex ((the podcast)) (2020), and the Colorado Mesa University Literary Review. He organizes the annual Slamming Bricks poetry slam competition in honor of the 1969 Stonewall Riots and coaches high school speech and debate. An aspiring professional SUP surfer, he also dreams of establishing a queer commune with a river otter rescue and falconry. He lives in Grand Junction, Colorado. Website | Instagram | Twitter
Languid clouds drift by in a fever dream's haze, unmoved
by imminent trouble brewing overhead, anxiety
casting shadows on our pale, upturned faces
Below, cardamom pods three lone messengers
release fragrant whispers of a bygone era
when innocence abounded, unquestioned. I awoke
from a foggy dream crudely imitating memory,
unwelcome specters from my past infiltrating
fortresses erected to withstand any disturbance
This damp unease seems to permeate my being
at odd intervals, too often coinciding with this
foreboding I have inadequately prepared for
Melody Wang (she/her) currently resides in sunny Southern California with her dear husband. In her free time, she dabbles in piano composition and enjoys hiking, baking, and playing with her dogs.
It doesn’t take too much
Leave the Bramble Cay Melomys
out of the next dictionary.
Those rats are already dead,
homes wiped out by rising tides.
Not many know their name,
same as the Kittlitz’s Murrelet.
No kid dreams of seeing
the Murrelet’s mottled body blending
into the sea spotted with sunlight.
It’s safe to delete
If the name’s not
in textbooks, postcards, or magazines,
no one will know to search.
Move the erasures
more and more inland,
low tide dragging away
wolf spiders and honeycreepers,
Sierra Nevada Blues and golden toads.
Readers won’t learn
how far the damage’s gone—
just keep erasing.
Afterall, people forgot
they once could be singular.
Victorians hid that
under grammatical change
so keep erasing
until nothing remains but
a white sea.
Emma Ginader is a bisexual poet and editor from northeastern Pennsylvania. She recently graduated from Columbia University with an MFA in writing. Her poetry has appeared in The Moth Magazine, Vox Viola, december, The Rational Creature, and FU Review [Berlin]. She has work forthcoming in Mantis, Lavender Review, great weather for MEDIA, and They Call Us. Ginader previously worked as the online poetry editor for the Columbia Journal and as the social media editor & business reporter for The Daily Item newspaper in central Pennsylvania. Find her Twitter account, @EmmaGinader.
often, in the wilderness
I recall the words—
not human hearted
a hungry mountain cat
stalks a lost child
vultures await the scraps
the horror of these
yet what of those?
unearthed shattered skulls and
the pages of history tell their story
even the good book drips
and before that, nothing—
a silence into which, like mothers,
we scream an Eden to life
Brian Rihlmann lives and writes in Reno, Nevada. His work has appeared in many magazines, including The Rye Whiskey Review, Fearless, Heroin Love Songs, Chiron Review and The Main Street Rag. His latest poetry collection, “Night At My Throat,” (2020) was published by Pony One Dog Press.
emerge from winter cocoon into daffodil spring, the cracking of bones & ice and the slush slipping from pine— the yawns & shhs emerge— duckling dawn earth cleans her scars this way: lifting & washing under the folds, fresh cotton flapping like a surrender to the restarted zodiac, to the irrational golden fleece of Aries unshaven despite the warmth— how the tides deliver a new salt to upper lips, an emerging, a dusting out of all coughs cooped by winter; the pages aren’t clean, the pages aren’t even pages, they’re still trees, still grand along the yet-unbroken sky ! the pinnacle of her year exists in cool mountain runoff the blue dunk & minnows along curious toes after a long creek-side stroll, the relief of the stretch and the new dogwood petals that ferry their way to a better tomorrow, to a brighter ocean shore.
Cassie Hottenstein is currently between Denver and Jacksonville, mountain and ocean. Her poetry and stories have been featured in magazines such as Boulder Weekly, the Talon Review, Every Pigeon, and the Tampa Review Online. When she’s not writing poetry, she’s probably playing Animal Crossing or doing someone’s taxes in exchange for money and tasty peanuts.