Last Breath

By Susan Rich

Breathe! I demanded, like when you had your babies.
You have to. And she did — considered the request,
paused in-between to see if she had done it right,
to see if it was what she still wanted to do.
And for the first time in twenty-four hours
we knew she was still with us. She knew
she was where for the moment
she wanted to be. The book says 90 seconds
is how long a person can go without taking air — breathe
a fact we’d learned that morning,
came equipped to her bed
with second hands on our watches.

It was Friday evening, the beginning of Shabbat.
C’mon, like this. Pull the air in to you,
like when we swim.

My Dad, my sister, and the night nurse
who’d never had anyone die on her shift —
we laughed and shouted on-the-edge of hysteria
as my mother matched her breath with my own.
The sound turning labored, then restful,
like a rip tide temporarily at ease.

She can hear us! She heard you!
As if her body had left us one last sense
which we’d almost overlooked.
Breathe with me.
Fifty-six…, eighty-one…, ninety-five … one hundred and twenty Breathe…
How could she have forgotten, after the ins and outs of her life?
But I was showing her,
with exaggerated sighs, shouts. Breathe!
And then nothing more.
Just a body in a room.
The rented wheelchair moved against the wall.
Morphine to pour down the toilet, a paper to sign.
Cover the mirror, remove all rings
and earrings, nothing other-worldly at all.
Breathe, keep her corpse company for the night.
Breathe, it’s up to you to keep her alive.

Susan Rich is the author of four poetry collections including Cloud Pharmacy The Alchemist’s Kitchen, Cures Include Travel, and The Cartographer’s Tongue: Poems of the World (White Pine). Along with Brian Turner she is a co-editor of The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Crossing Borders published by The Poetry Foundation and McSweeney’s. She has received awards from The Times Literary Supplement (London), Peace Corps Writers, PEN USA and the Fulbright Foundation. Rich’s poems have been published in 49 States and 1 District including the Antioch Review, New England Review, Harvard Review, Plume, and World Literature Today. Her poetry and prose have been translated into Slovenian and Swedish respectively. “Last Breath” was in The Cartographer’s Tongue, White Pine Press, 2000.

Fertility Sonnet

By Lindsey Bellosa

Busy spider, this time that weaves its web:
perhaps a daughter this time. Hope casts
its nets. Someone to love me as my own life ebbs
away; old age clings to love as masts
cling to drowning ships. Yes, a girl—
to know how the body trumps everything: wisdom,
reason, even desire— that pearl
that releases itself in me. We give them
this. Like a witch, I cast my spell
calling her forth: another witch, another spider.
Men have their hands, backs, that great haul
of ambition that knows no roots: long river.
But I’ll have her head, blooming, like a rose from me;
I’ll have the roots of love with all its pain and intricacy.

Lindsey Bellosa has poems published in both Irish and American journals: most recently The Comstock Review, The Galway Review, Poethead, Flutter Poetry Journal, Emerge Literary Journal and The Cortland Review. She has recently relocated from upstate NY to Clare Island in Co. Mayo, Ireland.


By Martha Silano

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me
–Sylvia Plath

By the roots of my hair, by the reinforced elastic
of my floral Bravado bra, by the fraying strands

of my blue-checked briefs, some god’s gotten hold of me,
some god’s squeezed hard the spit-up rag of my soul, rung me

like the little girl who rang our doorbell on Halloween, took
our M&Ms is your baby okay? Why did they take him away?

Some god’s got me thinking my milk’s poison, unfit
for a hungry child, some god’s got me pacing,

set me flying like the black felt bats dangling
in the hall, some god so that now I can’t trust my best friend’s

healing hands, the Phad Thai she’s spooning beside the rice (ditto
to the meds the doctors say will help me sleep) Poison poison!

as if the god who’s got hold of me doesn’t want me
well, doesn’t want my rapid-fire brain to slow,

wants this ride for as long as it lasts, wants to take it
to its over-Niagara-in-a-barrel end, which is where

this god is taking me, one rung at a time, one ambulance,
one EMT strapping me in, throwing me off this earth,

cuz I’ve not only killed my son but a heap of others too.
Some god’s got me by my shiny golden locks, by my milk-

leaking breasts, got me in this hospital, wisps like white scarves
circling my head, wisps the voices of men back to bed you whore!

Some god till I’m believing I’ve been shot, guts dribbling out,
till I’m sure I’ve ridden all over town in a spaceship, sure

I’m dead, a ghost, a smoldering corpse, though not before I’m holding up
a shaking wall, urging the others to help me (a plane about to land

on our heads), though soon enough thrown down by two night nurses,
strapped to a bed, though for weeks the flowers my in-laws sent
charred at the tips (having been to hell and back), clang of pots,
hissing shower, the two blue pills my roommate left in the sink,

all signals of doom, though some god got hold of me,
shook and shook me long and hard, she also brought me back.

Martha Silano is the author of four books of poetry, including Blue Positive (Steel Toe Books 2006), The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, winner of the 2010 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, and Reckless Lovely (Saturnalia Books 2014); in 2015, Two Sylvias Press re-released What the Truth Tastes Like, a much-expanded version of her award-winning first collection. She also co-edited, with Kelli Russell Agodon, The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice (Two Sylvias Press 2013). Martha’s poems have appeared widely, in such places as Paris Review, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review Online, New Ohio Review, Crazyhorse, Copper Nickel, and North American Review, where she received the 2014 James Hearst Poetry Prize, as well as in many anthologies, including American Poetry: The Next Generation and The Best American Poetry 2009. Martha has received writing fellowships from the Millay Colony for the Arts, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, the University of Arizona Poetry Center, and she was the 2004 Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident. She’s also received funding from Artsmith, Washington 4Culture and Washington State Artist Trust. Martha edits Crab Creek Review, curates Beacon Bards, a monthly poetry reading series in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle, and teaches at Bellevue College. “Harborview” first published in Blue Positive, Steel Toe Books, 2006.

After Newtown

By Laura Weeks
Dec. 14, 2012

A mother is a plate
licked clean by many mouths.
A mother is comfort, clothed
in a hundred yards of madness.

She devotes her days
to mundane tasks
like sticking contacts in a tiger’s eye,
or trading punches
with Old Man Chaos.

A mother counts:
infants’ piggies, missing buttons,
supper servings, “times I’ve told you,”
the hours – from one to five.

From school’s out ‘til lights out she sits,
her mind a shallow bowl.
She considers
the sudden resonance of empty rooms.

She fingers flatware,
calling this fork “Frederick,”
and this spoon “Ernestine,”
while laying them lovingly
to rest in coffin slots.

A mother is a sock turned inside-out,
hung out to dry.
Listless, she scours sheets, searching
for her lost child’s scent.


Laura D. Weeks is a recovering academic who moved West and moved on.  A Slavist by training with a Ph.D. from Stanford University, she now lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is an editor, translator, consecutive interpreter, and the founder of Weeks’ Wunderkinder Piano Studio.  Her literary translations have appeared in Russian Literature Triquarterly, The Literary Review, Alea, South Central Review and the new renaissance.  She co-edited and translated for the anthology Crossing Centuries:  The New Generation in Russian Poetry (Talisman House Press, 2000).  Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals including the Atlanta Review, The Comstock Review, Journal of Kentucky Studies, Passager, Pegasus, Mudfish, Nimrod, Cloudbank, The Chaffin Journal, and the new renaissance.  Her poem “What Bones Want” was a finalist for the Rash Award.  Her poem “A Hand by Any Other Name” won honorable mention in the Zero Bone poetry competition.   She is the author of two chapbooks, Deaf Man Talking, and The Mad Woman.  She is a member of the Take Five poetry troupe.

Another Leaving

Davi Walder

for N

Like two speckled swans, our spattered
white cars tail each other. We travel

into the sun, daughter following mother,
mother following daughter, connected

by occasional honks, waves, smiles
and glances in the rear view mirror.

Truckers stare down on us, women half-
buried between boxes, blankets, computers,

the accumulate of almost twenty years.
Two shadows moving out of suburbs, climbing

hills and the Alleghenies, disappearing
into tunnels, heading across flat farm

and factory land before turning north.
You have come to study, learn, explore

the human condition. I have come
to explore Contac paper instructions,

sweep roaches out of cabinets, search
for hangers, make another bed for the first

and last time, and leave. We have gotten
good at this, plotting partings and new

geographies with such ease they would
seem like cruises or safaris if not

for scrubbing the last student out of
the tub, sweating boxes up fire escapes,

and the lies I will tell blinking my way
out. I take your car to the car wash–

one last token–return it again white,
reenter the dirty one, its load lighter,

shadow smaller, its driver squinting at
the familiar unfamiliar and the September

sun sinking in the rear view mirror.

Monsoon Reunion

By Davi Walder

For A, again

Forty-eight hours by plane, train, and tuk-tuk
to reach the last lap—a leaking long-tail
boat sputtering between rocks, squalls
and swells. It coughs us onto sand where
dark hands of island gypsies pull our salt-
crusted limbs from the Andaman Sea. The body,
searching for the damp scrap of a Sanskrit
address, tells the tale of transit. Swollen
feet, muscles taut from lines and lugging,
the ache of locked bowels and trapped
intestines. Lungs expel stale air and squalor;
a heart pounds loose from tight moorings.

More than a year of waiting. Calls crackling,
the sudden flood of the familiar trailing off
into night silence. Flimsy blue letters,
blurred photographs, hunting for the scent,
the touch of a daughter’s life. Now, the path
leads up from the foaming sea, up limestone
cliffs to coconut palms, a school, a hut cut
into the jungle. Yellow beaks, red-striped wings
dart between the green. Light and heat swallow
the air. `Continue 28 days after exposure. Avoid
sun,’ reads the doxycyline bottle. Glasses steam,
a hat wilts in the island’s glitter and glare.

Shaky legs carry me up the cliff path. Higher,
a shadow looms. Ridiculous, I whisper, warding
off gibbons, rats, elephants, untying the thread
of letters fingered like worry beads through long
seasons. White tinged clouds roll in from the sea.
I push my glasses high on my head, focusing on
the shape growing taller, tanner than memory.
A sudden breeze frees a figure from the web
of dreams. She is running, trailing orchids
and lotus blossoms. Jumping and laughing,
we bang into each other. Bones and flesh meld.
Crushed petals sweeten our scents. Claps of
thunder, falling drops. High above the sea,
we are wet cheeks and sheets of water, a mother
and daughter wrapped in the damp of each other,
the monsoon washing us in its warm cocoon.
What you learn during Hurricane Allison

When you finally pull over under an overpass,
breathe, and unlock your knuckles after hours
of gripping and hunching through blinding sheets
of water, in the sudden quiet of the car, you learn

how mean thunder sounds, how fierce lightening
is when it cracks open the sky’s black eye.
You learn to be thankful for headlights and wipers
that work, defrosters that defog, and humans

who huddle in hurricanes, for the comfort
of blinking blurs who pull off just behind you.
You learn hurricane hospitality, edging up
to share the little protection that an overpass

provides from nature’s furious cacophony.
You learn to be grateful that you are not driving
the huge red, white, and blue bus that sends
waves crashing against your door, thankful

you are not one of the seventy terrified captives
staring out of bus windows above you
who know they are being driven to certain death.
You learn that a storm sitting on top of you

holds all the cards, that all you can do is fold
‘em until it’s had its way with you. You learn
to be thankful for a cell phone’s tiny numbers
and dim light You learn the meaning of pure joy

when the silly tune jingles and your daughter’s
sweet voice chuckles from her rented truck
fifty miles behind, asking, `Howyadoin’, Mom?
It’s only drizzling here.’
Under an overpass

during Hurricane Allison, you learn again
how much you love your daughter and how
fervently you can pray that she will never
name her children after hurricanes.

Davi Walders‘ poetry and prose have appeared in more than 200 anthologies and journals, including The American Scholar, JAMA, Washington Woman, Seneca Review, Potomac Review, Travelers’ Tales, and elsewhere. Her collection on women’s resistance during WW II (WOMEN AGAINST TYRANNY) was published by Clemson University Press, 2011. She developed and directed the Vital Signs Writing Project at NIH in Bethesda, MD which was funded by The Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry. Gifts, another collection of poetry, was commissioned by the Milton Murray Foundation for Philanthropy. She has received a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant, a Puffin Foundation Grant, a Maryland State Artist Grant in Poetry, a Luce Foundation Grant, and fellowships to Ragdale Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts for her writing. Her work has been choreographed and performed in NYC and elsewhere, read by Garrison Keillor on Writer’s Almanac, and nominated for Pushcart Prizes. “Monsoon Reunion” was previously published by Ms. Magazine.

Child Who Would Not

By Nancy Dafoe

Shapeless sleeping,
I dreamed of you,
mourning when you were not born,
holding your hand while I named trees:
there’s African Baobab, Spanish Cedar,
European Ash, Japanese Maple, fiery red and gold,
the Maidenhair Tree, held sacred, with its cultivation of hope,
thin, Quaking Aspen, I point to, with its imploring arms
reaching upward, but it is the Kapok that interests you,
with its spreading roots guiding souls
of the dead; wait, I say, opening my throat
like the Australian Umbrella. If we could only
walk this world, I would point to the European
Black Elder with its connecting buds
like ganglia, but your interest lies
in the finely fissured
Tree of Heaven.

I come back again to Bristlecone Pine
in its barren landscape.
“Death sets a thing significant,” wrote Dickinson,
yet outside birth and death obliquely you remain
while I cradle incomprehension until it settles
sometime in the middle of the night;
I never heard your breath but felt you
breathing. Ascending sun
troubles a cooled earth,
and an exhalation
suggests leaving.
Connected by sighs,
a long, thin cord conjoining
us, the umbilical flowering vine of memory.
You recede into that inner dark, my dissident child,
reversing process: born into me.

Poet, fiction and non-fiction writer, and educator Nancy Avery Dafoe has published two books on writing: Breaking Open the Box and Writing Creatively. Her memoir An Iceberg in Paradise: A Passage through Alzheimer’s was just published by SUNY Press. Individual poems, essays, and stories have appeared in a number of literary publications. She is the mother of three children, Colette, Nicole, and Blaise, and three small grandsons, Truman, Enzo, and Owen. She lives with her husband Daniel and son in Central New York.

For Frances

By Sarah Gajkowski-Hill

such big fears for one so small!
with my arms outstretched, we’ll
fight off the terrors together

I promise I won’t let go,
even when the pavement rises up
and the shadows grow long

when the rain rips the tree branches
from their very sockets

you and I will be miles away
sucking strawberries and
squandering our hours

full of lullabies and lavender
before the moon rises

For Jude

By Sarah Gajkowski-Hill

your childhood glides past me
— balloon in hand,
a rush of summer afternoons and Saturday mornings,
horse rides, go-karts and sleepovers.

what can I give you to remember:
your one perfect smile drives me,

and let you know that I am pressure-coated in panic
whenever you stop yourself from
throwing your arms around my neck?

Sarah Gajkowski-Hill lives in Houston, where she is a self-identified Catholic poet. Gajkowski-Hill works as a writer at the University of Houston and is the mother to three children ranging in age from ten to fourteen. She has recently been published in Dappled Things, Josephine Quarterly and Amygdala.