Monday, November 18, 2019

My Sister's Clothers, a poem by Nancy Pulley

My Sister’s Clothes
by Nancy Pulley

Mementos wait
in the family home
for me to muster up some kind
of ancestral tough love--
throw away the past.

How many keepsakes
do I need to sift through
to find a solid lump of grief?
How many tchotchkes
will fit in an already crowded shadowbox?

I’m trying to find comfort
in postcards sent
to my grandmother,
Mom’s handmade doilies,
in the metal closet where
my sister’s clothes hang empty

waiting to be placed
in that old wooden
storage trunk of my heart.

Nancy Pulley's poems have appeared in Tipton Poetry Journal, the Indiannual, Flying Island, Arts Indiana Literary Supplement, Passages North, Plainsong, the Sycamore Review, and the Humpback Barn Festival collection. In 1992, she won the Indiana Writers Center poetry chapbook contest, resulting in the publication of a chapbook, Tremolo of Light.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Meatless Fridays, a poem by Mary Redman

Meatless Fridays

were meant to be a sacrifice. Frozen fish sticks
or tuna salad on toast with vegetable soup
filled our bellies most weeks. But sometimes,
unpredictably, Dad would bring home carryout
cheese pizzas and a six-pack of Pepsi Cola in glass
bottles. Entering the front door, he bore the scent

of melted mozzarella and crisp baked dough
in twin cardboard boxes. Each of us snagged
a slice and giggled when the stringy cheese
stretched from box to plate. Six of us
kids eyed shrinking pizzas across a long,
scarred table, as grease and tomato sauce

dripped on chins, and fizz from half a soda
filled our noses. Nights like that,
Dad was a hero, and our myopic eyes failed
to see the fraying cuffs of his pressed white
shirt, shiny elbows of his suit, thinning hair,
weary gaze, or the hollow set of his dark eyes.
—Mary Redman

Mary Redman is a retired high school English teacher who works part time supervising student teachers for University of Indianapolis. She enjoys having time to volunteer and to take classes at the Indiana Writers Center. She has had poems published in Flying Island, Three Line Poetry, Red River Review, Northwest Indiana Literary Journal, and Tipton Poetry Journal, and elsewhere.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Musing Half Asleep, a poem by Roger Pfingston

Musing Half Asleep
by Roger Pfingston

Pleasantly redundant, birds
chip away November darkness,
though some, like the crow,

are more industrial. Imagine
sitting down at a table of crows,
half a dozen blabbing non-stop

like one of those talk shows,
no commercials unless you
count another day’s molten birth

in a lingering drought, the slow-
passing clouds dialing down
the light on a gleaming spread

of frost … icing on a burnt cake.

A retired teacher of English and photography, Roger Pfingston is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and two PEN Syndicated Fiction Awards. He is the author of Something Iridescent, a collection of poetry and fiction, as well as four chapbooks: Earthbound, Singing to the Garden, A Day Marked for Telling, and What’s Given, the latter recently published by Kattywompus Press.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Fish Story, creative nonfiction by Shawndra Miller

Fish Story

by Shawndra Miller

My dog runs ahead on the deserted golf course, galloping across a wooden bridge that spans Pleasant Run. Along the creek’s border, denuded trees scratch at the low sky. As always, this winter afternoon, my friend Alma and I fall deep into conversation about the implied lessons behind every little trial in our lives. I’m attempting to conquer chronic pain; she’s raising two teenagers on her own. The bridge's bounce carries us along.

Mid-bridge Alma seizes my arm. More observant than I, she draws my attention downward to the planks under our feet: "Is that a fish?" We gape down at a silvery body, narrower than my hand, long as a glove. A smear of red on the wooden slats. A stillness, then a sudden movement that we sense more than see—"Is he still breathing?" We bend closer, and the round white lips widen in a spasm of something like hope. Really, do fishes hope? Maybe it was fear that opened the lips and drew in the gasp.

I take a blue plastic bag meant for collecting my dog’s waste and put it over my fingers to grasp the fish near its tail. Ridge of body, hard skeleton under a bit of give: The thing proves as slippery as it looks. Out of my fingers it slides to knock against the red painted rail and flop in paroxysms on the slats at my feet. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, little fish!" I grab it again and lift it above the uppermost rail as quickly as I can, praying not to dash its brains out, dropping it over the edge. From somewhere near the treetops a blue jay shrieks its diphthonged epithet, “Thiee—eef! Thiee—eef!”

"He's in the water!" Alma crows, and darts to the other side of the bridge to follow its path. "He's swimming! He's just a little cockeyed...Come on buddy, you can do it." The fish now appears the color of tea, same as the water—a dubious stream that sometimes smells like sewage, owing to its use as an overflow for same. But I love this stream and I love this fish and I'm standing there cheering them both on, as the fish wobbles, rights itself, darts behind a rock. "Oh, this is his home—he knows where to go," says Alma.

Where he lay on the bridge slat we find three square smudges of red, and miniscule dots of confetti the color of a winter sky about to snow, glinting—the poor fish descaled right under our noses. We make up origin stories: a kingfisher grabbed and let go? A raccoon? Most likely a bird. Alma thought she saw a rip in the belly, source of the blood.

"You saved the fish!" Alma cheers and hugs me as we stand there clinging to the rail.

The one that got away. The Fish Story. "What kind of fish is it, do you think?" I ask.

"A lucky fish."

"You saw him," I say, still giddy.

"You saved him!" She slaps my arm.

To have a fish fly up into our faces almost, while nattering along on our Very Important Lives, is stunningly surreal: Are you a magic fish from a fairy tale, about to stand up fully dressed in tights and puffy breeches, with a jaunty cap on your head, like Robin Hood?

Such a fish would have resurfaced and disgorged a gold ring or a capsule containing a tiny scroll, or it would have shapeshifted into a princeling or an evil gnome. A dream-fish, a mythic-fish, a mystery-fish. Perhaps I do a disservice to this living swimmer (does it live still?)—making it into a symbol for my own purposes. Still my overactive mind can't help but take some meaning from the encounter. To make it into a Story.

O fish, swimmer of polluted shallow water, bridge-jumper-in-reverse: What do you give us in return for our service? What is the price we must pay for touching you, or the reward we might receive?

Tonight after several restless nights, the pain has settled in, like old times. I feel my body wanting to clench, and it seems my affliction has returned.

I turn to my side, stretch long, remember the fish, its torment, its release. These moments of discomfort lie alongside the moments where I pay attention, where I still shine—even in that space of "impairment." It is possible to shine—not endlessly, but just in one particular instance, right here.

Perhaps each moment can be its own pearl, to be buffed to a sheen or left tarnished and heavy, tainted by fears of future suffering, recriminations of past acts. Because that's what my pain encloses—a thought layered around the physical moment: Oh fuck, how will I manage, I bet I’ll feel this way forever, I did something wrong, how do I fix this? Those laments bring suffering to a moment just as perfect as any other, just as full of possibility and grace.

I breathe deeply and imagine my breath filling me with a radical compassion, not just for the plight of others, but for my own minute cells. Like fish in a polluted stream, they mirror and carry the plight of the world.

Lying here, my mind a rocky sea, I feel a calming of the waves. The Sunday school image of Jesus-in-the-rowboat swims up from somewhere, bringing with it a sense of restrained power. In childhood’s bathtub imaginings, I used to pretend I could work that particular miracle, placing my hand on churned-up water's surface to calm it. Now I see that I do this with myself, with other people sometimes.

And with fish?

That fish, taking what might be its last breath, finds itself back in the creek's fluidic embrace. Does it live or die, with its bloodied scales, oxygen-starved lungs? Does the outcome matter, as long as the fish felt kindness for a shimmering moment, there under the skin of the water?

In the watery cells of my body, in the saline medium that contains my spirit, kindness is all.

Be brave, says a whisper in my ear as I drift. Be you. Let you be you.

I slide under the surface, find my way home.

A two-time recipient of the Indiana Arts Commission’s Individual Artist Grant, Shawndra Miller has been published in Confrontation Magazine, Arts & Letters, Flying Island, and other journals, as well as the anthology Goddess: When She Rules, from Golden Dragonfly Press. Her essay “Bleeding the Butterfly” received the Unclassifiable award from Arts & Letters. She blogs about personal and community resilience at

Monday, October 28, 2019

Blanket Welcome at Kennedy Airport, a poem by Norbert Krapf

Blanket Welcome at Kennedy Airport
                                                        —for Peyton, my grandson
by Norbert Krapf 

There was a small pink, blue
and green blanket we sent
to Bogotá for your mother

to be wrapped in when she
came to us in New York.
When her plane arrived

at the gate at Kennedy Airport
a beautiful young Colombian
woman with long black hair

stepped off the plane smiling.
When we walked up to her
she placed baby Elizabeth Maria

in that blanket in my arms.
I held, beheld, kissed her
and said, “Welcome, Love!”

There was no wall whatsoever.
No insults on any tough lips.
We wrapped and held her in love.

Which is what we give you also,
her beautiful Colombian and German
son with dark light-filled eyes.

Norbert Krapf's latest collections are The Return of Sunshine (2018) and Indiana Hill Country Poems (2019). His adaptation of his Catholic Boy Blues collection (2015) into a play was performed in June in the Indy Eleven Theatre of Indy Fringe, and he is currently working on a new play, Andrew and the Bells of Lohr

Monday, October 21, 2019

Inner Workings, a poem by Mathew Early

Inner Workings
by Matthew Early

                         —for Dad

You taught me to skin squirrels
by the time I turned four:

Knife-slice down the belly like
scissors through wrapping paper.
Tear guts from shell,
make the inner workings forget
they ever needed to be hidden.

I would, not of want,
but it made you smile
bigger than the splitting pelts.
So big, pride flowed
like squirrel blood
from the corners of your mouth.

Your words never failed
to drought my eyes:
We’re all wired different,
and there’s no shame in that.

The woods were your church,
so I’d go on our hunts:
October swelling,
squirrels gnawing hickory
from stem in the treetops
like some drunken Morse Code.

I never told you
I hated the ease of it all:
How they’d fall like skydivers
sans grace and chutes,

but I know you could tell,
that you were hurt
when I didn’t want my camo
dirtied with dead blood—

and I forgive you for feeling guilty.

Matthew Early is a poet from Columbus, Ohio. He holds a BA from Muskingum University and is currently pursuing his MFA in creative writing at Butler University. He is the recipient of the 2018 Beulah Brooks Brown award in poetry. His work has also been featured in several literary journals including: the Flying Island through the Indiana Writers Center, Barren Magazine, Ghost City Press, and others.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Cuban Missile Crisis Anxiety, a poem by Steve Brammel

Cuban Missile Crisis Anxiety
by Steve Brammell

Lunch in a brown paper bag, eating in the bleachers,
reading my Lord of the Flies,
the other kids loud, but not enough to hide
the sudden sirens in the distance only I can hear.
I try not to move too fast across the basketball court,
its circle a bullseye, push the bar on the exit door,
the runaway elevator I’m trapped on never reaching bottom.
Outside I sprint to the edge of the playground,
look west where steel mills never stop smoking
and the Nike base, with its white-finned rockets,
guards against those slow bombers of another era.
Just beyond the curve of the earth Chicago is the prize.
I estimate the minutes it will take
for grinning Khrushchev’s missiles
to cross the Early Warning Line,
and how many more until the people,
now alert in the streets with nowhere to go,
all look up, just like me, and watch the warheads,
bright in the autumn sun, fall like Armageddon’s stars.

From Steve Brammel: I worked for many years as a technical and medical writer in Birmingham, Alabama. I was also a frequent contributor to Birmingham Magazine, Alabama Magazine, and other regional publications. My feature each month in Birmingham Magazine examined life in the city through a poet’s eyes. A long fascination with the culinary world led to another career in the restaurant business. Marriage finally brought me to Indianapolis, where I am employed in the wine trade, and still writing. I was a member of Austin Poets Theater in my younger days. I recently completed a manuscript of narrative poems based on my time in the South titled Red Mountain Cut. I am a native Hoosier from Michigan City and a graduate of Wabash College, where I studied with the poet Bert Stern.