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Issue 5: Phoenix

Bob Sward's Writer's Friendship Series

Book Reviews

Need to Know



A quick list to poets featured in this issue:

Bei Dao

Frank X. Gaspar

Carol Frith

Muriel Zeller

Dee Cohen

George Wallace

Tom Daley

James Lee Jobe

Mary Zeppa

Daniel A. Olivas

Hannah Stein

Lynne Knight

Walter Pavlich

Derick Burleson


Lynne Knight

Lynne Knight

Strange Crossings

Black branches, rinsed with rain,
their blossoms a cross of dogwood
and magnolia, so bright at dusk
t seemed some otherworldly light

as I stood at the window, dreaming
I was young, my skin smooth, my desire
elaborate as the black branches
that seemed wild calligraphy

the more I stared, not branches at all
but ink. I thought of writing you then,
but what would I have said--not one day
goes by that I don't think of you?

And where would I have written?
On what surface would I have formed
the letters or the characters
when I knew nothing material

could reach you? I might as well
have spilled the ink on water,
watched it swirl and disappear.
Besides, I was young in the dream,

too young to know how death
would take your name like ink,
make of it strange crossings,
unearthly black-branched trees

that I would dream poured ink
into my hands, making me wake
wanting to write Forgive me like
the name you never hear me calling.



Something's happening she can't understand.
Her father's there, calling her, by the shore.
She runs, but her old legs get lost in sand.

Really she sits still, wheelchair bound, one hand
knocking the air as if it were a door.
Something's happening she can't understand.

Her father calls again, an old command
she's ready to obey. She scans the floor
and runs, but her old legs get lost in sand.

Then things reverse, and she's at sea. Where's land?
Help me! Help! Will she ever get ashore?
Something's happening she can't understand.

Who's that? Oh, where's my father? Help me stand!
she cries. Then, panicky, What's that gun for?
She runs, but her old legs get lost in sand.

Mother, I say. Mother, it's just my hand.
She winces, shrinks. It's like a gun, and more.
Something's happening she can't understand.
She runs, but her old legs run out like sand.


Two Views of Winter

A long e-mail this morning from Upstate New York,
complaining of the cold, minus 50 with the wind chill.
My friend wants to go drown in the lake, but even it's frozen,
and houses, trees--all night wind rushes the pines
like airborne wolves. You've probably forgotten
the misery of it... I go on to the next e-mail. A friend
here, reading Stevens late last night, finally got
what he meant by "a mind of winter, the zen stillness

in that phrase." At dawn, she walked hatless into the rain,
straight up the hill into green, feeling lighter and lighter.
"Maybe it was just lack of oxygen. But I swear I felt
winter yield in me. And I realized the less winter
I could feel, the less I would have to let go, all the way
down to zero. It's the new amplitude." I sent this on
to the friend lost in winter, who e-mailed back, "Here,
where life is simpler, we call it death by freezing."



What's poverty, my father asked,
but something that the mind can turn
to gold? We were talking of vows
a saint might take--poverty, obedience.
He poured more whiskey in his glass,
tapped his cigarette till ash fell
on the floor. No matter--it was just dirt
packed down and hidden by old shingles

stones had worked their way through--
a case in point, my father said,
for tenacity, persistence. He liked
the Latin-sounding words. He read
the dictionary on the nights he lay off
booze, smoking his Chesterfields
in the light of the only lamp beside
the oilstove, our only heat. We'd spent

eight years in the unfinished house,
all of us still trying to believe nothing
was permanent. Change is an essential
condition of life, or at least of all life
subjected to extremes of temperature,
my father liked to say, a kind of prayer
that might exonerate him. My mother
took this as a cue to change position

by the stove where she stood reading,
keeping warm: "That's us, all right.
Extremes of temperature, and worse."
She'd stare at the bottle of Imperial
on the drawing board where blueprints
for the finished house were layered over
with more what-if schemes on napkins
from Santoro's Bar, where bright ideas

often seized him. How could she bear it?
One year was another. I had three more
before I could escape to university. When sleep
eluded me, I lay dreaming of a life with walls
and carpets, heat. It came, soon enough,
but nothing seemed that different.
I looked the same, said things the way
I'd said them, often in my father's voice,

ornate and Latinate locutions I was learning
to undo. Meanwhile, they sold the house,
still unfinished, and moved to Newburgh,
a comfortable apartment where my mother
sat calm among appliances and plumbing,
pretending none of it had happened.
But I wouldn't say she turned it all
to gold, exactly. Gold's redeemable. ___________________________________