Ballad of the Jersey Devil
Night came creeping, the wildlife sleeping
Beneath the quiet laurel;
Bird and squirrel, young boy, young girl
Lay down without a quarrel.
No thunder clattered, it was utter still
By Batsto stream, by needled loam;
The wind swept chill through my window sill
In my dry Pine Barrens home.
Who knows what flood the Devil stirs in your blood,
Or what the Devil might bleed out?
“Pray,” father said, “to be good, be good,
With prayers most devout.”
“Clasp hands together in sacred prayer,”
He’d clamber to his knees;
“You hold unawares your holy soul there,
Do the Devil what he please.”
“Sing your prayers soon, my son, my son,
Sing them fast and loud and strong;
To Kingdom Come your words must run,
We tarry here not long.”
Then a shadow strange on the window panes
Fell as I fell to my knees;
A ragged coat flapped from the silent lane
And stopped up the evening breeze.
I raced to greet with naked feet
The apparition in the breeze;
Once through the door, no more, no more
Of the stranger did I see.
I slid through the brake where the snakes do glide;
The moon was new and shy,
Sharp pines brushed on my shirtless side
And the stars had deserted the sky.
I did not want to meet that man, that man;
I could not let him go;
That man in the black coat turning, turning,
His shadow following low.
Through midnight sweat and swamp we went,
And heard no bell grieve but the leaves--
In our swift descent, with heads down-bent,
Running past green graves of trees.
O, father dead, my head was hurting!
I prayed but no one came;
And the dark stranger kept on running,
Running just the same.
I’ll see if he crosses the tossing waters,
The waters of Batsto stream;
That’s a devil-test that will cause him arrest,
Or so my father deemed.
He passed the mark so lightly, lightly,
I began to doubt my heart;
With his crooked step so unsightly
Did he but play a devil’s part?
Like a July rocket, my lead step he mocked;
He ran like bolt of lightning;
He ran to the roar of the Jersey Shore,
The waves rising black, the sky tightening.
Then the man in the black coat turned back once more,
Leaping hill and hollow in stride;
His strange face glowed like a shadow’s hole,
And he turned his head to one side.
I stood forlorn on the moonless shore,
The windy pines sensing evil;
The wanton moon waned, her face turned once more
By the magic of the Devil.
“For you I have a place prepared.”
Old hoof-prints circled the fire;
Burnt logs arranged with symbols none shared,
And strange birds sang in choir.
My knees in the Devil’s sand-pit came down hard,
But prayers and thoughts I had none;
Just these few words that my two numb ears heard,
Spoken afar by someone:
“Man spends his little life running and running,
He tarries here not very long;
Midnight soon comes, and then Death comes with cunning,
And comes then an end to Life’s song.
Gregg G. Brown
Gregg G. Brown has devoted his life to poetry since happening across a certain haiku by Moritake. He runs the micro-publishing house Blast Press, which has published over two dozen authors in the past 25 years. Named in honor of the wild Vorticist venture by Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, Blast Press is forward-looking and very opinionated.
Gregg still composes poems on his departed father’s clipboard, which he’s had since high school.
While all my fellow humans hope to
Enter heaven after they die, I am alone
Living in paradise already:
An earthly realm I have built myself
With the light from Lapland, where the setting sun
Shines with the morning glows above golden snow
The air from Shangri-la, where the yin
And yang are in pure and perfect balance with
Each other in every grass, every cloud
The water from Waterton Lakes, which
Reflect the mountain of trees as clearly
As the mountain reflects upon the clear water
That’s all my spirit needs, not the fragments
Of the meaning about Eden long lost
But the whole backyard within my solitary heart
Changming Yuan, 8-time Pushcart nominee and probably the world's most widely published poetry author who speaks Mandarin but writes English, grew up in a remote village, began to learn English at 19, and published several monographs before leaving China. With a PhD in English, Yuan co-edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Qing Yuan in Vancouver, and has poetry appearing in 909 literary publications across 30 countries, including Best Canadian Poetry (2009,12,14), BestNewPoemsOnline and Threepenny Review.
Your forty-first year and still no poltergeists
to blame. No spectral hands emerge
with the dark to rattle bones beneath your flesh,
to heave photos and unmailed letters
into jumbles of white noise. The moon goes on
following its uninspired course across the treetops
and in the morning the sky is a cupped hand over
every identical Colonial on the block. The fog burns
without a whimper off the pavement. The squirrels daily
knock over the bird feeder and without complaint
you prop it back into place
in spite of crows circling overhead, laughing
at their private jokes.
Crouched behind your house in the branches
of the last elm standing in the neighborhood
a guardian angel whispers love poems by moonlight.
Palsied and half invisible, she’s fading
by the minute from the terrible weight
of your conviction.
Laura Bernstein-Machlay is an instructor of creative writing and literature at The College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI. Her poems and essays have been published in numerous journals including The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Georgia Review. She has work currently appearing in The Santa Clara Review.
Because it rained blood that Tuesday
And pigeons cascaded from their roosts
In Atlanta and a tsunami swept away
Two hundred people in Indonesia
As a woman drove over her husband
Because he told her how to vote
And lime trees languished in Key West
Because no snow fell in Philadelphia
And three girls bicycling in Seattle
Vanished because a foundation was dug
For a beach house in Malibu
And two pit bulls were adopted
By an interracial couple from
Atlantic City as a Russian orphan died
Of failure to thrive and a college reunion
Was held at a banquet hall in Indianapolis
Because a man and woman fell in love
In Seoul as another woman walked
By the sea weeping means you and I
Were meant to meet that hot day
With the sidewalks blistering our feet
As we kept on walking.
Joan Colby's books are The Lonely Hearts Killers, Spoon River Poetry Press; The Atrocity Book, Lynx House Press; How The Sky Begins to Fall, Spoon River Poetry Press; The Boundary Waters, Damascus Road Press; Blue Woman Dancing in the Nerve, Alembic Press; Dream Tree, Jump River Press; and Beheading the Children, Ommation Press. She has published widely in journals including Poetry, Atlanta Review, GSU Review, Portland Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, Epoch, Mid-American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Kansas Quarterly, The Hollins Critic, Minnesota Review, Western Humanities Review, College English, Another Chicago Magazine, and others. Her awards include the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature; Illinois Arts Council Literary Award, Stone County Award for Poetry, Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry. She was a finalist in the 2007 GSU Poetry Contest, and an honorable mention in the 2008 and 2010 James Hearst Poetry Contest (North American Review), a finalist in 2009 Margie Editor’s Choice Contest, and a finalist in 2009 and 2012 Nimrod International Pablo Neruda Prize. She also received the Illinois Arts Council Literary Award 2007. She has been the editor of Illinois Racing News for over 25 years, a monthly publication for the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation, published by Midwest Outdoors LLC. She lives with my husband and assorted animals on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois, and has three grown children and six grandchildren.
The Anarchist Exiles At Geneva
Snow is falling again; it
drops out of the sky for no apparent reason,
the clouds dissolve, the snow
goes quietly about its business
and buries us. We never
hear it coming. It is too much
to understand, something to endure
in silence, our last bravery.
We have no martyrs now
no one to mourn for;
we melt beneath the stones
with the snow.
There are many debates.
We read too much, and smoke.
The old men reminisce and die,
their eyes fixed on the mountains.
In previous lives, Paul Bernstein has been a history graduate student, library worker/aspiring poet/political activist/weekend hippie, professional left-wng journalist, medical editor, and managing editor of a medical journal. He has had work published in Poetry Quarterly, Main Street Rag, the new renaissance, River Poets Journal, Magic Lantern, U.S. 1 Worksheets, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
When I turn down the street
signs vex lawns, a bible of bad law.
The roof of clouds that scuds
through, turns the day cold
crushes trees. Houses emptied
find rooms filled with forced light,
more powerful than the people
that lost everything, since
this illuminated family will never
be evicted. Now, shaded rain grabs
onto panes like small children
trying to get in among the silhouettes
cast by curtainless panes, join the
patterns shifting on the wooden floor.
On the road a bank receipt, grease-stained,
bleeds blurred figures onto cement.
Black numbers run into blue, green, grow
inchoate, their tidy sums drip away.
Mark Burgh's writing has appeared in many journals, including
Slant, Jersey Devil Press, and Fiction Vortex
Tree Roots, My Friend
Outside the chateaux’s walled grounds,
somewhere under the wheat and sunflowers
that have dried and decayed the last twelve decades,
the borrowed revolver has finally changed colors,
its hard steel dissolved by oxidized hope, wilted
with the brown stems of a new century’s hypocrite mist.
Why have they not found the gun?
What has grown since the fall?
How long will the soil remain?
When will you come back?
Clouds fall and sever the hand, Vincent.
You lie alone to rust in spinning fields---
roads never clear, the pull of family never pure,
the universe too infinite, the body mourned in thistle.
Through the stomach you have drawn a bucket
of blood from the well.
You could not finish the ideal.
You could not crouch with peaceful farmhouses forever.
But perfection held hands in those pastures,
and its ghost still lies there, trapped---maybe,
even after you lifted it to canvas
from your last sinew, word, bone,
to shine on man from behind the sun.
This was our best scarecrow.
Getting down into the twisted dirt,
planting and loving, sinking and losing,
equal the beauty and despair.
And either more than his eyes could bear.
Timothy B. Dodd
Timothy B. Dodd is from Mink Shoals, West Virginia. His writing has appeared in Yemassee, The Owen Wister Review, Main Street Rag, The William & Mary Review, The Mayo Review, and elsewhere. He is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Texas El Paso .
On Certain Sundays
On a Sunday morning we harbor nothing
But the assurance of a week’s worth.
No other agenda but the warm march of tea
Pouring its green fuel down our throats.
We combust in absolute silence
Over a newspaper as the rain causes
The glass to fill with light.
Our lives are pregnant. Our bodies
Lain back in a recline towards God.
And if the scheduled plight of the coming week
Bears down its stamp of obligation,
We can slip easily as whiskey
Into the warm and honeyed dark. Seth JaniSeth Jani was raised in Western Maine. He is the founder and editor of Seven Circle Press (www.sevencirclepress.com), and his own work has been published widely in such journals as Writers’ Bloc, The Foundling Review, Hobo Camp Review, and Gutter Eloquence. He currently resides in Seattle, WA.
A Song of SinnersSinners hurt.
Moonlight cracks open
like a walnut, spreads soft light
across open sky.
They dart to alleyways, bury themselves behind
their own trails shaking fists at the sky;
hiding their nasty nonsense in shame,
city buildings rattle their bricks,
mortar loose at their rib cage.
Where do sinners break out
from when their deeds are exposed?
All men think they are sword
men daggers in darkness.
All women think they are entry points
spotted lean on sidewalks past midnight,
nothing but shadows, twitching of lips.
Women look for no good in their makeup kits;
no one cares about how men are tempted,
jackals and scavengers in night.
Thunder hammers at their ears,
rain urinates those streets corners,
mice crawl away to small places.
Footsteps cry in mud holds stuck
as sunlight starts to sprout.
Misdeeds have no names
as they trip into each other blind,
as they race off to their morning jobs-
It’s early morning,
staples in women’s lungs,
staples in men’s ribs.
Michael Lee JohnsonMICHAEL LEE JOHNSON lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era; is now known as the Illinois poet from Itasca, IL. Today he is a poet, freelance writer, and photographer who experiments with poetography (blending poetry with photography), and a small business owner in Itasca, Illinois. He has been published in more than 750 small press magazines in 27 countries, and is the editor of 8 poetry sites. Michael is the author of The Lost American: From Exile to Freedom (136 page book), and several chapbooks of poetry, including From Which Place the Morning Rises, Challenge of Night and Day, and Chicago Poems. He also has over 69 poetry videos on YouTube.
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Sometimes a deer bolting across the river
slips on a rock and breaks a leg. It dies there
or half-way up the bank, or conceals itself
in a thicket, as if its death were shameful.
What should we make of pain that figures
in neither history nor biography, but just is?
The chocolate lab, whose barking startled the deer,
finds the femur one night and fetches it home.
The man in the house cusses the dog and ties
the leg up in a plastic bag and buries it,
not without words. In the man’s bed sleeps
the Boy, the mother is gone, in Boy’s room
the man is painting the crosses that divide
the window panes. Muntins not crosses
is the right name for them. Dead, not gone.
Boy is dreaming: on suddenly long legs
walking is skating on wind; Mother has just
licked off the afterbirth. Everything is wobbly,
but soon he’ll be ready to leap. Then the dog
barks and Boy’s legs telescope in. He cries out
against the light and goes back to sleep.
* * * *
The stones are shifting slightly in the river.
It drives them seaward at the speed of lichen.
The man walks here to escape the smell of paint.
He is consoled by the lack of explanations.
Who could explain yesterday’s groundhog
on the shoulder of northbound 85?
The man had been shifting down
to enter the traffic, when he saw it—head
propped on forelegs, eyes turned toward
a line of trees, hindquarters twisted
90 degrees awry. The man was glad
it had reached the grass, a better place
to die than asphalt, where the buzzards
could safely get to it, out in the open
where someone could see and give it a name.
* * * *
Such are his musings as he paints the ceiling--
though waking or dreaming who can tell?--
how we break like toys the gifts
we are born to, how the groundhog
was broken by a driver who never saw it,
how each child has an angel whispering, Grow. Bird on the Tongue
i. What the Men See
At Benson’s Snake Pit and Reptile Farm
the grave girl with the orchid in her hair
is selling ice-cream. The men pay for their cones,
stealing a glance at the girl. They push back their caps
and look out over the wilderness of swamp
and two-lanes that make their home. The holy
is always present, but it can’t be labeled
like the gaboon viper or the fer-de-lance
pickled in brine and displayed in glass jars.
The air is heavy and wet. The afternoon clouds
heap up like scoops of butter pecan.
The men stay till the rain begins to patter,
but don’t see what they’ve come to see—the bird
that nonchalants into a gator’s mouth
to pick its teeth. They leave, telling themselves
they’re coming back, that maybe they’ll get lucky,
maybe speak a piece that makes the girl smile.
ii. What the Girl Thinks
Sacred alligator, you can bellow so loud
you startle the crows
a quarter mile out,
you can outrun a man
and eat a snake--
you are my sister,
flower of hunger,
whiplash of anger.
Nothing’s too big for you,
not even the God
whose blood is the river,
and nothing’s too small--
not even the bird
you hold in your mouth
like a fledgling word.
Let it fly from your tongue
and alight on mine.
iii. What the Gator Eats
In the beginning, God spit
mud and water from His mouth,
and sawgrass grew from the muck,
and here and there He dropped
bayhead and hammock.
He called the wilderness good
and set the gator to rule
and gave her leave to eat
whatever she could—turtle carapace
and flesh, pig-frog and snowy egret,
fishing weights and floats and lures,
rice rats and gar, mink
slippery and quick as a sinner,
shotshells and soda bottles,
and the left hand of Mr. Spenser
that stifled the screams of the ice-cream girl
when he caught her alone. The men
discover his body and hunt the gator
in hole and den. The girl tosses
her blood-red orchid on the water.J.S. AbsherJ.S. Absher has been an offset printer, missionary, bank teller, janitor, and consultant, sold mutual funds, surveyed scrub timberland, and taught a poetry class in Belize. He is a member of the Board of the North Carolina Poetry Society and co-hosts the monthly Second Thursday reading series at Flyleaf Books, an independent bookstore in Chapel Hill, NC. Absher’s poetry has been published in numerous journals and anthologies, including Dialogue, Sunstone, The Dead Mule, Anderbo, Conte, and Kakalak. His work has won various prizes, most recently from the Poetry Council of North Carolina and the North Carolina Poetry Society, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He has two collections, Night Weather (Cynosura Press, 2010), and The Burial of Anyce Shepherd (Main Street Rag, 2006).