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Poetry Winter 2020    fiction    all issues

Cover of Poetry Winter 20


French silk sample book

Paula Reed Nancarrow
Morning Coffee
& other poems

Jill Burkey
& other poems

Oak Morse
Boys Born out of Blues
& other poems

Beatrix Bondor
Engine Ode
& other poems

Monique Jonath
a mi sheberach
& other poems

Lisa Rachel Apple
& other poems

Gillian Freebody
The Human Condition
& other poems

Kirsten Hippe-Rychlik
and we are echoes
& other poems

Devon Bohm
& other poems

Jeddie Sophronius
I Rest My Mother Tongue
& other poems

John Delaney
Poem as Map
& other poems

Elizabeth Bayou-Grace
Fire in Paradise
& other poems

In Utero
& other poems

Michelle Lerner
Ode to Exhaustion
& other poems

William French
I Have Never Been
& other poems

Josiah Patterson Wheatley
Coeur de Fleurs
& other poems

Karo Ska
womb song
& other poems

Robyn Joy
& other poems

Han Raschka
Love Language
& other poems

Rebbekah Vega-Romero
The Memory in My Pinky
& other poems

Gilaine Fiezmont
Europe, too, Came from Somewhere Else
& other poems

Scott Ruescher
At the Childhood Home of Ozzy Osbourne
& other poems

Emily R. Daniel
Visitation Dreams
& other poems

Lindsay Gioffre
Toxicodendron Radicans [Sonnet 1]
& other poems

Scott Ruescher

At the Perryville Battlefield
State Historic Site

When I asked him where the father of my father’s mother’s mother

Might have been fighting when he took one where it counts

For the Abolitionist cause, I couldn’t have been happier

To see the long-haired librarian in his plaid shirt, sneakers,

And wrinkled khakis roll his considerable bulk,

In a three-wheeled swivel chair that served as a helpful

Extension of his body, first to the old desk-top computer

To look it up in his database and match the number

Of the Union troop that he was likely to have been in

(With other conscripted soldiers from the tiny rural farm town

Of Plain City, Ohio) with a battlefield map

That indicated which platoon was standing where—

And then, after that, and then, then and there, to see him roll

All the way from the computer, across the expanse

Of indoor-outdoor carpeting in the museum’s basement library,

To a screen door that looked out on a pleasant summer day,

And to see him point up to a small gray goat barn in a corner

Of a pasture and say, without even turning to look at me

Or to appreciate the humorous beauty of the goats looking back, that

That’s where the troop of conscripted farmers and carpenters,

Mechanics, handymen, coopers, clerks, teachers, and merchants

Who may never have seen a black person in their lives,

Unless on a trip to Columbus or outside of a church stop

On the Underground Railroad, were standing when a cannonball

From a Confederate artillery post down toward the road

Hit the split-rail hickory fence that in turn projected a splinter

In the exact direction, according to the photocopies

Of his annual pension papers, of my great-great-grandfather’s groin—

An anecdote that finally got him, hearing me relate it

At the screen door while his back was still turned, to turn around

And look at me with a most quizzical expression.

At the Childhood Home
of Ozzy Osbourne

At 15 Lodge Road, around the corner from a long stretch

Of grim gray “council housing” apartment complexes

That shelter vulnerable refugees from places torn to pieces

By the nail-stuffed bombs of angry fundamentalist warriors,

At a crook in the lane where the rock ‘n’ roll celebrity star

Of his own reality television show, the notorious Ozzy Osbourne,

First conceived of those blasphemously loud Black Sabbath songs

Of an unintentionally funny, head-banging quality

That marked the heavy metal hey-day of the early 1970s,

We happen upon the loyal, long-time neighbors

Still holding out in their scruffy and contaminated

Working-class element, their urban-slum enclave,

The elderly white Anglican gal with the fresh blue hairdo

And the dreadlocked Jamaican dude on the blue sting-ray bike,

Cataloguing the changes that have come in recent years

To this very humble neighborhood where Ozzy came up

As a blue-collar Brummie, in the borough of Aston

On the north side of Birmingham, north of the mills

That William Blake derided, far from the Bournville hill

With the Cadbury chocolate plant and the complex of cottages

And sweet little townhouses on the south side of town

That the Quaker capitalist who owned that business

Had built to keep his workers productive and happy—

Cataloguing the changes that have come in recent years

And complaining aloud that since the Pakistanis’ arrival

It isn’t any longer the peaceful mixture of dour Anglos

And mellow West Indians that it used to be,

That it no longer embodies the unlikely alliance of people

That made it a model of cross-cultural possibility,

Where an unexpected blend of black and white Marleys,

Those descended, like him, from the Bobs of Rastafarian fame

And those declined, like her, from the Jacobs of Dickens’s

Christmas Carol acclaim, could treat each other with dignity

As they are doing now, these loyal, long-time neighbors,

At the door of the rock star’s home, this bland gray

Cement-block townhouse from whose picture window comes,

Not as if out of nowhere, but out of the depths of hell,

As we are about to ask if they knew Ozzy in person,

The sound of a man in a rage letting his frustration out

In Urdu, Pashto, or Punjab, screaming bloody murder

At someone in his family who’s been stuck with him at home

For too damn long in those uncomfortably close quarters

Whimpering behind a closed door, cowering in a corner,

Hiding behind the bathroom door, or standing ground

Before him in the kitchen. His rebellious son, maybe.

His longsuffering wife, perhaps. Or, if it has come to that,

His disappointed mother, who’s been nagging him all summer

To get off his duff, get off the dole, and get some sort

Of job for a change. Whatever it takes to make him feel

Proud about something, for Allah’s almighty sakes,

Like he did back home when he and his brother had

That successful little recycling business, back in big Islamabad.

One Autumn Day Last Year

I think I cherish most, as the archaic language of letters

Displayed in glass cases at battleground museums

In the American South would have it, and to my breast

Hold dearest, as one might have written to his mother or lover

To reassure her that he is reading the Bible or looking

At her picture, the moment at the Harvard Art Museum, here

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, one autumn day last year,

When Arielle Jiang, a classical musician and arts education

Student from China, whose first name in Mandarin

Is supposed to be pronounced more or less as “Schweer,”

Studying, in a gallery of prints and paintings by Winslow Homer,

Snippets of sheet music from some of those songs

That he illustrated for an issue of Harper’s Weekly

During the Civil War, at my request put her soft porcelain face

As close as she was allowed to the frame on the wall,

Inspected the measures between the graphic vignettes

Which Homer had drawn with maudlin grace in the margins,

And sight-read effortlessly, in a melodious whisper

That was sure not to attract the attention of the guards,

Not the melody to The men will cheer, the boys will shout,

The ladies they will all turn out, with that lyric about

All of us feeling gay again, in the original meaning of a word

I would have been happy to define for her, if she was aware

Only of its connotation for “homosexual” or “queer,”

And not the rousing, doubly exclamatory shout

Of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, Hurrah,

Hurrah!”, but, with a quiet gusto a soldier might have given it

Had it been a special song from the patriotic repertoire

Of Genghis Khan’s troops marching the Silk Road

In the thirteenth century, or of Mao’s Red Army

Conquering Chiang Kai-shek less than a century before,

The refrain of another song, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,”

By Julia Ward Howe, that I’d learned way back

In elementary school, in Westerville, Ohio, in 1962

Or so, with lyrics sung to the tune of “John Brown’s Body”

That were known to be a favorite of Abraham Lincoln’s

And obviously also the source, in 1968, in that speech

To the Memphis sanitation workers the night before he died,

Of Martin Luther King’s claim that his eyes had seen

“The glory”—hallelujah!—”of the coming of the Lord.”

Rain Dance

On the other side of San Juan Chamula, beyond the simple

Cathedral on the zócalo, the town square, where priests in white tunics

Bless pregnant women with bottles of Coca Cola, at an open-air café

With a picturesque view of a churchyard where his revered

Elders are buried, while a raucous parrot chattered bold accusations

From a cage in the corner of the patio, we treated Roberto,

Our self-appointed guide, within the space of an hour,

Not just to the house special (grilled meats on pasta) on his day off

From busing dishes at a four-star hotel in San Cristóbal de las Casas,

But also to four small bottles of Victoria cerveza

And three additional shots of pox, that Mexican moonshine

Pronounced to rhyme with slosh, on top of those that he’d been pulling

All afternoon from a repurposed Fanta bottle as we walked

Up the mountain highway, all of which conspired to make him rise

With a shout from his chair at our table near the bar, not far

From a television broadcasting a Mexico City soccer game,

To dance in ecstasy to the sound of recorded marimba music

That the mild-mannered manager was playing for our pleasure

On the overhead sound system, while his assistants tried

To keep Roberto from making a scene, which only egged him on

And abetted his inebriation and his ability to sing, enthralled

By his solo bacchanalia, ¡Bailemos! ¡bailemos! ¡bailemos!,

While we continued quietly to share a plate of chile verde enchilada

At our table near the bar, with rice, cole slaw, lime, trucha, slices

Of aquacate, two ears of grilled elote, and two bottles of Victoria

Beer for ourselves, as a tropical storm that Roberto himself,

For all we knew, calling forth primeval atavistic Maya shaman power,

Had summoned for us, roared up the valley from San

Cristóbal to greet us, with his rain dance making it drum

A contrapuntal marimba beat on the corrugated fiberglass roof.


Before she did the deed, before she took the rope

And slung it over the pipe in the basement of her building

In Salt Lake City, before she climbed onto the chair,

Slipped the noose around her neck, and kicked

The chair out from under her, she was so incredibly sick

Of the manic depression and the medication she took

To keep the episodes away, that it gave her some relief,

I realize now, twenty years after her death during Y2K,

If she had called at an unexpected hour to say

That the FBI, or the CIA, was gassing her apartment again,

To hear me do my a cappella versions of songs we’d heard

At concerts that summer, in June, July, and August, 1976,

When we worked together on the nut-butter line

At the natural foods factory and shared an apartment

In a barrio of Boston—my mock-soulful shout-outs

To Ray Charles rhapsodizing “America the Beautiful”

And the Four Tops choreographing “Bernadette”

In harmony at the stadium in Lynn; my heavy-lidded riff

On the Grateful Dead doing “Brokedown Palace”

And “Box of Rain” at the Orpheum by the Common;

My Caribbean-inflected impersonation of Taj Mahal

Singing “Take a Giant Step” at the Opera House;

Even my take on Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture

By Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops at the bicentennial

Concert on the Charles River Esplanade, which,

Given its rhythmic crescendo, its bombastic celebration

Of military might, the absence of a lip-synch-able libretto,

And the possible confusion that might be caused

By the coincidence of the Russian defense against Napoleon

And the resistance to British aggression led by Oliver Perry

On Lake Erie in the War of 1812, I always saved

For the climactic ka-boom of crackling cannonballs

And exploding fireworks from my chest at the end.

Scott Ruescher has been contributing new poems, many of them about travel and all of them about “place,” to such publications as Pangyrus, Cutthroat, Negative Capability, The Evening Street Review, Solstice, Ohio Today, and About Place. Some of the pieces in Waiting for the Light to Change, a collection published by Prolific Press in 2017, won annual prizes from Able Muse, Poetry Quarterly, and the New England Poetry Club.

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