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Sunday, May 24, 2020

OF HEAVEN AND HELL

by Katherine West


An abandoned corpse wrapped in plastic and covered with cardboard lies on a sidewalk in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on April 6. —CNN

There is wind but no water
After a truck drives by the dust
Takes a long time to settle
Bushes along the road are not green
Bushes along the path
In the evening
Light
Are more than green
Burning bushes all of them
They are the prophets
The saints
The messiah

Orange butterflies
Kissing
On yellow daisies
Are psalms

The hundred birds at dawn
Hosannas

And the dust?
And the drought?
The dying
Lined up outside hospitals
In Guayaquil?

The fires?
Burning before houses
Signal fires
So someone will come
Pick up the dead

Carry them away
To heaven
Seraphim and cherubim
And hymns
And again the birds
At dusk
The elegy of the thrush

And you limping
And me listening
And sapling shadows long across the path
Like a gate


Katherine West lives in Southwest New Mexico, near the Gila Wilderness, where she writes poetry about the soul-importance of wilderness, performs it with her musician husband, Yaakov, and teaches seasonal poetry workshops that revolve around "wilderness writing."  She has written three collections of poetry: The Bone Train, Scimitar Dreams, and Riddle, as well as one novel, Lion Tamer.  Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Lalitamba, Bombay Gin, and TheNewVerse.News  which recently nominated her poem "And Then the Sky" for a Pushcart Prize.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

CLOSING THE BOOK ON GEORGE FELL

by Jimmy Pappas


Source: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund


Because of this I will weep and wail; I will go about barefoot and naked. I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl. —Micah 1:8


1.

the page of a book
            can be a leaf
                        can be a butterfly wing

a book in a college dormitory
            on a Saturday night
                        with a young man studying

can be a starting line
            can be a point of departure
                        can be a loaded gun

2.

closing a book
            on a young man studying
                        can be a wormhole

to travel across
            the United States
                         to California

to Vietnam
            to Cambodia
                        to death

3.

I closed the book
on a young man
studying.

A bit of light air
grazed my cheek,
pushed me along.

The weight of air
at sea level is 14.7
pounds per square inch,

but what is
            the weight of air
                         with friendship?

4.

How does a young man studying plead?

Like this: Please, guys, I'm in trouble.
I'm gonna flunk out. I need to study.
Please let me do this.

How does a young man ignore his friend's plea?

Like this: Come on, Man. It's Saturday night.
We're going to party. You can study tomorrow.
There's always time.

5.

How do you close a book on a friend who is studying?
Do what I did: Just take the cover and flip it over.

6.

What makes a breeze?
            The warm air of friendship rises.
            The cold air of ignorance settles.

7.

The breeze moved us through an evening of drinking,
through a day of lounging around until thinking became
exhaustion, became another day of forgetting
until you left us and we forgot about what we did.

8.

pages of a book are many butterfly wings

9.

a chance encounter in a Greyhound bus station

you had the smell
            of fear and death

my friend told you not to go
but you were not one to stir a breeze

10.

On May 23rd, 1970, I saw a giant beetle
lying in a Saigon gutter on its back
struggling with its legs to turn over.

That evening I made love to my girl friend
while you were humping the boonies in Cambodia.

11.

I don't know what the breeze told me that night,
but I did know it would always be there at my back.

It whispered in my ear,

            remember
                        butterfly wings are leaves

            remember
                        leaves of a book are butterfly wings

Something happened. I didn't know what it was.

12.

When I learned about your death,
I could not understand one thing:

How could anyone
            have expected you
                        to kill another human?

13.

I wear my military jacket to get in the mood.
I find your name on the Wall.

I place my
            right knee
            on the ground
I place my
            left arm on
            my left knee

In my right hand I hold a piece of paper
with a handwritten couplet on it:

Over the distance of 10,000 miles I heard your cry
of how very very much you did not want to die.

I set the paper down at the base of the Wall.
I rested my forehead on my arms. I could not pray.
I wanted to cry, but I was unable to.
Instead, I looked up and stared at my reflection.
I placed two fingers against your name on the Wall.

Behind me, elementary school children on field trips
ran through the grass laughing. They have not yet learned
that the world they see today will not be the same world
tomorrow. A breeze will blow and carry them along.
Today they do not understand, tomorrow they will.
They will feel the breeze and understand the butterfly.

One young boy who hangs back,
            frightened
                        by all the noise,
reminds me of George Fell,
            who must have been
            the gentlest soldier
            who ever lived.


Jimmy Pappas served in South Vietnam during the war as an English instructor with South Vietnamese soldiers in helicopter training. At the same time, George Fell, his friend from college, died in the incursion into Cambodia on May 23, 1970. On that day, commanders announced the death of 190 American soldiers, 500 South Vietnamese soldiers, and 8,000 "enemy troops" in what was described as a "success." One day, several years before that, Jimmy and his friends closed a book on George while he was studying one Saturday night. George flunked out of school, and their paths went in different directions. To this day, George's college friends still love him.

Friday, May 22, 2020

MICAH IN THE MIDST OF THE PANDEMIC

by Katherine M. Clarke


Micah


Our puppy arrives, six pounds
of squirming golden fluff chirping and burrowing
under my arm, trembling against my breast.

I reach back to my mother’s knee to find
what I’ve forgotten I know, singing
knick-knack paddy whack give the dog a bone

and nestle him into his crate with Mr. Krinkle
whose face he chews off but who still obligingly rustles,
offering rope hands and feet to gnaw on in the night.

As pandemic chaos reigns outside, love grows inside,
my beloved Lily handling and tending this small body
bursting into life, insisting on what he wants and needs

tired or not, frightened or not, a life counting on her.
She walks softly in stocking feet to feel him underfoot
to know when he races over her toes to hide.

Scooped up Micah rides high along her arm,
a pasha attended by his servant.
Firsts abound—sleeping through the night,

tasting snow, eating grass, throwing up.
Accepting a collar and lead as she hustles
him out the side door to the yard.

Victory, cheering, applause. Relief for both.
No need for social distance as the lord of all wriggliness
plays with Delores, a stuffed sheep, and Road-Kill Buzzy,

the flat woodchuck toy. A spiky rubber teething ring
on the shower curtain spread over the living room rug
as if a sphere of the virus had leapt from the television

screen filled with images of tents and stadiums for hospitals
warehouses loaded with coffins, trucks filled with bodies
while we shelter at home, grateful, joy strewn all around.


Katherine M. Clarke is a professor emeritus of Antioch University New England. Her essays and poetry have appeared in Writing it Real, Breath and Shadow, Wordgathering, Oasis, The Sun Magazine, and Northern New England Review.

IN WATERLOO

by Anne Myles


A Laredo man living in Iowa is critically ill with COVID-19, and thanks to a co-worker who refused to give up, he has reconnected with his family. "I just feel like I made a Facebook post, answered a few messages and calls, but it was everyone's efforts that came together. It was the small things that added up to one big thing and that was getting to find Jose's family." Zach Medhaug and Jose Ayala, a Laredo native, are among the dozens of Tyson employees who tested positive for COVID-19 after an alleged outbreak at their Waterloo, Iowa facility. —KGNS.tv, May 4, 2020


there’s a wild, forgotten greenbelt
wrapping the creeks for miles.
The trees are close and full of quiet;
they open to still mirror pools.
Breath, footsteps, birdsong,
deer-dash, otter-splash.
In May, a sea of Virginia bluebells,
light purplish spume above deep leaves,
floods the woods to the edge of sight.

In Waterloo we watch the waves
of a century’s migrations break:
Black, Mexican, Bosnian,
Burmese, Congolese, Micronesian.
City of refugees and of no refuge,
city of industries here and gone
where the remnant of Rath Packing
still looms downtown, a darkened shell.
Scarred city river-riven—east side,
west side—half-sutured by ten bridges,
the Cedar silted, shallow, shining.

In Waterloo four green goddesses
from atop a long-demolished courthouse
cling to the brick roof of River Plaza:
Agriculture, Science, Justice, Knowledge.
They pose, holding vague implements,
blank faces still, almost compassionate.
Their skin burns hot in prairie sun.

*

In Waterloo, at the far edge of town,
sprawls the Tyson plant. Neighbors
of many languages work side by side
in the chill, the clang, the cutting, the flesh,
the coughing, the fevers, the fear.
The line for testing coils around the lot;
over a thousand positive, they’re living
the consequences of all that makes us.

At Tyson, maintenance worker Zach
made friends with self-contained José.
Zach got the virus but was barely sick;
José’s ventilated and unresponsive.
Zach calls every day to talk to him,
play music. He posted José’s picture
and found his family back in Laredo.
They’re fighting for him together now
in Waterloo, not giving up faint hope.

The plant closed, but has reopened.
Outside, the typical scraggly rally.
We line up by the drive at shift-change,
waving, holding signs: Protect Workers.
Estamos Con Ustedes. Capitalism
is the Pandemic. Through car windows
masked faces glance back quickly,
difficult to read. A few hands lift.
We hear faint screaming: pigs or gears?
Grass flares, the sky throbs blue,
everything’s sliced hard against it.

*

And now a long-ago lover phones
to ask if I’m okay. She’s seen Waterloo
on Maddow, CNN. I say I’m fine,
safe as can be. I tell her walking
the trails here makes me happy.
I tell her I see my privilege;
I didn’t even know about the plant
twelve minutes from my house.
I try to explain, it’s like I married
a city instead of a person, so far
from where I started, my own diaspora,
but after decades I still don’t know it.
I say, it’s more than what you hear.
I say, our bluebells are so beautiful.


Anne Myles retired from the University of Northern Iowa, where she was an Associate Professor of English. She is working on an MFA in poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poems have appeared in journals including North American Review, Friends Journal, Lavender Review, Gyroscope Review, Green Briar Review, and Whale Road Review.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

UNMASKING PROCEDURES

by Randy Brown

with language borrowed and adapted from the U.S. Army “Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks” (Skill Level 2)


In this DOD photo from 2012, “Bushmaster” soldiers receive refresher training on the proper wear of the field protective mask and the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology protective garment, and gain confidence in their equipment by unmasking in a gas chamber at Fort Stewart, GA. Photo by Sgt. Mary Katzenberger


“Some reopening states are already claiming victory over the coronavirus. 
But the real consequences won’t be clear for weeks.” 
The Atlantic, May 15, 2020


Note: Before conducting unmasking procedures,
make every effort to otherwise confirm
the absence of contamination.

Note: The senior person present selects one or two
soldiers to unmask.

Note: It is best to disarm the people selected
prior to ordering them to unmask.

1.
Conduct unmasking procedures in the shade.

2.
Direct selected individuals to each take a deep breath,
to break the seals of their masks (keeping their eyes open)
for 15 seconds, and to then again seal and clear their masks.

3.
Observe for 10 minutes.

4.
If no symptoms appear, direct the individuals
to unmask for 5 minutes
and to then again don, seal, and clear their masks.

5.
Observe for 10 minutes.

6.
If no symptoms appear, direct everyone to unmask.

7.
“All-clear.” Go back to work. “Re-open the economy.”
Shake hands. Get a haircut. Kiss.

8.
Observe for delayed symptoms.

Note: You might have to wait a couple of weeks
just to be sure.


Randy Brown embedded with his former Iowa Army National Guard unit as a civilian journalist in Afghanistan, May-June 2011. A 20-year veteran with one overseas deployment, he subsequently authored the 2015 poetry collection Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire. He also co-edited the 2019 anthology Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War. As “Charlie Sherpa,” he blogs about war poetrycivil-military discourse, and military-themed writing.

NEEDS

by William Aarnes


At protests, mostly white crowds show how pandemic has widened racial and political divisions. —Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2020


“The seeming needs of my fool-driven land”


. . . the need to flock
to beaches, to swarm

into parks, the need
to hear a preacher

in person, to crush
together in bars . . .

the need to fear
the foreigner, to toy

with the facts, the need
to exploit the poor,

to be free of caring
about the dying . . .

the need to brandish
a weapon, to rally

in support of a fool . . .


William Aarnes lives in South Carolina.

IN OUR PRIME

by Kate Bradley-Ferrall




My cottony bra arrived yesterday, flattened
in a limp, black bag an essential worker delivered.
I chose the sporty one because it had the most positive reviews
about relaxing and staying-at-home.
Five stars for comfort.
Light. Soft.
Minimal support is fine right now.
Hardly anyone sees me below the neck these days.
This Zoom-worthy bra barely cradles my weighty breasts,
which I refuse to call “the girls.”
Why do people call them that? Mine have been
squashed, tugged, suckled, bitten, stroked, and adored,
the work of many years of strength and wisdom,
not of flippant schoolgirls giggling in sunlight,
their own breasts small puffs beneath fresh, white blouses.
Today my hardened bust heaves
at the thought of you dying alone.
And I feel guilt for lounging
in an optional heather-blue bra,
while a stiff mask cups your nose and mouth,
and an invisible weight crushes your chest
in a stagnant darkness that binds
you to an unfamiliar bed.


Kate Bradley-Ferrall is staying inside with her wife, two daughters, and her quarantining mother. A former award-winning television producer and scriptwriter, her creative work has been published in The Colorado Review, Sick Lit and children's magazines. She currently walks her dogs. A lot.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

WE REAL COPS

by Deirdre Fagan


The two vigilantes in their pickup chase Ahmaud Arbery whom they eventually kill.




THE VIGILANTES.
TWO IN A PICKUP.

We real cops. We
Pop pops. We

Shoot straight. We
Leak lead. We

Trim thin. We
Spin sin. He

Die soon. We
Gain fame.


Deirdre Fagan is a widow, wife, mother of two, and associate professor and coordinator of creative writing in the English, Literature, and World Languages Department at Ferris State University. Fagan is the author of a chapbook of poetry Have Love published by Finishing Line Press. Her poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and academic essays on poetry, memoir, and pedagogy are available in various creative and academic print and online journals and collections.

WHITEWASHED

by Betsy Mars


Ahmaud Arbery falls to the ground after being shot.


When you want a commodity, a spokesman,
team spirit, sales soaring, think fast,
think brawn, think black.

Think pounding pavement. Think
of those hard-earned calves jumping
on command. Think of a casket.

I mean a basket. A hoop, rope
hanging from its neck.
Think of a shot, circling the rim,

going down as the buzzard, I mean
buzzer, ends the game. If you train off-court
or just enjoy a runner's high, I'm sorry.

Be prepared to run, to shoulder the blame—
a steal from behind—as your muscles
strain, push off on defense. Find the hole,

cut inside. Man-to-man or zone, you don't
stand a chance. They've got the big guns,
the refs in their pocket.


Betsy Mars is a prize-winning poet, educator, photographer, and recent publisher whose first release, Unsheathed: 24 Contemporary Poets Take Up the Knife, came out in October 2019. Her work has appeared in Kissing Dynamite, The Blue Nib, Poetry Super Highway, and Rattle (photography), to name a few, as well as in a number of anthologies. Her first chapbook Alinea (Picture Show Press), came out in January 2019. Her father was a professor and her mother was a social worker, and their progressive beliefs as well as her childhood years in Brazil deeply influenced her values. Her passions are language, travel, and animals; the latter two often conflict as her pets prefer she stay at home. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

MOURNING IN A PANDEMIC

by George Salamon


Protest on 23 April against the Trump administration’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters via The Guardian.

"Faced with an appalling US coronavirus death toll, the right denies the figures."
The Guardian, May 15, 2020


After close to 90,000 in our land
Have been buried or burned, the
World remains as it is. You grasp
What is essential: They are dead.
Shunning theatrical shallowness or
Surrendering to the lure of eternity,
You seek earthly innocence.


George Salamon does his mourning in St. Louis, MO and most recently has contributed to The Asses of Parnassus, Dissident Voice, and TheNewVerse.News.

IF

by Jasmine Kitses


Photo by RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS via The Globe and Mail (Canada)


If taking a nap means
                                    weeping
if the whole sky
            lets go of its corners
if you feel empty
        for no reason
full
                                for no reason—


if we could
let ourselves
be riveted
to this          
very moment


Jasmine Kitses is a poet from San Francisco.

GUMLINES, AMONG OTHERS

by Barbara Simmons




Build-up, they call it, the slow accretion colorless
at first. Later I guess you’d think my teeth had bathed
in egg yolk if I’d let it go that far. Especially if I were smiling today.
But today, I’m not thinking recession as in my gums, but as in
our economy, how the graphs display the V’s that look like troughs
not mountains. Feels too much like my slackline has no anchors,
that I’ll be eternally between, above, not able to begin or end. Reminds
me of those hemlines we called handkerchief, the 70’s loved them, I
loved them, made me feel that I was whirling standing still. More standing
still on stars or footprints or just blue tape lined up outside Target
or the post office, I’m wondering if last night’s dreams are still available,
shelved someplace, line forming here, I’d even pay for their retrieval. Lost
moments, lines breaking up. I’m back inside my mouth, imagining what they’ll
find after I’m beyond words. Not anything as artful as the lapus lazuli
the 1000-year old teeth held, medieval teeth, medieval scribe, medieval woman
breathing in the bright blue pigment, licking her brush while blue began
its residence in her mouth. What would my mouth hold—a piece of jasmine rice,
the inhalation of surprise and joy, the drupelets of a final raspberry, the
exhalation of all the lines I’d thought about and haven’t had a chance to write.


Barbara Simmons grew up in Boston, now resides in San Jose, California—the two coasts inform her poetry. A graduate of Wellesley College, she received an MA in The Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins. As a secondary school English teacher, she loved working with students who inspired her to think about the many ways we communicate. Retired, she savors smaller parts of life and language, exploring words as ways to remember, envision, celebrate, mourn, and, always, to try to understand more about being and living and expressing her identity and human-ity. Publications have included, among others, The Quince, Santa Clara Review, Hartskill Review, Boston Accent,  TheNewVerse.News, Soul-Lit, 300 Days of Sun, Capsule Stories: Isolation Edition and Perspectives on KQED, the NPR local affiliate. 

OVID LOCKDOWN

Eugène Delacroix: “Ovid among the Scythians,” 1862. (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Damian Balassone is an Australian poet whose work has appeared in over 100 publications, most notably in The New York Times.  He is the author of three volumes of poetry, including Strange Game in a Strange Land.

Monday, May 18, 2020

THIS IS NOT A SAFE HOUSE

by Ellen Austin-Li




I speak to my son through a wooden door, his bedroom a quarantine zone, Day 12. 

His brilliant smile hides behind a mask. I pine to hold him. I leave his favorite food by the door: Ramen with two eggs, yokes poked open with chopsticks. and a dollop of hot sesame oil, yellow cake with sweetened condensed milk (like NiNi makes), cinnamon tea with honey. One bathroom extends his bunker. I am too afraid to enter to clean. If this is Coronavirus, it’s too late for his brother and so for us all, as he showers there. Sooner or later we’ll all get it—a cavalier cloak covers my husband's fear. He is on the Crisis Airway Team at the hospital. Back in my burn-nurse days, I learned to be strict with gloves, scrubs, gowns, masks. We have broken technique. Don’t you answer the call to work, he said in a naked moment. If I don’t make it, someone has to be alive for the boys. We are broken. Day 12 and my husband finally agrees. We are not a safe house. I text my son about the bag of Cadbury Mini-Eggs I laid on the floor outside his door.


Ellen Austin-Li is an award-winning poet published in Artemis, Writers Tribe Review, The Maine Review, Mothers Always Write, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Masque & Spectacle, Green Briar Review, Panoply, and other places. Her first poetry chapbook Firefly was published by Finishing Line Press in 2019. Ellen is a student at the Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program at Pine Manor College. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.