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Thursday, December 31, 2020

D&D IN 2020

by Patricia Davis

On the one hand we’ve got Phandalin
a fantasy mining town besieged by dragons.
We are trying to learn the rules at the dining room table—
attributes, quests, etc. Then we move on

to real life, sitting in front of the fire,
exploring the properties of air on sparks.
Then Anna goes to bed

and I check Twitter for #MartialLaw
just like every night for the past two
months.  Half of America
(or a tenth of America and an industrious
factory of Russian bots) clamor for their rights
to be doused.  Choose your adventure.

They implore the president to JUST DO IT
Do Martial Law.  Save the Republic.
The only real thing is the fire
crackling on dry logs,
my daughter stretched out
with our remaining cat,
telling me the plot of her story—

how can four teenagers escape after creating
a distraction? One a light wielder, one a wielder
of shadows, one a wielder of time, one of frost
and a mindreader and telekinetic.

I tell her how powerful they are.
Of course they can rescue the captured one.
Of course they can escape.   

Patricia Davis’ poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, The New Verse News, Smartish Pace, Third Coast, The Atlanta Review, Salt Hill, Crab Creek Review, and other journals and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has an MFA from American University, where she was a Lannan Fellow. She is currently translations editor for Poet Lore.  


by George Salamon

"'Auld Lang Syne' is a staple of every New Year’s Eve, but few people are aware of this song’s original poignant purpose. Singing it began as a way to recall friends who had died in the previous year. In America in the middle of the nineteenth century, though, it became a way to reclaim the unity and purpose of a nation increasingly riven by divisions." —Roger Lee Hall, "An Early American 'Auld Lang Syne,'" We’re History, December 31, 2016

We hadn't been together
for so many years and
had so much to talk about
as we sat out in the cold
at a table frozen and bare
as we talked and talked until
my voice got hoarse, still
hoarse from the fairy tales
we had told each other when
we both were younger.

George Salamon came to America in 1948 when he was thirteen. It seems like it was very different from America this New Year's Eve, but how was it and how was it not?  For a 2021 better than 2020.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


by Richard Hacken

The tenure at West Point was fleeting
For freshman cadets caught cheating.
When shown to the door, 
They said, "It's no more
Than our Commander-in-Chief did by tweeting!"

Richard Hacken is a librarian-poet with degrees in German literature and past appointments at U.C. Davis, Oregon State, University of Kansas and BYU. He has kissed the Blarney Stone, yet his only visits to Limerick have been virtual.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


by Jen Schneider

Twenty-eight queries on a year in review. 2020 is nearly hindsight.


Q1. Which of the following words is least like the other? Most?






Q2. Which of the following words is least like the other? Most?







Q3. If I cry and no one sees, does my pain matter?


Q4. True or false: Not all stories have happy endings.


Q5. True or false: All stories deserve to be told.


Q6. True or false: All tears are wet.


Q7. Which of the following is a symptom of 2020? Choose all that apply.





Q8. Define struggle. Define consolation.

How are the two similar? Different?


Q9. Which of the following email signatures does not belong?

Stay safe

Stay well

With best wishes



Q10. Which of the following words is most like the other? Least?






Q11. Which of the following is an appropriate 2020 holiday greeting?

With condolences

Season’s greetings

Almost there

The most ____ time of year


Q12. Which of the following is most likely to win product of the year?





Q13. What types of puzzles are hardest to solve?

Puzzle of a thousand pieces

Puzzle of 365 days

Puzzle of 2020

Puzzle of 100,000 pieces


Q14. What type of loss can’t be recovered? What types can be?


Q15. As citizens, we’ve been told to be patient. Define patient.


Q15. Which of the following words is least like the others?







Q16. Define and explain the difference between 2 and 3 ply paper. 


Q17. Which of the following words is most closely associated with 2020? Least?






Q18. Which of the following doesn’t belong?



Book swap



Q19. Define relative.


Q20. Doctors caution arms ache post-vaccine. Why does no one caution against heart aches prior?


Q21. How can a virus with only three consonants travels all continents?


Q22. Which of the following words doesn’t belong?






Q23. If friends tell me I look different on video, who has changed?


Q24. Which of the following words doesn’t belong?






Q25. Define present. Are all presents gifts?


Q26. How does the future differ from the present?


Q27. Writers speak of the moment in time when strings of words go dead. Define that moment in time.


Q28. First thought, best thought. Ready. Set. Go. 

1.     An emotion associated with January 2020

2.     Noun that describes 2020

3.     Another word for truth

4.     The word that describes a deep wound

5.     Word that describes a sibling, parent, aunt, or cousin

6.     A mineral or element on the periodic table of elements

7.     Lyric—two words—from a favorite song

8.     An emotion associated with March 2020

9.     A cartoon character

10.  Antonym for past


On Past Truths

Even as a young girl, I knew not all stories have _1__ endings. 

Not all __2__ end well. Knew, also, that not all tales are __3__. 

Time heals some ___4___, but not all. Time, too, is ___5___. 

Eight comes both before and after nine. And not all relatives 

are as strong as __6__. 


On Crossroads

With a heart of __7__ and a sense of __8__, 

we rest our heads on sheets of dancing __9__. 

Nighttime falls on the __10__. 


Run. Hurry now. We can beat it if we try.

Race for cures, vaccines, and fresh air. 

Friends, too. Run. Hurry now. 

Try, we can beat it now. Hurry. Run.

Race for a reason to live.



On Futures

Define Future. Define Race. 

How are the two similar? Different?


1.     The color of your favorite ice cream

2.     A favorite pub entree

3.     The noise of your daily commute

4.     A carnival food

5.     An airplane snack food

6.     A destination reached only by air

7.     A destination reached only by sea

8.     First love. One word

9.     A word that describes when shoulders rub

10.  Something, someone, somewhere beloved.

Futures are the color of __1__, the flavor of __2__, and the sound of __3__.

Futures smell of __4__ and __5___. Futures tease of __6__.  Futures 

are __7__, __8__ and __9__. The future is __10__. Focus on the Future.



1.     Antonym for damaged

2.     An emotion associated with September 2020

3.     A wish for 2021

4.     An appropriate social distance (whole number only)

5.     Synonym for vaccine

6.     Number of consonants in COVID-19

7.     The color of 2020

8.     The smell of 2020

9.     Humpty Dumpty sat on _____. (Plural)

10.  Humpty Dumpty had great _____. (Plural)

11.  A word that rhymes with wall and fall.


Hope is wrapped of ___ and ___. Hope is ___ times ___.

Hope is found in ___ times ___. Hope is ___ and____.

Hope persists despite ____ and ___. ____, too. 

Hope is everywhere. 

Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. Her work appears in The Popular Culture Studies Journal, unstamatic, Zingara Poetry Review, Streetlight Magazine, Chaleur Magazine, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals.

Monday, December 28, 2020


by Pepper Trail

The enormous A68a iceberg which broke off from Antarctica in 2017 and has been drifting dangerously close to the island of South Georgia recently is starting to fall apart. New images from the RAF show how fragments of the once largest iceberg in the world are breaking away from the main bulk of the berg... Experts [are] growing concerned about the impact it could have on the island's unique biodiversity. —The Daily Mail (UK), December 24, 2020

From south of our imagination, the news:
There is a wild island of stone, South Georgia
Rough paradise of penguin and seal
And an equal island of ice, coded A68a
Broken from Antarctica, drifting free
Northward, the ice turns slow in the gyre
As if the wind and the salt currents
Sensing the land where the horizon bends
Shepherd the ice toward that meeting
Two giants so close-matched, sea-battered
On the rocky shore, the day approaches
When penguins and sea-elephants will see
What the albatross and the satellite know
The white wall coming to close off the world
The ice grinding to a halt against the stone
Perhaps there will remain a wave-churned strait
A path of escape into the abundant depths
Or perhaps the ice and stone will fuse
And a hundred thousand penguins
Denied the sea, will starve, day by day
There is nothing to be done
And even for those of us who know the Ice
Have walked with penguins to the water's edge
This makes no black mark, no blot
In the ledger of our responsibilities
Yes, the climate changed and the ice shelf cracked
But the blow I struck, it was the merest touch
The same for you, and for you, in our billions
All, light as feathers tumbling across a beach of bones
Then borne aloft on the eternal wind, and gone

Pepper Trail is a poet and naturalist based in Ashland, Oregon. His poetry has appeared in Rattle, Atlanta Review, Spillway, Kyoto Journal, Cascadia Review, and other publications, and has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net awards. His collection Cascade-Siskiyou was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award in Poetry.

Sunday, December 27, 2020


by Michel Steven Krug

Mike Luckovich / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

We cross a bridge of shadows
when perjury is presumed forgiven
by a nation fighting for its lives,
this faintly boastful oligarch
who asked us to spritz Lysol like Binaca
to kill unwary opponents on contact.
He urges his confederates:
scatter the statistics, turn the numerals
Roman, so the national news reports the
toll like snowflakes in Viet Nam.
Say: the fraud is in the mail, in the
machines, then the rule of loyalty prevails.
The oval office birthed an infection
the careless insistence like shells on furlough
Flynn no longer in jeopardy.
He’s given a mask to take wherever it’s needed
the plague of Turkey behind him,
a reserved suite in Fort Mar-A Lago awaits.
Coerced truth is just a ploy,
Another plea for alchemy answered,
sent at the highest twitch:
the pardon has come, Papadopoulos,
the pardon is coming, Manafort,
resonance for an imperfect union.
We live in an era of broken pleas and oaths.
We cross a bridge of shadows tonight
While others debate a return to openness.
Who waits on the other side,
Reveals the bobbing
of a constitution on the margin.

Michel Steven Krug is a Minneapolis poet, fiction writer, former print journalist and Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars graduate. He’s Managing Editor for Poets Reading the News (PRTN) literary magazine. He also litigates. His poems have appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Eclectica, Writers Resist, Sheepshead, Mizmor Anthology, 2019, PRTN, Ginosko, Door Is A Jar, Raven's Perch, Poetry24, Main Street Rag, the Brooklyn Review, and others. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020


by Pauletta Hansel

In this Oct. 27, 2020 photo, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg walks among thousands of white flags planted near RFK Memorial Stadium in Washington in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19. Credit: Patrick Semansky, AP via The Detroit News, December 14, 2020.

300,000 US dead, I read
this morning (old news
by the time you read these words).
This pandemic’s
in month nine, fully gestated.
The curve of it ready to pop.
My husband, the historian, 
looks across the table at me,
tells me this won’t be the last pandemic
of our lifetime, this won’t be the worst.
We’re in our sixties now. How much longer
does the next one have to find us?
Twenty, thirty years?
How many of them would we choose
to claim, years not given up to pills and tubes,
the cancer that his mother didn’t fight,
the dementia that wrote the ending
of both my parents’ stories?
I pick up again the book
that names my New World kin—
Ezekiel, Margaret—
newlywed and not among
300 grisly dead that year,
Jamestown, 1622, settlers
with their own weapons slain,
the Powhatan’s wasted dose
of our own medicine
to rid themselves of our encroaching whiteness.
Rapacious is the word
the author gives to my ancestral 
plundering of the world 
that was not new or ours,
and even now we thrust our will
across this landscape, not unlike the virus
we no longer call novel.  

Pauletta Hansel’s eighth poetry collection is Friend, epistolary poems written in the early days of the pandemic; her writing has been featured in Oxford American, Rattle, and The New Verse News, among others. Pauletta was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate (2016-2018) and is past managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative (2010-2020).

Friday, December 25, 2020


by Mary K O'Melveny

Each time one hears Bing Crosby sing
"White Christmas," the virus has likely
claimed five lives. Last night we listened
to Ella’s version. I always wondered
if each time she sang it she thought
about racial irony or just conjured
up a view of snowy flakes on
the down low, sleigh bells providing
a back beat. I always preferred
the music rife with magical thinking,
chorale harmonies and swelling strings –
"Ave Maria," "The Little Drummer Boy,"
"Do You Hear What I Hear," "O Holy Night."
"We Three Kings," another standout,
spins its tale of faith burning beneath
a diamond sky. Those wise travelers
were my favorites. They radiated
intrigue enveloped by chilled air thick
with scents of cinnamon, clove,
licorice, citron and amber smoke.
Years after my mother died, she returns
whenever I hear "Silent Night." Each
December, we sat in an old Georgetown
church decorated with beeswax candles
and pine garlands, listening to a flute
rendition as delicate as a flock of doves.
This year, everyone’s holidays
are dimmed, as dampened as last night’s
fire ashes. Gravesites multiply
even as frozen vaccines are
borne across state lines like exotic
gifts. As the solstice approaches,
fresh as a miracle, melancholy
pushes against our need for comfort
and joy. We want to sing, to praise
new birth, even as snow falls upon snow.

Mary K O'Melveny is a recently retired labor rights attorney who lives in Washington DC and Woodstock NY.  Her work has appeared in various print and on-line journals. Her first poetry chapbook A Woman of a Certain Age is available from Finishing Line Press. Mary’s poetry collection Merging Star Hypotheses was published by Finishing Line Press in January, 2020.


by Shelly Blankman

‘Tis the night before Christmas

and all through the House,

where the reps were so hopeful,

the Senate’s a louse.

T***p kills funds to feed families

as long food lines grow. 

Our incomes are shriveling

while his own funds flow.

The White House is lit 

with bright colors galore 

while suffering lingers

among the Black, Brown, and poor.

Small businesses are dying

while T***p continues to tweet

months after numbers 

clearly show his defeat. 

Not one single tweet 

about the sick and the dead

Medics, now heroes.

Hospitals now out of beds.

He pardons the thugs,

the rich white and male,

because white lives matter

while Blacks linger in jail.

He’s neglected the needs

he was sworn to protect.

In the end those he cared about

were extremely select. 

So Merry Christmas to all,

And to all a good night.

May next year be better

with T***p out of sight!

Shelly Blankman lives in Columbia, Maryland. She is author of Pumpkinhead, a collection of her poetry, printed for her as a surprise by her two sons, Richard and Joshua, currently quarantined in New York and Texas, respectively. Shelly's poetry has been published in a number of journals, including First Literary Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Halfway Down the Stairs, and Verse-Virtual.

Thursday, December 24, 2020


by Susan Terris

On a train from Victoria to Lake Louise, I found a deck of cards called 52 Things to Try Once in Your Life. Because I’m rather superstitious, it took ten years and sheltering because of covid-19 to remove the cellophane and look at the deck. Though I meant to look forward, the cards kept demanding I look back. Shuffling randomly, I decided it does not matter how many circuses I have watched or that, more than once, I’ve asked a stranger out. Ridden a motorcycle? Yes, as a teenager, though forbidden, I rode Louis Guttman’s around Hampton Park. Written the Great American Novel? Do 21 books published for children and young adults, add up to a yes here? And sure, I’ve milked a cow, yawned through an all-nighter, tasted snow, bought a lottery ticket, ridden in a hot air balloon, been on a safari. And I’ve flown a kite, changed a diaper, fed a horse, and slept under the stars. What about invent? Yes, in the early days of computers I trained with secretaries from law offices and PG&E on the new IBM Displaywriter. While doing this, I “invented” 2 new work-arounds for the machine that IBM added to their original brochure. Children’s books written: yes, already answered. I’ve gone fishing, read a whole book in one night, pooped in the woods, won awards, gone skinny dipping, been massaged, written and received love letters. (Is this getting boring? Too bad. Can’t stop here.) I’ve made a wish, bought stock, spoken in public. Front row seats? Yes, Saw Othello with James Earl Jones and noted in his death scene that he had plantars warts on the bottoms of both feet. I have written to a president but won’t say who it was or if I was praising or blaming him. And of course, I’ve been to a baseball game, a beauty salon, dressed to thrill (or tried to), climbed many mountains (literal and figurative), left a big tip, supported a good cause—like the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. I’ve watched something grow—not only my plants but my children, grandchildren, and now am watching great grandchildren.
I’ve also gone singing in the rain when I was about 17, after seeing Singin’ in the Rain, at the old Esquire movie theater with my best friend Susie and my 7 year old sister where we exited into rain, put up our umbrellas, and walked along the top of a low wall singing, "Singin’ in the Rain." But wait—stop. This is where the questions begin to get harder. Yes, I’ve had a tattoo yet not the one anyone wants. After a mastectomy and reconstruction, the newly formed nipple and areola were tattooed. So now, after this sober moment, I fan out the handful of unaccomplished or undesired cards. I’ve never read only the first and last page of War and Peace or any other book, never owned an autographed picture of someone famous, never stayed in bed all day even when sick. I have never thought of trying to forgive my parents who gave me little to complain about. I’ve never made a Life List or Bucket List but would like to visit the Hermitage Museum, see Angkor Wat, Easter Island, and the Great Barrier Reef (so I guess in my head, I have an unwritten list).

This takes me to the final two cards. Two yesses, I have saved for last. Have I asked important Life Questions? Yes, so each morning when I look in the bathroom mirror, I ask myself: Who am I? What am I doing? And why? Where am I going and why? Yes, there still is one more card. It says Face Mask. At any other time in my life, I would have just said yes: made them out of paper, papier maché, clay, plaster. Carved them from wood. But now, in the Time of Covid, the card haunts me. Eyes of the mask are closed like a death mask. And now I wear masks everywhere. Now the face mask is part of my morning mirror’s life questions. Now not where am I going, but will I or we ever go anywhere again or will we ever stop being afraid, stop masking (both literally and figuratively) our fears. Is there, I ask my mirror image each morning, even going to be a future? Will we ever again return to the life and the world as we once knew it?

Susan Terris’ recent books are Familiar Tense (Marsh Hawk) 2019; Take Two: Film Studies (Omnidawn) 2017, Memos (Omnidawn) 2015; and Ghost of Yesterday: New & Selected Poems (Marsh Hawk) 2012. She's the author of 7 books of poetry, 17 chapbooks, 3 artist's books, and one play.  Journals include The Southern Review, Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, and Ploughshares. A poem of hers appeared in Pushcart Prize XXXI. A poem from Memos was in Best American Poetry 2015. Her newest chapbook is Dream Fragments, which won the 2019 Swan Scythe Press Award. Ms. Terris is editor emerita of Spillway Magazine and a poetry editor at Pedestal.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020


by Barbara Simmons

“Shot using the decade old Canon 60D and 75-300mm by stacking 25 shots on the Conjunction with the same frame but varying focus. I am obsessed with Saturn and that’s where the prime focus is.” —Tweet by Sajal Chakraborty @sajaldreamworks

Bundled up and with binoculars, we are contemporary
versions of Ptolemy and Aglaonice, 
standing on our driveway, necks tilted back, our bodies a bipod
for our binoculars, finding the yellowish crescent of December’s moon,
and what we think might be the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.
Maybe it’s because we often are not part of something bigger than
ourselves, because we’ve missed the comet tails and then eclipses,
not standing in the hemisphere that’s best for viewing, 
we’ve kept our celestial appointment, keeping company with Genghis Khan
800 years ago, who also watched this joining in the skies.
There are, of course, glow-in-the-dark star stickers we'd placed
on our son’s ceiling when he was so little that he’d really thought
the sky had entered to illuminate his bedtime.  And, then there are the
many other simultaneous occurrences that are joinings:
the House and Senate, the King and Queen, the lords and ladies,
the earth and sea, the heavens and earth, the living and the dead,
the unspoken and the thought, the unsaid and the truth, 
the haves and the have-nots, the remembered, the forgotten,
until we hear, you and me, from friends that what we thought
we'd seen could not have been both Jupiter and Saturn, but only
one of them, given where we live.  So, you and I, conjoined now
for some years, made a decision and decided that your and my eyes
had seen the great conjunction, and like the Christmas Star, 
we will believe in something larger than ourselves, needing to
in times when either/or has reigned too long, and
like all good conjunctions, this conjoining, not choosing one or other,
a great conjunction, Jupiter and Saturn,
is how we’ll complete this 2020 year, allusion always
to a greater sight, and now, helps us to see a new night sky.

Barbara Simmons grew up in Boston, now resides in San Jose, California—the two coasts inform her poetry. A graduate of Wellesley, she received an MA in The Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins. Retired, she savors smaller parts of life and language, exploring words as ways to remember, envision, celebrate, mourn, always trying to understand more about human-ity. Publications have included, among others, Santa Clara Review, Hartskill Review, Boston Accent,  The New Verse News, Soul-Lit, 300 Days of Sun, Writing it Real, Capsule Stories: Isolation Edition and Autumn Burning Edition, and OASIS.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020


by Jon Wesick

More people in the United States have died this year from Covid-19 than were killed in four years of fighting on the battlefields during World War II, according to the latest NBC News data. —NBC News, December 11, 2020

The President calls it Fake News
and urges Americans to buy Japanese.
As hundreds of thousands die
in Guadalcanal and Normandy, the public
adopts swastikas and Hitler salutes
in disdain for the “liberal media.”
No scrap drives, no Rosie the Riveter, just Emperor Hirohito
on the cover of Life Magazine. Gilligan and the Skipper
shadow convoys across the Atlantic
and radio their positions to lurking U boats.
Calling him an “Antifa terrorist,” Gomer Pyle  
mails Audie Murphy death threats. Barney Fife
kidnaps General Eisenhower and tries him for treason.
A lot of people, really important people,
say this is a terrific generation, maybe the most terrific
of all. Terrific is better than greatest, okay.
It’s huge. Better than the generation that freed
the slaves, too. Bunch of losers, so sad. 
Why terrific? Winning. It’s true.
So much winning

Jon Wesick is a regional editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. He’s published hundreds of poems and stories in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Metal Scratches, The New Verse News, Pearl, Slipstream, Space and Time, Tales of the Talisman, and Zahir. The editors of Knot Magazine nominated his stories “The Visitor” and “A Story for the Rest of Us” for Pushcart Prizes. His poem “Meditation Instruction” won the Editor’s Choice Award in the 2016 Spirit First Contest. Another poem “Bread and Circuses” won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists Contest. “Richard Feynman’s Commute” shared third place in the 2017 Rhysling Award’s short poem category. Jon is the author of the poetry collections Words of Power, Dances of Freedom and A Foreigner Wherever I Go as well as several novels and short story collections. His most recent novel is The Enigma Brokers.

Monday, December 21, 2020


by Mary K O'Melveny 

Painting by Chris Austin via My Modern Met.

Our house always looks neat enough.
If you don’t stare into cupboards
or study drawers too closely. Our stuff
seems mostly under control, buffered
by simple messages, pristine lines.
Desires to peer to closely are aborted
by earnest visions, surfaces that shine.
Every now and then, something untidy
slips into view despite best plans,
forcing us to mop, sweep what might be
dust mites or cobwebs from doorjambs,
haul away plastic bags of trash
filled with threadbare linens, brown-edged
papers, dead tennis balls, a rash
of too small jackets, too high heels wedged
in closet corners. The birds benefit
from stale biscuits and limp popcorn.
A container of frozen food—whatever it
was now unknown—will not be mourned,
along with moldy bread and avocados.
We haul debris out to the bins.
A period of satisfaction follows
but prophylaxis never begins.
Eventually, our grimy shadows emerge,
widen once more. They lurk under chairs,
deep in cabinets, still a scourge
like monsters hidden beneath the stairs
to the basement.  A pandemic excused
us briefly from deep cleaning fits
as time marched forward and dust renewed,
but our shambolic state persists.
Now we are facing winter storms,
still surrounded by unexamined chaos.
Until we undertake sweeping reforms,
mops and brooms will be superfluous.
We need to unearth all our buried
secrets, those sordid truths we never found
time to tell, the hopes repeatedly miscarried.
Lay them bare on our snow-layered ground.

Mary K O'Melveny is a recently retired labor rights attorney who lives in Washington DC and Woodstock NY.  Her work has appeared in various print and on-line journals. Her first poetry chapbook A Woman of a Certain Age is available from Finishing Line Press. Mary’s poetry collection Merging Star Hypotheses was published by Finishing Line Press in January, 2020.