FIRST LITERARY REVIEW-EAST
Editors' Note: Cindy and Karen pray that all of our contributors and readers are doing well during these rough times, and we hope that the poetry gems contained in this issue give you nourishment and inspiration, soothe you, and help you over the rough spots. We fervently believe in the power of poetry!
The future (Senryu)
the future is life
challenging us to pursue
her deepest secrets.
—Prince A. McNally
Prince A. McNally is a Brooklyn-born poet, writer, philosopher, and activist, whose poetry focuses on love, philosophy, the human condition, and social injustice. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in TUCK Magazine, Dissident Voice, GLO-MAG (India), The World Poets Anthology, The National Beat Poets, Anthologies: Beatitude and We Are Beat, and The Brownstone Poets 2020 Anthology, as well as The Italian Anthology, Americans And Others, where his work has been translated into Italian. His first collection of poetry (a tribute to women), ‘SHE,’ is due for release through Poets Wear Prada in the fall of 2020.
I am in a familiar house.
I call for justice, but the number is guilt.
Cavalier doors of past lives.
The old familiar attic,
the ancient wallpaper and sediment of rock
exposed, and I am deeply afraid.
Gloria Monaghan is a Professor of Humanities at Wentworth Institute in Boston. She has published three books of poetry, Flawed (Finishing Line Press, 2011, nominated for the Massachusetts Book Award), The Garden (Flutter Press 2015), and False Spring (Adelaide Press, March, 2019). Her forth book, Hydrangea (Kelsay Press), has recently been released. Her poems have appeared in Alexandria Quarterly, 2River, Adelaide, Aurorean, Chiron, and Nixes Mate, among others. In 2018, her poem “Into Grace” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Remember under the blue clay of night
When silence deafens empty streets
In those hours that hold no time
You are bookmarked in someone’s mind.
Evelyn Katz is a Brooklyn poet and author of the chapbook What I See at Red Lights. She is the recipient of the Irwin Shaw Honorary Mention in Fiction Writing. Her work can be read in Riverrun Literary Magazine, The Voices’ Project, Coffee Shop Poems, Tell Us A Story Blog, Nomad’s Choir, and Leisure Dinner with the Muse Vol III.
What is a desire? It keeps you hanging
over the chasm. The ground you stand on
has been washed away by the waves banging
until the whole sea-facing cliff is gone.
David Francis has produced six music albums, one of poetry, "Always/Far," a chapbook of lyrics and drawings, and "Poems from Argentina" (Kelsay Books). In addition, he has written and directed the films Village Folksinger (2013) and Memory Journey (2018), His poems and short stories have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies. www.davidfrancismusic.com
easier to imagine
bears than love
neither of them
in this life
that somehow continues
Bob Heman's prose poem “Perfect” is included in A Cast-Iron Aeroplane That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 Contemporary American Poets on Their Prose Poetry (MadHat Press, 2019).
Balancing grocery bags, I stop and see eyeless black fur,
stub tail, throw itself against my driveway ledge, again and
again, until vaults over, parts blades, enters hole in edge.
His hollow door. Against concrete don’t I toss? Unable to
nose a crusted home where he curls against decaying leaf,
floral moss, the dark his good host and l, like him, avoid
daylight on the splintered slate I too detest, and call belief.
Ann Cefola is the author of Free Ferry (Upper Hand Press, 2017) and Face Painting in the Dark (Dos Madres Press, 2014); translator of The Hero (Chax Press, 2018), and Hence this cradle (Seismicity Editions, 2007); and recipient of the Robert Penn Warren Award selected by John Ashbery.
She dug in the dirt daily
her knees perpetually swollen, red
I came on Saturdays to dig till sundown
Silent or singing—until
hands washed and wine uncorked—until
knives out chopping fruits of our labor
onions, peppers, garlic, cilantro
and almost too few tomatoes
for our salsa to sit and share
I begged—there must be some way
to keep the rabbits
from stealing your tomatoes,
She smiled, sipped her wine and said—
If I want tomatoes Dear,
I can go to the market
Deborah Linehan, raised on Boston’s North Shore, is a world traveler, poet, voiceover talent, actor, and director currently living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a member of the Actors Studio Playwright / Director Unit and the Dramatist’s Guild. Her work has been performed with Premier Stages at Kean University.
Possessing less and less each day, the banks,
like low tide, are exposed,
obstinate dry spell leaving the pond’s bones
to dry in the sun.
Neurosis in the landscape, the weight of late summer
discomfits the trees which give in, sag,
continue their slow burn.
—John L. Stanizzi
John L. Stanizzi, a former Wesleyan University Etherington Scholar, is the author of the collections Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!, High Tide – Ebb Tide, Four Bits, Chants, and his newest collection, Sundowning. Besides Jerry Jazz Musician, John’s poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Life in Poetry, Poetlore, The New York Quarterly, Paterson Literary Review, Blue Mountain Review, The Cortland Review, Tar River Poetry, Connecticut River Review, Hawk & Handsaw, Plainsongs, and many others. His creative non-fiction has been featured in Stone Coast Review, Ovunque Siamo, Adelaide, Scarlet Leaf, and Evening Street. John’s work has been translated into Italian and appeared in many journals in Italy. His translator is Angela D’Ambra. John is a former New England Poet of the Year, and teaches literature at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT. He lives with his wife, Carol, in Coventry. http://www.johnlstanizzi.com
the abandoned country
my son in the back yard
with the jawbone of a wolf in
his tiny hands with old magic
with obvious death and the
crosses here are all splashed
with mud the men at the far
end of the field with the heads
of crows and of jackals and
they’re laughing of course
because what can a child do
beneath the shadow of war
because what can any of us
John Sweet sends greetings from the rural wastelands of upstate NY. He is a firm believer in writing as catharsis, and in the continuous search for an unattainable and constantly evolving absolute truth. His latest poetry collections include Heathen Tongue (2018 Kendra Steiner Editions) and A Bastard Child in the Kingdom of Nil (2018 Analog Submission Press).
They use knives.
Peel away your skin.
Barebones, cracks revealed.
Sheet lino beneath laminate,
colors unburied. Wall
meets floor, bubble-gum pink.
Bathroom, lurid lavender.
One postage-stamp square, glossed ivory wall paper, tiny roses popular in the ’80s, sucks against the fan.
Lived in by many,
loved by few. —Rachael Ikins
Rachael Ikins is a 2016/18 Pushcart, 2013/18 CNY Book Award, 2018 Independent Book Award winner, & 2019 Vinnie Ream & Faulkner poetry finalist. She is author/illustrator of 9 books in multiple genres. Born in the Finger Lakes, she lives by a river with her dogs, cats, saltwater fish, a garden that feeds her through winter, and riotous houseplants with a room of their own. Dragons fly by. She is an associate editor at Clare Songbirds Publishing House, Auburn NY.
The Absinthe Drinker, 1901
really painted this one
into a corner.
All that red agitation
over the walls behind her.
And yes, she has the blues:
the bottle is blue, the glass is tinged blue,
her outfit … hell, the blue is even coming through
the skin as if oozing from some unseen
That beaten expression on her face,
loneliness and anguish have consumed this one.
Her tussled her up in strange defeated samurai fashion.
Those long spindly fingers like a spider crawling
its way to slumped nicotine shoulders of
—Ryan Quinn Flanagan
Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada, with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage. His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review.
Actually, I Find Them Cute
I respect places that are named for why we don't live there.
Consider the Arctic Circle,
which is named for a constellation, but
bear with me a moment, because when asked
Hey, why don't you live up north?
it would be a comfort
to have an answer with obvious claws.
The bartender pointed out the implications
for Antarctica—Opposite-bear-place—whose vast,
actual absence of fur-cozy predators is somehow no better.
The difference between that town with you
and that town without you.
David Donna is a software engineer living near Boston, if you could call it that.
After Han-Shan’s Poem #177
I have chased loveliness
every place I've been.
I am crazy for mountains
and have climbed all the tallest.
I have sailed every river
and said good-bye to friends
down in Lute Valley.
I even got to play guitar
out on Parrot Island.
Who knew I'd end up here
beneath a gnarled old pine,
my knees wrapped in my arms,
the cold wind howling?
Tom Montag's books of poetry include: Making Hay & Other Poems; Middle Ground; The Big Book of Ben Zen; In This Place: Selected Poems 1982-2013; This Wrecked World; The Miles No One Wants; Love Poems; and Seventy at Seventy. His poem 'Lecturing My Daughter in Her First Fall Rain' has been permanently incorporated into the design of the Milwaukee Convention Center. He blogs at The Middlewesterner. With David Graham he recently co-edited Local News: Poetry About Small Towns.
The Mountain has Questions for the City
Living with memories with words engraved
that describe words that explain
the shape of a white mountain towering
and treeless casting shade across a valley
living with memories of an old city of
a ruined quarter of steps and steepness
and cavernous cobble-ways and the hesitant
patter of unbound feet
the mountain having only questions awash
in its centuries of telescopic incident
the city living closely stained
with the grime of the mountain’s past.
Paul Ilechko is the author of the chapbooks Bartok in Winter (Flutter Press, 2018) and Graph of Life (Finishing Line Press, 2018). His work has appeared in a variety of journals, including Manhattanville Review, West Trade Review, River River, Otoliths, and Pithead Chapel. He lives with his partner in Lambertville, NJ.
We sat on the tracks with our feet hanging off the bridge.
Not worried if a train came. After all, we would feel the vibration and run.
It was peaceful, quiet, and there was a calmness our hearts liked.
In the air, there was a scent of someone’s fireplace burning wood.
Logs burning away the love they had.
Nothing lasts forever.
We sure didn’t.
The smoke continues, suffocating.
Gloria Mindock is the editor of Cervena Barva Press. She is the author of five books of poetry, most recently, I Wish Francisco Franco Would Love Me (Nixes Mate Books). Gloria has been translated and published into eight languages. She was the Poet Laureate of Somerville, MA, in 2017 & 2018.
Like a Hopper Painting
The couple in the diner booth—
how dour, how sad, they look.
The conversation’s banal.
The feelings, blah.
It’s taken all these years,
all the effort,
to arrive at this passionless
time and place.
They’re stuck with each other.
They have no more dreams.
How content they seem
knowing nothing else can go wrong.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Hawaii Pacific Review, Dalhousie Review, and Qwerty, with work upcoming in Blueline, Willard and Maple, and Clade Song.
Modesty in the Dark
We become an express
after the Naperville stop,
clattering through trackside towns
that sleep as long as we’re on time.
The attic light is on again
in a shingle-sided house in Belmont.
Bare roof joists shrink from the window,
waiting for us to pass.
John Hicks is an emerging poet, published or accepted for publication by: I-70 Review, Panorama, Blue Nib, Bangor Literary Review, South Florida Poetry Review, and others. He completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska – Omaha.
In the subway station
A tumble of faces blur brightly together
Like brown and golden weeds
And crawling their way to light
In the dark damp cave of the underground
I imagine lanterns
In medieval sconces
Lining the walls of wet breathing stone
To illuminate ghosts
Of women who trail gowns behind them like moss
And seem to seep petals
From their fingers and hair
Their breath on my ear a song of decay
Shannon Cuthbert is a writer and artist living in Brooklyn. Her poems have appeared in Gingerbread House, Chronogram, and Enchanted Conversation, among others, and are forthcoming in The Writers' Cafe Magazine, Call Me [Brackets], Liquid Imagination, and The Orchards Poetry Journal.
My yardman’s family is my family.
He lives next door and has nine children.
Most of the children have scattered like stones.
My yardman asked about our four bicycles.
Are the bicycles for sale? my yardman asked.
Take your pick. Free. Kids haven’t used them in years.
He took his pick: the white one and the pink one.
Widowed, I said I’d have to cut his wages.
That’s fine. I’d cut your grass for nothing.
No, you won’t, I said. You do such great work.
He smiled at my mention of his great work.
Later his two girls pedaled down rocky roads.
I hope they pedal safely down rocky roads.
My yardman’s family is my family.
David Spicer has published poems in Santa Clara Review, Moria, Oyster River Pages, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Nominated for a Best of the Net three times and a Pushcart twice, he is author of six chapbooks, the latest being Tribe of Two (Seven CirclePress). His second full-length collection, Waiting for the Needle Rain, is now available from Hekate Publishing. His website is www.davidspicer76.com
Prayer to a faraway galaxy
galaxy of great velocity
hurl your grand light towards
all who need strength
properly seal, and heal
the wounds of a spinning out
of control planet, earth
nurture the dearth,
all that is bereft of peace—
restore on contact
all the losses, the gaping
hole in our hearts
never seeing this coming
Kate Lamberg is a poet, musician, and a healing facilitator. Her poems can be found in several anthologies. Kate lives on Long Island, NY, where she is forever inspired by her walks in nature.
I hugged everyone
I have ever known last night
They all hugged me back
We send one another music and poems
and we sit on a bench in the tulip park across the street
talk to a stranger walking a dog named Harriet.
How did your dog become Harriet? we asked.
She stood 6 feet away in her mask
and gloves and told us about Harriet whose
owner was named Harriet at birth but she wanted to be someone else
so she gave her name to her dog on the advice of her shrink
and she became Phoebe instead
and we who live in the midst of this impossible time
plague we’ve never known
we persist with masks and stories where we find them.
Esther Cohen writes poems most days at esthercohen.com
Talking Trees (Cognoscenti)
The rumors are true; it’s a fact.
They’ve been talking all along:
above our heads, behind our backs
beneath our feet. Now we know
what mushrooms do with their silly caps
and fetid roots. We’ve heard the trees
whispering as we walk, on the surface,
in our own little world, oblivious as usual;
where the real action is way down deep
where we cannot see what’s going on.
Yet we’ve long known that they were here
before we arrived and will survive
after we’re gone: redwood, oak,
baobab, pine…admit it, they’re divine!
Ed Meek's new book of poems, High Tide, is available at Aubade.com. He has published poems in The Sun, The Paris Review, and Plume.
There are two in the one.
Were there suicides before
there were houses?
Was there poetry
before there were words?
Maybe in the movements
of the sunlight on a
lizard’s dry baking
We climbed inside caves
and beat the colored pulp
into images on a wall.
There was art
in the flickering of firelight.
All in one.
Japhy Mitchell is a poet and librarian who also enjoys sword fighting, snowboarding, caving, skating, and about 75 other hobbies. You can follow him on instagram @poetjaphymitchell. His poems have been or are scheduled to be published in several print and online publications, including Spiralbridge, Scissors & Spackle, BlogNostics, streetcake, Door is Ajar, The Daily Drunk, Trouvaille Review, and The Legendary.
Mourning Doves Make the Best Music
Can I tell you how happy I am
with this humble little life?
With the paths I walk every day
with my dogs,
and the trees I know like lovers,
bending in the wind,
having finally learned
to fight nothing—
to let the whole of the world
wash right through me—
to simply be suspended
in the still blue sky
of an ordinary day.
A nonprofit grant writer by day, Karen Friedland’s poems have been published in Nixes Mate Review, Writing in a Women’s Voice, the Lily Poetry Review, Vox Populi, and others. Her book of poems, Places That Are Gone, was published in 2019 by Nixes Mate Books, and she has a chapbook forthcoming in 2021 from Cervena Barva Press called Tales from the Teacup Palace. She lives in Boston with her husband, two cats, and two dogs.