“The enduring legacy of the Opera Ghost” by Brian Nielsen

Eric the Opera Ghost died quietly

In the dungeons underneath the Paris Opera House.

Destiny, he realized, had not chained

Christine Daae to him

And he left this world having never been loved.

Christine, feeling pity for him,

Kissed him, left him for dead,

And returned to her life.

Now Christine did not hear this,

But before Eric died, he cursed humanity.

He said the others like him would follow.

Every town and every generation

Has its own opera ghost.

He’s the child who can’t sleep

Sunday nights because he’s afraid to go to school on Monday.

She’s the woman ostracized

For experimenting with her sexuality.

He’s the drunk on the corner,

Bitter because life betrayed him.

He’s the metalhead, the goth, the freak.

He’s the weirdo you belittle

Everyday at the bus stop.

Now Eric did not curse those like him

To a life of humiliation and torture.

He knew that some would rise up

Out of the dungeon

To take their vengeance

And reclaim their dignity.

The new opera ghosts

Are the Tim Burtons and Stephen Kings

Of the world.

Unfortunately, They are also the Edmund Kempers

And Eric Harrises and Dylan Klebolds of the world.

Either way, The New opera ghosts

Rub humanity’s face in the feces

Of its own evil and condemnation.

How do I know all this?

I myself am an opera ghost,

Just beginning to emerge from the dungeon

“When I am asked about my Mother” by Audrey Connor

 

When they found a tumor in my mother’s brain, not “malignant” my father told me with uncertainty hidden in the exhale of the word;
her hospital room filled with the dread that comes from having to be strong for someone else
and I left to go visit a friend I barely knew for dinner,
and my father yelled at me for not being a good child;
and the knife that I took to my sixteen-year-old skin;

When I came home from treatment seven months later and all of my belongings were stacked neatly in boxes;
the friends that didn’t come over anymore;
the silence at the dinner table no one ate at;
the brand of being “dysfunctional” as told from the mouths of psychology professionals;
the smell of cheap Bath and Bodyworks candles trying to melt the cold distance between her daughter and her husband;

When she told me that as soon as my brother left home, they wouldn’t need to be married anymore;

When my brother hadn’t left home yet and they didn’t need to be married anymore;

the awkward breakfast after the fact;
the friends’ houses I stayed at;
the calls telling me how much I was missed;

When they found her in a pool of blood having a seizure on the floor of the office where she was trying to open a gym membership;
my dad being in the hospital room where I wasn’t allowed;
the uncomfortable hug between my parents in the living room;
the flashlight she needed for the walk home because she couldn’t drive anymore;
the lifetime of insistence that it’s not my fault; I don’t need to worry; really, she’s just fine;

When we were eating pizza at thanksgiving and I couldn’t stop staring at her stitches;

When she sends me texts telling me I am “amazing” and how “proud she is of me”;

When I am asked, how is your mother these days?

When I say, “she’s alright”

 

“Birthmark” by Danielle Estelle

(after Tim Johnson accused me of never writing anything again)

Let’s get some things straight: for all the bridges I’ve burned behind me without looking back this stage, this page is not and will never be one of them.

Tim Johnson, perhaps it’s my collegiate athletic career that forces me to see everything through a tunnel-vision of competition but for the record books, this is an answer to what I considered a challenge.

When you accused me of never coming back of putting down the pen of treating my writing as some psychological stage of life

I was reminded that the only thing any of us broke down the doors of this life with was a shotgun full of noise screaming like broken dams and explosions. Poems are just our attempts to channel the freedom that God wrapped us in like a blank canvas that’s what poetry is to me freedom, and a blank canvas.

Every nightmare has taught me we can’t escape the things we’ve broken or the things broke us but whenever I open this book one page away there is always a slate that looks the way life does the moment before it begins: wet cement and a pond that has not yet rippled. Blank canvases, beginnings, and also lifeboats.

All those months, those days, those nights, when the dark was at its brightest when I could hardly wake without weeping when the tears flowed free because grief mistook my cheeks for fire escapes when my chest was falling like an anvil heavy with all the empty inside it,

Still I held a pen still I exhaled a voice one spark so small but goddammit a spark all the same!

Genesis 2:7 The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life and the man became a living being.

Where there is breath, there is sound for us to reclaim to rearrange like fresh coats of paint and, yes, sometimes we have to beat the words like blacksmiths over this worktable of a world.

They are malleable, not like my inertia so when I bend too far for my ironclad soul to manage poems wrap themselves around this frame like oil in a gear-shaft.

If nothing else the stages I have stood on the microphones I have taken the pens I have stolen are all just a part of my desperation to create something. After all, sunsets come from dynamite.

So, dearest Tim, don’t think for one second that I’ll abandon my birthright this is just one more way of breathing this is just one more way of shot-gunning down the doors this is just one more way of screaming.

“What the Body Does” by Laura Read (previously published in Rattle)

Our son plays a German child in Hansel and Gretel

and dances with a girl dressed in braids and a pinafore

once in Act 1 and once in Act 2 but when they do the show

twice on a Saturday, sometimes she falls

the third or fourth dance.

Later her mother tells me she has cerebral palsy

but she doesn’t want him to know.

 

When I was 12,

there was a girl on our 8th grade cheerleading squad

whose muscles snapped like a rubber band

when she tried to straighten her arms

so I tried to hold them for her

like a violin. She had a limp

and couldn’t do the jumps so we put her

in the back row. She had blonde hair though

and a big house where we spent the night

sitting on our sleeping bags in the basement,

rubbing the plastic threads

of the red and white pompoms together

until they curled. We pretended we didn’t see

the girls on the walls, naked women in cheap frames.

He must have cut them out of the magazines

under the sink, but the way they look now

in the blue room of memory

is like paintings, their skin pink and thick.

I see him at the kitchen table

after his daughter has left for school,

dipping his brush in the paint and sliding it

like a hand over their breasts which some of them

hold in their hands like gifts, and they’re perfect, circle

of nipple in circle of flesh. And he likes the clean lines

of their legs, how the muscles lie neatly along the bones.

Later when I no longer knew her

I read about him in the paper. They had a day care

in that house where I slept

under the kitchen and heard him open

the refrigerator at night and felt the light go on

and the pressure of the low arches of his feet

on the linoleum. And of course he touched them,

the young girls in their flat chests

with their arms they could hold up straight.

He was heavy so when he stepped

the ceiling sank a little and I wondered

if the other girls saw but I thought finally

they were sleeping, I could hear their soft breaths

like a metronome. His daughter was broken

and the basement the kind with fake wood

paneling and orange carpet with bits of food

caught in the shag and stains from the dogs

and maybe he hoped the girls

would help and he didn’t think of us

or maybe he hung them there so we would know

what he wanted.

Today I am 41 years old. I know that man

was wrong and I think of how it felt

to be young and sleep beneath

the cross of a painted woman.

I know, also, that he loved his daughter.

He came downstairs that night with her mother

carrying bowls of chips and plastic cups of punch,

and I could see it, the kindness that flooded him

so when he walked he spilled a little

and he was ashamed like she was

of what the body does.

“Without Title” by 86

Shivering alone

Folded up, sour

My stomach and brain.

When I leave, I go nowhere.

In bed again at noon.

My flattened sheets,

Beige and gray,

Cover me, numb me,

Empower me

To hide my head,

Sleep or stand,

Shuffle or stomp around,

Drink or spit

And throw the glass.

Back to my low bed,

My fisted empty hands,

And my crushed pillow.

Head back and forth

I ask why like a child.

“Giant Moon” by Brandon Humphreys

The giant moon lit up the night.

The early June air cool and crisp.

We drove my mother’s car through the woods

Up Forker road to the place she was staying.

The Eagles serenaded us through the static of the radio and

We kissed for the first time, bathed in moonlight.

Her smell, exotic and unknown and wonderful.

The giant moon lit up the night.

The early June air moist and perfect.

Cars raced across the downtown bridge overhead.

The night wind and the sounds of the city, our soundtrack.

Graduation was over and we left our friends behind.

Graduation was over and our tongues were intertwined.

I’d never been touched there before, and have never felt like that since.

The giant moon lit up the night.

The mid-August air warm and still.

We parked my beat-up old Ford truck in the middle of God knows where.

She thought she was going to look at the glimmer of stars,

She found a diamond in her sleeping bag instead.

We cried together in hope and excitement.

Her warmth next to me could have sustained me forever.

The giant moon lights up the night.

The early June air cool and restless.

I drive the same beat-up old Ford through the same corners and the same woods

Up Forker Road, thinking about them all.

Not about all of the things that would eventually go wrong

Or the nights when my very soul would ache like no other pain in life,

But of the nights when that same summer moonlight

Poured mercy out on our hearts;

In those moments, life was new and sublime.

The nights not like this one, when the moonlight guides me home to emptiness

And that curious mixture of longing and trepidation

That pours out from a freshly broken heart

And a giant summer moon.


“Spokane Stanzas: Prologue” by Jonathan Potter

Spokane’s the place where water falling

From Idaho runs through with thoughts

Unconsciously unwinding, reeling

The poets in from inland squats

To take their places at the river’s

Bedraggled edges. Poets’ livers

Can’t filter all that they abuse

Themselves with for the lovely ruse

That lines of words can make unhappy

Inhabitants of Coeur d’Alene

Cease for a moment feeling pain

Or leastwise help them feel less crappy

When turning towards the Cascade heights

With thoughts of oceanic nights.

“Monkey Love” by Chris Cook

Splat! At first he felt the warmth,

And then he smelled the stink.

In shock, he wiped his furry cheek,

Not knowing what to think.

 

So what the hell was—Splat! Again,

It hit him in the head;

Though what it was, was moist and brown,

Eugene was seeing red.

 

He turned, but only saw an impish

Female monkey; then,

She coyly reached behind her ass

To fill her hand again.

 

Right then, he knew that he had better

Keep a closer watch

On this beguiling chimpanzee,
This mischievous beyotch.

 

Game on, he thought, as he beheld

This female of the species,

Amazed that she could look so good

While pelting him with feces.

 

He thought, I need to reconnect

With my genetic code—

The part that says it’s fine to use

My hand as a commode.

 

He knew that throwing poop could be

A sign of deep emotion;

Was this her way of showing him

Affection and devotion?

 

Perhaps it’s not so much the poop,

As what it symbolized:

Something warm from deep within–

A gift, he  theorized.

 

She smiled and slowly came to him

With all defenses down;

Her eyes bewitched him, glimmering

Like onyx flecked with brown.

 

He brought his fully loaded hand

From out behind his back,

And shoved it in her face with a

Resounding gooey smack!

 

They giggled as he helped her wipe

His crap from off her face,

And then they stopped and fell into

A quiet, long embrace.

 

She flips you shit. You see it as

A sign from up above;

And she accepts the same from you?

Well that, my friends, is love.

“Out There Was America” by Brandon Humphreys

On a long journey across the night of an America

I drove into the desert landscape and beheld

Elvis and Morrison, Hendrix and Dylan

In a ditch to the side of the road, with trash bags in their hands.

They seemed to whistle while they worked,

But the notes just wafted into the night, not nearly fast enough to catch my speeding 

Cadillac. 

 

In the morning, I stopped into a diner

With my breakfast and coffee,

I saw a newspaper that was guaranteed by the Andy Warhol himself

to be one hundred percent truthful.

I didn’t read it.  Had to get back on the road

 

The desert went on forever, and in the oil fields

I saw Jackson Pollack, standing by a gusher,

Wearing a cheshire grin.

I smiled back at him, secure in the knowledge that I would have enough gas to get 

where I was going.

 

The announcer’s voice blasted through my car’s radio.

He said Poe had solved overpopulation,

and that Emerson, Thoreau, Uncle Walt and Miss Em

had got their hands dirty and fed the entire continent of Africa.

I shut him off and bore my eyes down on the asphalt ahead.

 

I passed a drive in theater on the left side of the road

and caught a glimpse of Scorsese accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Someone told me later that he and DeNiro had stopped genocide.  

I politely nodded and got back in my car.  

 

Out there was America and I was going to find it.

Out there was industry and capital.

Out there was ingenuity and hard work.

Out there were my own bootstraps waiting for me to pull them up.

Out there was 

America,  

and I was going to find it fast.


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