Gleam Inaugural Issue
The following poems were selected by the editors for the inaugural issue of Gleam:
A Trick of the Light, by Lori Witzel
Acheiropoieta, by Lauren Scharhag
Alligator Tooth, by Lauren Scharhag
Cadralor in the Key of F-Sharp as It Cuts into My Spine, by Jonathan Yungkans
California Dreaming, by Sandra Sloss Giedeman
El Porto, Twilight, by Jonathan Yungkans
Eternal Return, by Corinna German
Flying Saucer, by Jenner Shaffer
Gibbous, by Caitlin Gildrien
Losses, by Julie A. Dickson
Overture, by Jenner Shaffer
Search Engine, by Tina Cane
Skinless, by J. Esther Hawley
Splinters, by Penelope Moffet
Stay, by J. Esther Hawley
The Ceremony of Leaving, by Sandra Sloss Giedeman
Toadstools in the Hot Musty Air, by Bunkong Tuon
When I am dead, will you make runes with my body?, by Kristen Ringman
A Trick of the Light
By Lori Witzel
BACK TO TOP >>
- The anchor-line set by the garden spider
bowing the barberry’s set of new leaves;
an arc, bent at the leaf-spine, tethered
to the window-sill. I can’t take the tension,
cut the thread with my finger, that dull knife.
- “Open the door, open the door!” says the
monster, scraping its claws on the frame,
while the lintel whispers, “Never.” If the
lintel were to shrug, would the house fall?
My wet cheek, pressed against the wood.
- There’s nothing left to eat, the nets empty
as we wait for the smoke to thin out, boats
burning behind us; the dull glow of those
coals, their ash a path for us to walk if we
return. (My life, walking towards the West.)
- Bokeh, the glittering scales of fish made
of light, caught by the phone in my hand;
I went looking for something to see and
was surprised by what I’d wholly missed,
beauty hidden / shown by what’s in focus.
- I throw something (a ball? the world?) so
high up above my head that it disappears
from sight, a magic trick, a trick of the light
and then I notice: the shadow cast by my
beloved is precisely the shape of the sun.
By Lauren Scharhag
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I discovered masturbation when I was three. My mother caught me and slapped my hand,
told me I mustn’t ever do that again. When I was five, I spied on an older cousin
in the shower. When I was seven, my catechism teacher told me that touching myself
was dirty and displeasing to the Lord. Well, Lord, I remember thinking, this is where you and I
part ways. The nuns, also, were good at rapping the knuckles of a budding sinner.
But I wanted to feel everything. Sometimes, I’m afraid of just how much, even now.
There were times when I abstained, when the guilt and the shame wore me down. Now,
I can make myself come without touching. Look, Ma, no hands. It’s like a loophole.
It’s like tantra, fantasizing so vividly that I achieve cerebral climax, pleasure
radiating outwards from the mind, third eye unlocked. My cup runneth over.
We wear the jungle air like wet silk, drink spiced honey tequila and mezcal,
agua fresca and chaya juice. Even a plunge into Ik Kil’s subterranean depths does nothing
to cool our ardor. In the open-air lobby, birds rustle in the rafters, clay-colored thrushes
and doves pecking at crystals from a spilled sugar packet. A slaughter of iguanas basks
in the rock garden. In the breezeways and cafes, the waiters bring us bowls of ceviche.
We pick out bits of shrimp to share with feral cats, gorged fat as tourists on resort food.
We hop a bus to Chichen Itza. In the Mayan village, they feed us the tenderest pibil pork,
roasted in pit ovens in the Yucatan soil. The 16th century cathedral is built from pillaged stones
of former indigenous strongholds. Kulkulkan itself obscured by vendors hawking souvenirs.
My mind rings with an afterimage of a black skull wall, the clap, the nine-times echoes.
3. The Condemned
He’s lived more than half his life on death row.
Now he makes delicate origami cranes, threads them with filaments plucked
from his own meditation cushion. He sends them to me by the envelopeful.
They spill forth, scatter the table like stars, upcycled scrap paper, brightly-colored pages
torn from books on Buddhism. I take them out into the world and photograph them.
I leave one on a Dia de los Muertos altar, among the hundreds of other notes left for the dead.
Others I save to hang on a little white Easter tree.
They dangle like hanged men, southern trees still bearing strange fruit, a resurrection.
For he so loved the world, that he still wished for it to know peace.
One hundred down. Only nine hundred more to go.
I don’t know where any of my people are buried. I am a poor Santera.
Instead, I go with you to your family plots. Sometimes, we pack a picnic,
eating pears and cheese, chocolate and almonds, in the shade of a sycamore.
We pour one out for the ancestors. Sometimes, we sweep graves, pull weeds.
The mowers have been through, and they’re careless about running over plastic floral
arrangements, toppling mementos. We pick up the debris, right what was desecrated.
The dead are like God. Maybe they’re here; maybe they’re not. Maybe they can hear us;
maybe they can’t. Maybe they turn a deaf ear. We do shrooms to try and see them.
They appear, but never like you expect. I don’t think they tell us anything
we don’t already know: What you are, I have been. What I am now, you will be.
My grandfather was an artist. I used to play in his studio, where two mirrors
faced each other. I liked to see myself, caught in this silver crosshatch of infinity.
It’s the same feeling that I get standing under a pure blue sky, looking up
into the branches of a birch, searching for nests. I eat and drink the earth.
I ask the same questions everyone has: “Can you hear me? Do you love me?”
All I hear is my own voice, echoing back, Hear me. Love me.
The hand and the speaker do not reveal themselves. My grandfather’s hands,
like the farmer’s and the pit cook’s, were soiled and chapped from his labors.
You learn to read the brushstrokes and furrows.
I take up clay and begin.
By Lauren Scharhag
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My grandfather wants a tree for his yard. We ride in the old Cheyenne.
I must’ve been small, my brother yet unborn, and I don’t know these highways.
I never knew my grandfather to leave the city except twice, to return to Mexico.
He’d bring back Michoacán quince and coconut candies, and leche quemada that I,
ruined on Hershey’s, could never hope to appreciate.
He digs up a redbud and hauls it back in the rusty truck bed.
He plants it next to the garden gate.
I grow with it and in it, my shadow swallowed up by its shadow,
my bed strewn violet-pink. Sometimes, you uproot what you desire.
Autumn, and festivals descend
with their ciders and kitsch and octopus rides.
In the throes of girlhood, I covet abalone jewelry,
entranced by its nacreous hues,
as I am entranced by the rainbows embedded in grackle darkness.
A boy buys me an alligator charm.
The Aztecs said Crocodile was the earth floating in the primordial waters,
a being of infinite hunger, a mouth at every joint.
I open and close.
Lost summer afternoons
spent shut up with paperbacks.
Now I am spellbound by vampires
the way some girls love boy bands or ballet or horses.
We all share a desire to escape the mundane.
Girlhood feels like dying all the time.
I want a different kind of dying,
a different kind of blood.
I want to be alabaster.
4. New Orleans
I flee to Mardi Gras— south, but not south enough.
Beads brighten wrought-iron fences and February trees. I am alone in the drunk crowd.
Haunted tours meet up at Jackson Square, in front of voodoo shops.
That’s where he finds me, gripping a fetish bag.
His beauty is like the glint off quartz, like the turn of a fortune teller’s card,
There are drapes on the four-poster bed. My desire is opalescent in the darkness.
I will return to the long fast.
The ashes will come.
No one told me desire was a path.
No one said that everywhere I went, I’d be looking for home,
and everyone I met, I’d be searching their faces
for something familiar,
a taste of scalded milk, the scent of burning palm leaves.
My rosary strung with hollow teeth.
I detest all my sins.
I weep redbud tears as I beg,
Blood of my blood, please, let me return to you.
Cadralor in the Key of F-Sharp as It Cuts into My Spine
By Jonathan Yungkans
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- The green glass shines as if one with nature, while photosynthesis
takes place between layers of a mirror. The sun slips past chirping
doubts and notions, birds that roost briefly and make off like wind.
If only minutes were caught inside a cotton bedsheet, not regrets,
and instead of tobacco smoke caught in fabric, stars might stretch
deep and high, reach much as trees. Only finches are petite enough
to be significant, intimate enough to recognize the secrets of a tree.
- The disease of timing’s etched itself into the very skull of Clown,
who out-trumps himself at the harlequinade. He rips away his mask
to reveal a death’s head atop the White House steps. In a black suit,
White shirt, blue tie, Clown is corporate contagion to the last. Eyes
glower above a lipless smile as he gives reporters a thumbs-down,
hosannas and steroids in his oats, were he a horse—but, of course,
he’s Mr. Ed, talking horse from TV. His ratings soar ten more points.
- Spun vacant and damp, broadcloth across an enamelized metal drum.
Why carry a spider outside? Let it spin a dreamcatcher. I’m dangling,
clotheslined, while FedEx chugs uphill, as if cockroaches did anything
other than paw through groceries. Let the old man fertilize the lawn
with cigar droppings—ancient scrolls, pencil shavings. bits and pieces
of Clint Eastwood lines. Chinese telemarketers call me—a recording
about some dream offer God knows I’d never comprehend. Buy now.
- When I was in junior high, Colonel Sanders came close to in-the-flesh
and became my substitute teacher—Mr. Small. Said he was the Colonel
in KFC ads, got cluck gratis by the bucket, Kentucky Fried Hospitality.
Ringer for the guy in ice-cream suit, string tie on Mom’s Packard Bell.
Last time he subbed, he struck me more like Bad Santa—white goatee
pointing askew, glasses holding back a glare. No more free chicken—
KFC had clipped his wings. I could taste his rejection like rancid oil.
- And the concrete stairwell walks me down to the ocean near Ventura,
current aswirl around and below what I guess was the bottom step—
but we all know things can go deeper. It’s a matter of staying buoyant,
keeping a smile while the mental fog rolls among boulders, not a light
fixture in sight. The truth is hard as granite and difficult to balance
while I try to keep my footing, and I could use another cup of coffee.
The Inglewood Sears had a candy counter at the bottom of its stairs.
By Sandra Sloss Giedeman
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- I watched him trudge across the beach back to a hotel
painted the colors of mango and shrimp, his walk slowed
by the pull of the sand. Leaving me to watch dawn slither over
the horizon, breaking the cobalt and indigo dark into ruin.
- These are chalky Mexican colors – turquoise, pottery blue
crepe paper yellow, burnt orange, and a sweatshop hidden
in the alley where I see an open door, sewing machines
crowded. Women bent over them. Near Hollywood and Gower.
- If I close my eyes tight, an intricate amoeba swims into
view, followed by a small creature lazily cartwheeling
across my field of vision. Night is better. Daylight is
overripe with flowers of colors so bright they blind.
- Did you ever stand in a vortex on the red cliffs or at a
bufadora where the energy is either male or female? Where the
landscape glows silvery gray at night and the barrel cactus
resembles stocky little characters standing at attention.
- What’s outside the window, he asked. Testing me.
A Greek Orthodox church, a Shell Station, a jacaranda
tree. A chain link fence. A bowl of cumin and
coriander seeds drying in the blinding California sun.
El Porto, Twilight
By Jonathan Yungkans
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- Where the Pacific blends into a Spanish-Portuguese marketing conceit,
it mirrors my own lack of logic, a hemorrhage tarnishing quiet. The wind
smells of gore. The sea dusks. It stumbles cross currents, bleeding out
and collapsing. The unseen moon heaves it up. Call me Lazarus for all
the deadness I feel, watching the tide barely whisper and eavesdropping,
for all intent and purpose, wanting to feel part of a whole, of something
not alien. Instead, I stand out like bleached Cal-Spanish walls from sand.
The firmness underfoot of concrete has nothing of the shore’s plasticity,
no give and take—just the cold fact of property, hard cash of mortgages,
while I ply in and out, somewhere between love of the sea and drowning.
- What was it about King Minos of Crete, the inventor Daedalus and beasts?
Minos had Daedalus design an open-air dance floor for Arachne. I keep
thinking of spider webs, when she proved a better seamstress than Athena.
and it’s never good to piss off the gods. Daedalus fabricated a wooden cow
for Arachne’s mom Pasiphae to clamber inside, let a white bull fuck her.
That make Daedalus a porn king, or was he just really good at sex toys?
Pasiphae gave birth to the minotaur. We know what happened from there—
the labyrinth, the wings, Icarus plummeting into the sea. Daedalus flew
to Sicily. Minos charged after him. The king of Sicily, all smiles to Minos,
talked him into a steam bath to unwind. The king’s daughters boiled him
lobster red and dead—a delicacy fit for cosa nostra, the Honored Society.
- Remember that horse head in The Godfather? Offer you couldn’t refuse?
Coppola switched the fake head in rehearsals for a real one. Those screams
you hear on film are real. The camera was rolling. The scene was an offer
the actor couldn’t refuse. I first surmised the horses’ heads / Were heading
toward Eternity. Death stopped for Emily Dickinson, an offer she couldn’t
refuse as she watched black horse heads toss, their clouds of Apocalypse
breath. Bloodstained sheets on the stage bed, gore on the actor. Since then
—tis centuries—and yet / Feels shorter than the day film rolled, the offer
spread across a mattress, tongue lolling, eyes glazed, matted hair and mane.
How long since a swelling on the ground? The horse’s name—Khartoum.
- I recall black tar balls on sand. They seemed scabs, not congealed oil—
stigmata, not something from a Chevron tanker or a cross of petroleum
to drag onshore and bear. They glommed onto shoes and feet, a baptism
not of fire but internal combustion—of asphalt, rubber and drive, drive
until the wheels fall off your wallet. The El Segundo Edison plant rose
like a multi-funneled steamship, the Great Eastern. The ship’s five stacks
grew in my consciousness, a lost relation. I barely said a word, instead
paid attention to churning inside myself, mirrored in breaking whitecaps,
until I ran out of change or the sky darkened into resignation. The moon
showed itself jealous, pulled the waves back as it sent me on my way.
- Two years, a wrecking ball banged like Beethoven’s Fifth before the door
plied. Rang day in and day out. You could almost tell time by its swing.
Bobbies on bicycles, two by two / Westminster Abbey, the tower of Big Ben.
My mom loved that song before her mind fell apart, clang clang clang,
like the church bell’s peal before the witches appear, Berlioz’s Fantastique,
and the Dies Irae rides in on a tuba, its player astride a skeleton horse
as it trots into a graveyard. A bell that was an iron plate, then another,
between sea and scrap yard. Me, feeling my way like water into myself,
pushing sand between rocks piled to keep something in place—the ocean?
the waterfront? The Edison plant stays beached. The tide barely whispers.
By Corinna German
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The trucks hum on the freeway and lazy steers feed under enormous
Montana-style cloud shadows on spring’s new dewy pasture.
The steers look up from the salt block as the door to the horse trailer closes.
In a few months they will be on his family’s table – marbled fat in pink juice.
Inside we are surrounded by oiled saddles and musky horse aroma,
our pants down below our knees.
When I open the door our heat escapes,
unfolding in the cool air like prairie crocuses seeking
sustaining hot light and pollination
before smoky lavender petals dry and disappear.
A hundred pill bottles occupy two tiers of shelving.
An experiment churns a slow, underwater sound in the ears –
a hushing of the brain, then a flurry of electricity as he
fights the snare, tight around the neck.
The wire cutters I hold won’t cut the snare so I’ve worn
my teeth and made one dent.
As I work the snare in my mouth he bites me and
the blood meanders down my cheek.
They’ve all bitten me – taste that cold steel?
At night in REM sleep my teeth lock and gnash.
Now awake my jaw’s memory clicks and pops.
He stands in front of me, smiling,
eyes showing no sign of haze –
greens and amber on full, vibrant display.
A caress of bees’ legs, heavy with pollen
brushes against my arm.
We sit at high vantage point next to the yellow-rumped warbler’s dance,
watching the fly fisherman cast into the layer of gold over the pool.
It’s safe here even as the pink glow on our faces fades,
dark touches us and the land releases each held breath with us
in short bursts of staccato.
Three skulls of unknown origin sit
on a top shelf in a closet next to the bear spray.
An electrocuted bird’s feathers splay near
its skull, cleaned and bleached.
Arrows fletched with turkey feathers stand below
coats hanging and dozens of
pairs of shoes he meant to repair.
Old hatchets and axes rescued and
refurbished to brilliance glisten against
jars of porcupine quills, pieces of antler –
“Yes” I tell my mother, “I’ll take them all”.
Too many crows to count take turns jumping up from the aspens
into the invisible thermals.
In the shadow of grizzly bears, sharp lessons in futility
watch from the willows to the west, undulating in the wind.
A tall man dressed in olive strides by my camp –
my yearning eyes follow him into the wilderness.
Does he have a wife?
Such displays of capability send star trails through my vessels –
their path ending in my warm, tingling lips.
Anticipatory grief reaches out to what appears to soothe
but finds mirage instead.
A mountain chickadee scolds, reminding me how hard
I’m snapping these twigs underfoot.
By Jenner Shaffer
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- I walked softly toward the sound, a bird heard in last-light welling & falling,
a somewhere-parabola guiding me through broken woodland, over rough terrain,
toward the extolling wave. I found the source, he was in mid-swoop,
wings swept back through the trough, steamy summer serenade
as the rapid beating of wings carried to the point,
& down again, headlong singing the canyon of air
between a pair of Carya ovata, shag-bark hickory crowns blued
by the shadow of Earth. Over the deepening wash of patched prairie,
against the looming closure of the vault, his melody to her,
silhouette rapt in redbud leaves, among the lightning bugs impassioned.
- Dry & dusty, warm afternoons, fog in the mornings,
the exhalation of the thicket dissolves at the touch of light,
becomes a purple breeze, perilla-flavored. Next year’s milkweed
takes to the wind. Spiders are sailing, too. A viceroy enjoys a tower of flowers.
A tardy hummingbird-girl whirs among blossoms.
Toads and frogs are back in the garden, turtles are on the move.
A copperhead is in the yard, buzzing its tail among oak leaves.
Lake at pool & clear, a damselfly & a cricket frog sunbathe.
Shad in an embayment, silver sides catching the afternoon.
Tree frog is leaning on one elbow in the shade of a power-box.
- Vine dying, why? Unplugged. & that is practically fatal,
thanks a lot, what’s up, doc, SNIP. Probably a goner. Worth a try,
stuck the wimpy vine into the soil far enough to hold, hopefully,
who knows, fortune’s a fickle master, faith as near as I measure
to the orphaned roots, tamped on with extra soil,
maybe some magic of healing in the proximity
could osmose, capillary action I may not see,
can rely at work, miracle of the rejuvenating plant,
innate capacity might jump the gap, leaping calamity
between the moon & sea, shake a renewal of the green charge.
- The severed root, stem grasping at air, current of the living force sparking,
reserves cast into a solar system of hopes, humid mist & vaporous wisp,
fingernail-holding to breath in the choke of breathless chasm, drought.
My feeble help was extra drinks from the house.
At last, microblast of a windstorm monsoon, antidote.
Night rain was the elixir, something’s happened, the slender vortices cone
blue barber-pole sea snails revolving to sprightly points,
nether end on their line’s jungle heart.
Salty Mars glows big & red, moon growing bright,
a smoke-ring halo all the Aetnas of Venus.
- None of the 99 woke until hours after the cool dawn, afternoon glories
starring at two p.m. I crouched along under canopies of peppers
at the 527th reunion. Fish peppers & Brazilian starfish peppers
brushed my head, their canary seeds were planted back in February.
Ghost pepper tongues of flame, the bells dinged diddly this season.
Letting hornworms chomp humming grills full,
sphinx dreams in filigree, rows of lights to the groggy passengers.
Looked up, undersized Carolina mantis was leaning into the north,
masked chin up, wrap-around sunglasses,
antennas recurving in the sea-spray word of wind.
By Caitlin Gildrien
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- It was my grandmother’s death
that tipped me out of indecision:
a baby. It was time for a baby.
I lay in the dim darkness,
on the old mattress on the floor,
hand on my belly, imagining.
- When the cat came home
from being neutered, he was strange,
wild with hunger, gnawing on my buttons
and licking my collarbones as I laughed
and told him I’m sorry, I’m sorry,
we can’t give you what you want.
- In the woods, mushrooms leap up,
sentries wakened by the rain,
or messengers, a reification
of the invisible network: these
are the ley lines, the neural nodes,
the air heavy with spores.
- And above, the hangnail moon,
the skirt of stars, scuffle of cloud.
The dog circles and circles
but doesn’t squat. No mosquitos now,
no fireflies, just the oncoming frost,
cold dew gathering on my naked feet.
- When the first child came, I didn’t know
how to love her. A hole had been blown
in the structure of me, and wind came through.
The second one knocked me to pieces. Every time
I looked up, the moon was whole again.
You should have heard me howl.
By Julie A. Dickson
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- When the nurse turned off the respirator
she did not gasp; I gasped.
I peered instinctively for her eyes to open;
they did not… but mine opened wider.
A growing panic in my chest did not match
the calm manner in which her hands lay
at her sides; mine were wrung in knots.
- One remaining red Maple leaf refused to fall;
I admired its fortitude, never give up attitude
and wondered when that errant wind gust would
force the crimson leaf down, like a blood droplet
joining a pool on the ground, sanguineous blanket
that called to me: crawl under, to cover myself
completely until the sky could not see me.
- An elephant calf stood whining by the still body,
de-tusked, maimed face unrecognizable,
distant hum of the chainsaw would not deter
her perseverance, hope un-dissuaded, trunk
caressing, trying to rouse sleeping mother;
pushing against her empty breasts, as much for
comfort as to quiet her aching belly.
- Smoke dissipated gradually, not dispelling acrid odor
emanating from the burnt-out shell that had been his home,
fireplace still standing, logs and hearth missing.
There he had read Dickens and Frost, sipping from
a worn and chipped mug, stained brown with tannin,
unnoticed worn spot on the carpet at his feet;
he would miss the books most of all.
- Crunching small twigs on the pine needle-strewn path,
clearing visible through branches, beckoning;
she’ll get there soon enough, just be patient with me.
Legs move slowly, slight tremor in one hand,
shoved into jacket pocket; her tired eyes search
for familiar tree, Birch planted after the burial, resting place,
for more than memories remain after the goodbyes.
By Jenner Shaffer
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- Rain washed out a pearl-lustered birdpoint
onto the leathern ribbon of earth soft as softshell turtle velour.
Still scalloped sharp, running over & between whorls,
atop the hill of lime dust that fell the ocean underneath,
toward the grotto of the short-face yawning, filing nails, grooving a pair of wings
into the bedroom ceiling, returning to dream-time, hovered over
as the browsy lips of camels herd-turn from the bloodthorns of the locust,
up-valley from the calving. Macaws canopy among fruit,
grandfather box turtle with ring-grown scars the toy of dire youth,
nosing around the forest-floor, bent-kneed to untold tasty things.
- In May a stormwind threw down the oak of the aerie.
He was in the redbud behind the house next morning, much too big for it.
A gentle mist had fallen through the night. He knows I know–
his family was in that tree. He heads to the lake each day,
to catch the living breath, even to snatch it from gulls. I hear him calling
after dark. Sometimes he flies in low & we see each other eye-to-eye.
Rainy nights, when puddles roll beach sand in the clay,
seep the tomb of empty shells, I think of his world tipped over.
First snow last fall they were sitting together,
amorphous clumps settling on their glossy, black shoulders.
- Tropic sea swaying columns of rings & feather-fingers,
light of our days in cloud chamber,
one side the ripple The Cheese Factory,
the other convolutes Weableau Creek,
notarizing the Corps-land flooded under Truman.
Glassy nodules hard-boiled in salt water,
dollops underlie the garden, maybe they looked like potatoes
to the French riding through, naming things.
Rounded into drifts, rolling out of erosion,
lonely with horseapples, eggs shadowed by stormbirds.
- The Valley of Monsters, in the last native tongue.
Someone’s tossing gators in at Avery,
where the mastodons mired in muck.
Coywolf was after a doe, the chase lead over the highway
crossing the dam, cut between cars.
Sleek as mink, the hair was flowing, shaggy, tawny.
Hear it howling the dark
from a field of silvered bluestem & sideoats
buttoned with asters & nodding wands of solidago,
singing under the eagle.
- Took a walk an evening, dark with no moon.
The forest alive, to stand & listen. An earthen smell foretells.
Shuffles of leaves chuckle & chuff, owls rollick & chortle.
The katydid is a ratcheting tambor, crickets on the fiddle.
Looking above the path, a fuzzy astrology of footlights floats
for the sighing of the trees. Distant water voices & the sky begins to pulse
in the drawn-out summer eating fall. The tenor belongs to green frogs
bound soon to sleep in cold mud, chanting to the thunder for one last revel.
The storm arrives, soaks me through, a cascade pours over my shoulder.
Minnows breathe the windy rain, the incense of Elysia, the smell of forever.
By Tina Cane
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I was looking things up terms like trust yearning skyward
laughing because yes lists reveal me I also mumbled
something about bulletproof glass declined to take a quiz on joy
The purpose of this poem he said is to confront your real self
and make it into an object so that others can find a doorway/ opening
to themselves okay I said but what if my real self is a bodega?
Adults and their lying lives is food for thought as is the vibrant state
of the hydrangea outside my window apertures how women were
called computers before computers existed O original sin of everything
There’s a scene in a movie where one woman sees another woman walking
down the street with a man in a city like Paris/ someplace European all of a sudden
earrings are being ripped from ears and tossed into the gutter only there’s no blood
Once upon a time I heard a creaking sound that kept me from falling asleep so I got up and shut
my heavy iron shutters against the lashing rain only to hear the rasping noise again in the darkness
of my room I recognized the labored breath as mine spied moonlight slipping through the slats
By J. Esther Hawley
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- The stag carcass hangs by its balletic ankles from our swing set. To keep his unruly, snot-slicked and lip-chapped brood in line, he’d growl –I’ll skin you alive! So I knew never to step out of line, even when it constantly shifted. Runny nose cold November, he’d cuss as he slit the hide around the anus, incise down each of the back legs, long slice belly to neck. Turpentine-calloused fists dug in and neatly separated the skin from flesh, sliding through the thin wet veil. It crackled and spit like the last bit of cheap cello tape wrapping hand me down Christmas. Final slash severs the head; full hide thwomps onto bloody leaves. The naked corpse glows like a pearl.
- Venison tastes like poverty. The waxy scum of tallow from the neck meat rings the stewpot, coats the roof of my mouth. Wrinkled potatoes from the bottom of the fifty-pound paper bag, wilted carrots from the bruised bin, gritty onion. It’ll keep us fed through the winter. We gave out molasses popcorn balls on Halloween, wrapped in wax paper. The last of the sweet concoction pulled for taffy, yanked out loose teeth. I’d hurry to clear the table, nine plates of scraps if I was lucky.
- Miemere’s beautiful purple bowl, a 1919 wedding gift, full of plastic fruit on her immaculately crocheted tablecloth in the dim tenement dining room. She’ll take me with her, for protection, as she peruses the stockings at Steiger’s. Dressed in our home-sewn finery, patent leather shoes, just to look at what people buy. Vaulted ceilings hemmed in cathedral beams of dark wood, velvet trays of paste jewelry sparkle under pin light. We try on all the hats. Slender, coiffed gentlemen flutter around us, cooing over my perfect hat face. We return home hatless.
- Pick up truck rumbles in the wet dusk, slides on slick leaves. Goldfinches fling themselves back and forth, from nest to the feeder, which they have to share with voracious squirrels. I’ve packed four cheap bins with canned goods, piled napkins, tissues and toilet paper in the closet. I sew masks from forgotten projects, a thousand or more. Hang them on the line for free. They taught me to sew. If I wanted it, I had to make it. I push a thick razor-edged leather needle through toughened hides with a palm thimble.
- Ma decided I’d go to college. We drove through dark nights in the Plymouth Fury to free Massachusetts Extension Service craft classes. Chair caning, basket weaving, beadwork: anything to keep me from going out with boys. In a gelatinous globe of honey light we knelt, supplicants at each of our antique rockers, with pegs and teeth pulled the wet cane splits through intricate hexagonal designs. Coquettish, Ma gossiped with our classmates. She left me alone with him when I turned sixteen.
By Penelope Moffet
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- After twice viewing the six-minute video
of the cougar chasing a man
stumbling cursing yelling backward
up a rocky Utah trail
away from her cubs,
I look at my cats differently,
especially Emily, the sleek huntress
who pursues what she wants
so intensely, whether kibble
or insects or a lap, a crumpled paper
batted across the floor.
- I have broken another beautiful thing,
the loveliest glass in my cupboard.
I had just filled it with water,
the hand-made aqua cylinder
dappled with pearly amoebas,
gift of a long-dead friend,
when my finger caught its lip
as I turned from the couch, viewing
the evening news. One big fragment
looks like the justice’s necklace,
a skein of skulls.
- The two men who loved me the most
died long after I knew them, long
after love crashed and splintered.
Another ex-lover has turned
stranger, although we trade emails,
keep mementos. Half-carat
only worn once
sleep in their cardboard box
deep inside the jewelry cabinet,
never to be passed on to a daughter.
- A cat stretches out in my lap,
one languorous leg exposing
pinkshell paw pads, a cat
is on the table by my ear
colonizing a page of this draft, leveling
with his tail the small travel clock
I depend on to keep my train running,
the sound making all three of us jump,
making me laugh. Like all the cats
that came before, these close companions
will be with me just a little while more.
- One drunken evening
a vision –
the wine taking me
into fantasy or
a true thing glimpsed
with the barriers down –
that when I am ancient,
not the early-old I am now,
a strong love will come
and stay for the last
small parcel of years.
By J. Esther Hawley
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- Your unnecessary bits tossed on the stainless steel wheeled tray. An operating suite designed to comfort Park Avenue matrons seeking sleekness. Tiled walls salmon and celadon. The surgeon allows me to hold your hand for a second. The light itself is a cold blue entity. Gauze, sharp instruments, blood and fat gobbets strewn on the floor, trampled by shrouded surgical feet. You grin at me, pleased, newborn triumphant. Now they’re gone, you are whole. Thick black wire sutures hold suction bulbs like hand grenades at your chest.
- At the intersection of 1997 and 1969, the conference is held among unfinished work of art students. Auditorium house lights too dim to illuminate furtive joy. Earnest attendees, some rabid with second puberty, shirk their volunteer duties to kiss in elevators. Their voices squeak and crack. Stern lesbians define themselves, cumbersome theories of gender identity and nomenclature bounce around wet-draped inchoate clay mounds and gloppy oil sketches.
- In Big Fork Montana, there’s a summer theater. Main Street lined with antlers, hewn timbers and sheepskin clothing. Polished tourists, hoping for a glimpse of somebody famous, step over the occasional Crow or Blackfoot, slumped in a doorway. You, Aussie cowboy, pretended to be a tenderfoot ranch hand new to the big city. I wore all my rhinestones, and not much else, lounged on the scratchy Victorian settee: blasé expert madame hired to initiate a young stud.
- Tyrannosaurus-legged turkeys escort me past shaggy Shetland cattle in striated morning mist. Perspective makes them loom, the ground shifting under thundering talons. Ancient DNA roams the hay fields and deer paths, flocked together for survival. Always one goes stray, to explore, drawn by wider vistas. Eventually the rest, silver heads on fish scale necks jerking contrapunto, will follow.
- Staccato gunshots reverberate through scarlet hills. August sunset turned the garden glass, we sat face-to-face, absorbed. You held up your tablet, hey honey, pressed play. A frothing mob, gleefully unencumbered, chanted Kill all transgender! I wept, tucked terror under my pillow. Resolutely returned to my puzzle game. They say hormones will shorten your life ten or fifteen years. Will you outlast our mortgage payments?
The Ceremony of Leaving
By Sandra Sloss Giedeman
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- I didn’t notice your silence
or hear your bled-out bomb
of a heart, dancing against time.
- I can never forget two-lane blacktops
a smoky steel mill, sluggish goldfish
all the gone people, distant laughter
- steady eyes signaling a sad discovery
In one long slow spiral you fell to the
street, blood thick and rust bitter.
- Ring, phone. I won’t answer.
Someone with terrible news will speak.
Me? I’m a bystander. Nothing more.
- I have learned many things. Red hibiscus
possess a bony scent drier than the Mojave.
The man on the radio lies. Systems malfunction.
Toadstools in the Hot Musty Air
By Bunkong Tuon
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- Seagulls squeal and squawk.
They dive and crash into
the maddening waves.
- The woman says to the barista
with purple hair and ring in
his nose, “Beauty is you.”
- You try skateboarding
for the first time in your 40s
and shatter your carpal bones.
- The husband studies himself
in the mirror and laughs
at the black silence of night.
- No white dove sailing over
calm waters, only the frenzy
sounds of flies feeding.
When I am dead, will you make runes with my body?
By Kristen Ringman
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- Sycamore dust is as white as expected. (It looks like a ghost’s breath when you brush it away. They reach over the river with the longest arms of all the trees in the forest, they reach so high in the sky, you begin to mistake them for clouds. Their leaves shift from green to yellow to brown so quickly, you must wade through the river, find leaf after leaf, to document this process.)
- Red cedar dust is as pink as the juice of a heart mixed with milk. Those trees drop down to feed the rest of the forest—like anxious mothers, their centers keep the color of their devotion. (The darker the red in the center of a cedar’s slice, the luckier I feel to have found it. There’s just something about love laid so bare it stains you to your core.)
- The yellow birches are thirsty. Their skin is dark like a beech, though the older they get, the more their trunks turn to gold and curl at their edges, the more the green moss grows out from their cracks. (Their skin bubbles up and falls away if I am not careful—these trees fall easily for other reasons: they guide you to the answers only the deepest parts of your body knows, the whisperings of the bodies that came before you.)
- You can feel safe in any hemlock grove. Those perfect trees whose arms are the best to embrace fire and shield you from rain with their green fingers. Trees that are so adaptable, they arch, they grow sideways, and then snap in your hands so easily. They even grow over stones. (And when you slice them across the middle, they reflect the moon in their own perfectly curved lines.)
- When I die, I’d like you to bury me in the middle of the yellow and paper birches—the place where I carved my nana’s name in runes when she died, the place where the beech leaves hang down low, a ceiling of green and yellow, the place where I built the othala rune out of dead paper birches and then sat in the middle—staring up—asking to be buried naked in a shallow grave, so that in a year, you can dig up my bones and burn runes into the collagen and when you ask them a question, I promise, wherever I am—I will answer you.
Ready to write your own cadralor?
Gleam is a journal wholly devoted to the new poetic form, the cadralor. Co-created by three of Gleam’s editors, the cadralor consists of five short, unrelated, highly-visual stanzas.
Get In Touch
If you are interested in submitting your own cadralor poem or if you have questions, you can reach out to our Gleam email. We look forward to hearing from you!
Meet the Editors
The cadralor was co-created by:
• Lori Howe, Editor in Chief
• Christopher Cadra, Senior Editor