Charles Joseph Albert – Endgame

Charles Joseph Albert

I still haven’t decided whether the mythical Inuit custom was more barbaric than we are now, or less — leaving their elders on an ice floe with one final day’s supply of food — and the ancients may have gone willingly, given that in such a harsh climate, the burden to their children and grandchildren of maintaining their existence may have been so uncomfortable that the cruelty of freezing to death was in fact a kind of beautiful mercy, whereas here in the US we haven’t even legalized physician-assisted suicide, indeed when I asked my own parents “which do you prefer, adult in continents, or youth in Asia?” they did not laugh in a very convinced manner … not sure, I think, how much of a joke the question really was, because the truth is that their upkeep is a burden in this country of barbarously cold capitalism; Mom and Dad didn’t think to provide for their retirement, so now we children take care of them, which is why I can’t afford to pay for college for my own children – at this rate I won’t even be able to afford my own retirement — as the guilt of ungrateful thoughts washes out some of the pleasure of seeing them again as they hobble in, my father settling into a corner chair to re-read the same three pages of his dime-store Western novel, my mother complaining without irony about shiftless immigrants who expect the government to do everything for them, though I am not deluding myself, I do know they have only a short time left, that once they are gone the door will be forever closed and I will never again be have the only bridge to my genealogy, my childhood, my personal history, and the two largest heroes of my childhood.

Shawn Aveningo-Sanders – From Those Who Came Before

Shawn Aveningo-Sanders
From Those Who Came Before

             I am
                           illegal gator ankle-straps
                           matching handbag
                           parading down Columbia Street
                           in the boot-heel of Missouri.

                           straw fedora, clip-on bow tie,
                           puffing on a pipe
                           filled with cherry tobacco,
                           smoke tickling the blackbirds.

             I am
                           Chipped piano keys
                           on Grandma’s upright Wurlitzer,
                           middle-C clicking
                           like her Ball jar of gallstones.

                           The grandfather
                           I never met,
                           standing tall, stoic
                           his secrets kept safe behind
                           an ailing heart that quit too soon.

             I am
                           Aunt Nadine’s
                           shoebox of poems tied with ribbon;
                           Aunt Helen’s
                           full bosom in a starched white blouse;

                           Uncle Denny’s
                           wanderlust, guilt for leaving.
                           Aunt Carol’s
                           doll hidden in a dresser drawer.

             I am
                           sarcasm and smarts,
                           his spreadsheet balancing
                           indiscretions and sensibility.

                           smudged lipstick on her teeth
                           and the strength to carry on with a smile.

Peter Neil Carroll – Mr Smith

Peter Neil Carroll
Mr Smith

The blacksmith bellows his flame, iron glowing,
turns the antique railroad spike into a swirled
handle, pounding the blade flat. Something
backward has triumphed before my eyes,
stories of my grandmother’s father, Myron,
notorious for choosing soot over soap.

My uncles spoke of his powerful arms, how
the old man could break fingers with a handshake,
but my mother only described his awful stench
and matted beard. She saw him as a throwback,
misplaced country immigrant in the big city,
a lesson for dirty-faced boys like her son.

Mr Smith mangles the language but knows
the art of horseshoes, scissors, railroad track,
density of carbon molecules in his wrought knife,
the satisfaction of hard and durable and sharp,
accomplishment you can put your finger on
only if you’re careful and know how to touch.

Jennifer Clark – Upon showing a long-lost photograph to my father …

Jennifer Clark
Upon showing a long-lost photograph to my father,
an invertebrate zoologist

We come from the deep and the slow. A colony of bottom dwellers,
we got our start in the abyssal dregs, below the groans of whales,
just above the quaking earth, living long lives in the cold sea,
bearing immense pressure, raising children in the dark.

We lived in the ocean until some of us came out.

Clearly, by the 1900s we’ve made it to land.
Sober and dry, our kin stare into the camera, its eye
too small to take in the mossy woods and Great Lakes.
I point to my grandfather wearing a bowler hat and my father’s face.

Look, I say, you even have the same willowy hands.
My father studies the photo, then says, We have never been alone;
we held hands with flora and fauna as soon as we ventured
out of the primordial soup.

This is your grandmother, Magdelina, right? Her husband
isn’t in this photo because he died long before, left her to raise
eight children on her own, right? I search her eyes that squint into sun
or sadness, feel fragments of old grief lodged in my bones.

My son wanders by on two legs.
‘I’m bored. There’s nothing to do’.
‘Good’, I tell him. ‘You’ll figure something out.
We come from a line that always does’.

I squeeze my father for more information and learn this: We spin
on a world dripping with cousins and cousins many times removed.
Our cousin Sponge, an animal of simple cells, can hold hope and water.
Even the most remote relations leave watermarks on our genetic code.

Over time, we grew guts and mouths.
In Belding, Michigan, children with dusty boots
grow hints of smiles.

Ah, yes, this is your great-grandmother, Magdelina, he says, pointing
to the woman I’ve been wondering about. I almost didn’t recognize
her with that dark hair. I knew her when she was old, her hair white.
She’d keep it coiled on top, held up with pins. She stayed with us kids
when our folks went to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
At night, I’d watch her release the pins and comb her long hair.

It has taken a long time to get to these waters.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise; it’s taken billions of years
to get to this grainy light of day – all the greats gathered on a wooden porch,
great-uncle Frank leaning against a pillar, great aunt Lucy, the pearls
of her eyes glinting, and what looks to be a starfish in her hair.

Photographer unknown, The Belding Family Reunion, photograph, circa 1909

Joe Cottonwood – Redhead

Joe Cottonwood

Your great-great grandmother
with posture like steel
steamed to America at age fourteen,
married the coal-haired sailor who asked:
Who set your head on fire?
Who froze the flame?

Her inky-haired daughter, your great grandmother
with steely drive in the Great Depression
worked her way through university
studying ornithology
while raising crow-haired children.

Her youngest son wandered to California,
your grandfather bearded in sable
paired up with a steamy woman of Afro top
back to the land raising crops of illegal vintage,
then to legal vines, stable life.

Their daughter, your brunette mother
of dusky skin and choir voice
home-schooled, then PhD in feminist history
wed to a Jewish song-writing organic farmer
who looks like a smiling porcupine.

But you, dear girl
dear sweet amazing pumpkin
with eyes of steel,
Who set your head on fire?
Who froze the flame?

Jennifer L. Freed – Imposter

Jennifer L. Freed

Our parents
don’t seem to notice.
But soon after we unfold ourselves
from the long drive north, we
know: Grandma
must have been taken, may even be

Her body
is there, in the kitchen, cooking,
cleaning, knowing where
to put the spatula, the sponge, the bread,

but her eyes dart,
and dart away. Her arms,
when we cuddle, are cold.
She does not cup our cheeks with tender hands,
or cover them with kisses.

And when we try to call her back, she spins
with stony eyes,
spits, No, you don’t. You never
did. And I
never loved you,

Robin Helweg-Larsen – Jam Jar

Robin Helweg-Larsen
Jam Jar

In the night’s jam jar of my memory
My long-dead parents live as fireflies.
My thoughts of them worn by time’s emery,
Their faint light still suggests where my path lies.

Barbara E. Hunt – Mending

Barbara E. Hunt

How sibling, best friend, parent, child
can be that thread which snags

or wears, though shot-straight-through
our steadfast hearts, unravels

letting latched twines loosen
to slump the weave to nothingness.

Sharp tool. Tough line. Taken beyond
the tattered edge by patient hand

to backstitch; somehow recreate
our interlocking strands.

Dianne Kellogg – Monotropa Uniflora

Dianne Kellogg
Monotropa Uniflora

Monotropa Uniflora:
Ghost Pipes, Indian Pipes, Corpse Plant
pale, wax museum flower
sequestered in the deep Beech forests
of three continents, rare.
Step softly
on the leaf litter, humus, moss
translucent stems won’t bend.
Found with mystical Druid stock,
relies on the ruminations of Russulaceae,
mushroom cud, that nestles without
light or air
parasite on parasite,
three generations,
two manifestations
emanations from a buried
Beech tree root.
Tread softly
ghosts tolerate temporal creatures
parasitic or fruitful
but barely.

Dianne Kellogg, Ghost Pipes, digital image, 2018.

Lynn M. Knapp – Elizabeth

Lynn M. Knapp

I did not expect to find her here,
faded, folded, held in darkness
in a dusty box,
my grandmother’s
I did not expect
to know her,
a woman
from muddy streets
of warring Missouri,
lifting blue sateen skirts,
in laced kidskin boots,
skirting puddles,
pleat-edged bonnet and stray curls
lifting on the breeze.
I did not imagine
a glint in pale blue eyes,
quenched these many years,
could still hold me.