The MFA in Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College

December 17th, 2014

Two Poems

Keep my journal short.
Just review January through March.
Life is a dig deep snow on my sorrow.
Bare bones of naked sparrows,
beneath my balcony, lie lifeless.
The few survivors huddle in bushes.

 
Missing of the Birds

Keep my journal short.
Just review January through March.
Life is a dig deep snow on my sorrow.
Bare bones of naked sparrows,
beneath my balcony, lie lifeless.
The few survivors huddle in bushes.
Gone, gone is kitchen bowl that holds the seeds.
Sparrows cannot get inside my refrigerator door
nor shop late at Wal-Mart during winter hours−
get away with it.
I drink dated milk. I host rehearsals of childhood.
Sip Mogen David Concord Wine with Diet 7Up.
Down sweet molasses and pancake butter.
I give in to condominium Polish demands.
My neighbor’s parties, loud blast language.
I am weak in the Jesus feeding of the poor.
I now merge day with night and sleep
avoid my shame and guilt.
I try clean, my thoughts of shell spotted snow.
I see fragments, no more feeding of the birds.
 
 
Chicago Street Preacher

Street preacher
server of the Word,
pamphlet whore, hand out
delivery boy,
fanatic of sidewalk vocals,
banjo strummer, seeker of coins,
crack cocaine and salvation within notes.
Camper on 47th from Ashland
to California promoting his
penniless life, gospel forever
Kingdom here it comes.

 

*

 

Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era. Today he is a poet, freelance writer, photographer, and small business owner in Itasca, Illinois, who has been published in more than 750 small press magazines in twenty-seven countries, and he edits eight poetry sites. Michael is the author of The Lost American: From Exile to Freedom, and several chapbooks of poetry, including From Which Place the Morning Rises, Challenge of Night and Day, and Chicago Poems.

 
 

What motivates him to create:
“To begin with, I’m prolific in thought and number of poems. At 67, I’m like a young women running out of time to have a child. I do not do poetry for profit, rather a hobby and hopefully a legacy after I’m gone. I also think the rugged life I lived in exile and difficult times I had in my youth lead to many attempts at poetry, many of which have been successful.”

Minimize
December 11th, 2014

Mothers of Suicides

The mothers of the suicides
wear downcast looks years later.
The skin of their faces sag,
the corners of their mouths are etched
in expressions of permanent discontent,
hollows of sadness form around their eyes.

The mothers of the suicides
wear downcast looks years later.
The skin of their faces sag,
the corners of their mouths are etched
in expressions of permanent discontent,
hollows of sadness form around their eyes.

Their sons took their lives at home,
in early manhood. One hung himself
in the garage; his sister found him.
The other waited till the family left
for a reunion he’d refused to attend,
arranged himself in an armchair,
and slit his wrists. It was a hot week,
and the smell from the apartment
alerted the neighbors.

Worse than the dread were the discoveries.
The nightmares have never gone away.

What do you want from me?
You were the one who left—
Why won’t you let me go?
Whatever I did that was wrong,
I’m still paying for it.

 

*

 

Anne Whitehouse is a poet, fiction, and non-fiction writer who was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and lives in New York City. She is the author of five collections of poetry: The Surveyor’s Hand, Blessings and Curses, Bear in Mind, One Sunday Morning, and The Refrain, as well as a novel, Fall Love.

 
 

What motivates her to create:
“Writing is a matter of intuition and paying attention. It begins in desire and need. I write because I feel incomplete without writing. I write out of a love for literature, reading, language. I write to convey what is authentically mine—my own experiences and my observations of others. I write because of a wish to create something durable and permanent from evanescent experience.”

Minimize
December 1st, 2014

lake

Lake by Andrew J Khaled

Lake by Andrew J Khaled

 

*

 

Andrew J. Khaled Madigan is a writer and photographer. He spent 20 years traveling in the Middle East and Far East. His first novel, Khawla’s Wall, will be published by Second Wind later this year.

 

What motivates him to create:

“I don’t know what leads me to create things. I feel compelled, and then do it right away without thinking. There’s no waiting room or limbo during which I think about it or consider why. It’s possible that nostalgia for everything that has gone before, for all the many deaths that make up a life, and every moment, is behind this, for all of us. We create as a bulwark against the inevitable demise of everything that we have ever loved and will ever admire. Perhaps we create as a rebellion or making-do because we have no real control over all of this death; we want to put something in its place, a placard to mark what has passed. Sorry I can’t be more definitive or eloquent.”

Minimize
November 19th, 2014

The ladies laughed darkly

Five harpies converge
Their barman must emerge
Ice cubes hide submerged
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

Five harpies converge
Their barman must emerge
Ice cubes hide submerged
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

Eyebrows drawn, mouths cuss
Cloudy tattoos subcutaneous
Their alcoholic rage is just
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

Giggles conceal secrets within
Abyssal midnight, howling
Deep in drink, prayers hidden
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

Whispered plans of attack
Each, a wicked pyromaniac
Ember eyes, shades of not black
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

These scorned flowers
With fathomless powers
Mankind cowers
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

 

*

 

Jake Tringali was born in Boston and has lived in LA for 8 years. Currently, he is living back in his home city where he runs rad restaurants. He is surrounded by artists and the occasional physicist.

 
 

What motivates him to create:
“Girls, mainly.”

Minimize
November 12th, 2014

Cabin Fever

Envy is like feeling cold
and eating cookies
instead of turning up the heat
or putting on more clothes.

Envy is like feeling cold
and eating cookies
instead of turning up the heat
or putting on more clothes.

Like fighting a bout of cabin fever
by taking a nap
instead of stepping outside
in the snow
and running till the boots
get stuck in a drift
crossing the park in the soft
sounds of late afternoon.

Envy is like reading all day
about miracle foods
and then eating the whole
blueberry pie still warm
out of the oven,
sugar throbbing in my ears
like a sparrow caught
in the warehouse at Lowe’s.
 

*

 

Lucia Cherciu is a Professor of English at SUNY / Dutchess in Poughkeepsie, NY. She was born in Romania and she writes both in English and in Romanian. She is the author of two books of poetry: Lepădarea de Limbă (The Abandonment of Language), Editura Vinea 2009, and Altoiul Râsului (Grafted Laughter), Editura Brumar 2010. Her poetry appeared in Connecticut Review, Connotation Press, Cortland Review, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, Memoir, Off the Coast, Paterson Literary Review, The Prose-Poem Project, Spillway, Oglinda Literară, Pro Saeculum, Salonul Literar, Timpul, Hyperion, Contrapunct, Astra, and elsewhere.

 
 
What motivates her to create:

“The guilt that I didn’t spend more time with my father or that I didn’t listen more to his stories inspires me to try to piece together fragments of memories with him. Additionally, writing in a second language makes no sense because my mother doesn’t speak English and so she can’t read my poems. But it’s the need to retell all those stories, to celebrate our laughter together that brings me to my writing chair after my daughter goes to bed.
To me, my poems are like the apricots my father picked from the garden and saved on the table for us.”

Minimize
October 16th, 2014

Measured

I am standing at the edge of the woods. There is a doe listening to my heart. The trees measure me with their bodies full of uncut rulers. What size do I have to be to fit this forest? I’ve been here before. I have seen a bear, believed the way it pulled was nothing …

I am standing at the edge of the woods. There is a doe listening to my heart.

The trees measure me with their bodies full of uncut rulers. What size

do I have to be to fit this forest? I’ve been here before. I have seen a bear,

believed the way it pulled was nothing less than some crumb of gravity,

its memory: a heartbeat and a bruise. The hunter pulls back his bow

then lets it down like a snowflake being made and then melting on a tongue.

The secret of the woods is that the trees have hearts. The doe treats me

like a heap of corn or a bullet flying slowly toward her. I am measured

in her round black eye but neither of us can define how small I am.
 

*

 
C. L. O’Dell was born in Suffern, NY. His poems are published in Ploughshares, New England Review, Barrow Street, Southern Indiana Review, and Blackbird, among others, and his poem “My Father Named the Trees” was selected by Dorianne Laux for the Best New Poets 2014 anthology. He is Founder and Editor of The Paris-American, a poetry e-zine and annual reading series at Poets House.

 
What motivates him to create:
“I create because the mind doesn’t allow the hands to enter; not mine, nor a stranger’s.”

Minimize
October 2nd, 2014

Early & Late

When I chose you, I was young & the future I’d won promised to fan open like a peacock’s tail, sweeping the world’s riches before my feet. So what if the slipper didn’t fit— I could learn to walk a little differently. How could someone so unlike myself know of my cramped feet, the bleeding? …

When I chose you, I was young & the future
I’d won promised to fan open like a peacock’s
tail, sweeping the world’s riches before my feet.

So what if the slipper didn’t fit—
I could learn to walk a little differently.
How could someone so unlike myself

know of my cramped feet, the bleeding? Exchanging
future & looser confederations
for a single stolid Nation, I stood

on a platform like a promised set of
Hèrmes luggage never to be opened.
As the train pulled out, past all whistle

stops, I looked back, already blaming you—
princely husband— cause of all my future
woes, forever trying to sooth my stumped toes.

 

*

 

Paula Goldman’s “The Great Canopy” won the Gival Prize for Poetry and published in 2005. Her work has appeared in the Harvard Review, The North American Review, Poet Lore, Poet Miscellany, Briar Cliff  Review, Slant, and other magazines.  Her poems have appeared in Boomer Girls published by the University of Iowa Press,  The Party Train: A Collection of North American Prose Poetry published by New Rivers Press and most recently Conversation Pieces published by Knopf.  Former reporter for The Milwaukee Journal, she served as a docent and lecturer at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Her manuscript “Late Inamorato” was a finalist for the 2012 Gival Press Poetry Award.
 

What motivates her to create:
“I find that writing poetry gathers all sorts of associations which one would not consciously think about bringing together like The Red Shoes and Hermes in Early & Late. By writing, I come closest to myself in no other way possible. One never knows, for sure, what one is going to discover, and it is this discovery that is so worthwhile.” 

Minimize
September 4th, 2014

2 Poems

Guitar Woman* For many years, Joni Mitchell was the lumpy wool sweater of the music business. You dipped into that hearty bowl of nuts, dried fruit, and Joni Mitchell the same way you might slip on a third layer of clothing on a cold morning. Joni Mitchell signified back-to-the-earth; her name a synonym for organic …

Guitar Woman*

For many years, Joni Mitchell was the lumpy wool sweater of the music business. You dipped into that hearty bowl of nuts, dried fruit, and Joni Mitchell the same way you might slip on a third layer of clothing on a cold morning. Joni Mitchell signified back-to-the-earth; her name a synonym for organic granola. Decidedly not chic, Joni Mitchell could be many things, from a jazz collaborator to a parfait topping. But take a closer look at Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, a tribute in which Joni Mitchell makes a small appearance in the re-recording of “The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms).” Granola has traded in the scratchy sweater for a little black dress. All over the country, Joni Mitchell would have been a booming sector, an elegant and wide-open canvas for experimentation, if she hadn’t lost the high notes, if she didn’t suffer from possibly delusional Morgellons, festering flesh. Joni Mitchell, Roberta Joan Anderson in variations that are whimsical and sometimes like itchy fibers sticking out of the skin.
 
 
*A partially found poem, the words “Joni Mitchell” replacing various nouns in the strung-together text fragments.[back to top]

 
 
 

Patsy Retrospective Album

                                  A collage of quotations from: “Walkin’ After Midnight,” 1957; “Crazy,” 1961; “I Fall to                                   Pieces,” 1961; “So Wrong,” 1962; “She’s Got You,” 1962; “Faded Love,” 1963;                                   “Always,” 1963, all by Patsy Cline.

It was in the springtime that
you said goodbye, and made
me cry, not just for a day, and
not just for a year.
With every heartbeat, with
every backbeat, with every two-
beat, you made me weep with
the realization that you’d love me
only as long as you wanted.
How could I be just your friend
when you walk by and I
fall to pieces? I’ve been so wrong
for so long; time only adds
more steel guitar and banjo,
time only adds to the flame. Crazy
for thinking that my love
could hold you. Now,
unless I decide to stalk you,
I’m left with just my songs.
After midnight, night winds
whisper to me, hillbilly themes
of lost love and pity: I’ve got
your memory, or has it got me?

 

*

 

Susana H. Case is a Professor and Program Coordinator at the New York Institute of Technology. Author of several chapbooks, her Slapering Hol Press chapbook, The Scottish Café, was published in a dual-language version, Kawiarnia Szkocka, by Poland’s Opole University Press. She is the author of four full-length collections, including Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips (Anaphora Literary Press), and, most recently, 4 Rms w Vu (Mayapple Press).

What motivates her to create:
“Freud said creativity was how we rearranged the things of our world in a new way and that’s what I do.”

Minimize
August 7th, 2014

Trackside Commissary

Every night men on line avoid commuter eyes,
while women restlessly dig into their purse,
bartender’s face eclipsing what’s ahead—red, immobile, already dead.

Every night men on line avoid commuter eyes,
while women restlessly dig into their purse,
bartender’s face ellipsing what’s ahead—red, immobile, already dead.

Descendant of upended goblets, amber gold, clear proofs, fruited reds,
sometimes I taste home so fast my empty glass shocks friends.
Daughter of two from a transatlantic chain to British Isles and France,

I envy narrowing life to swallow and burn.
Next day, always sadder—what they rarely knew.
Nervous teetotaler, who barely escapes, I do.

Their thirst, my body: curious, rampant and not so smart,
which imagines stepping up to the line—that part.

Instead I speed toward long black tunnels,
half-filled aluminium trains that snort and spark,
close my eyes for the 10-minute ride from dark to dark.

 
*
 

Ann Cefola is the author of St. Agnes, Pink-Slipped (Kattywompus Press, 2011), Sugaring (Dancing Girl Press, 2007) and translator of Sanguinetti’s second book, Hence this Cradle (Seismicity Editions, 2007).  She won a Witter Bynner Poetry Translation Residency from the Santa Fe Arts Institute and the Robert Penn Warren Award judged by John Ashbery. 

What motivates her to create:
“Creating is more like eating or sleeping, a necessity rather than something that requires motivation.  Not as natural as breathing or blinking, it requires listening, stillness, and craft. When some moments resonate on a deeper, fuller and richer level than those in ordinary time, I have already entered the poem.” 

Minimize
July 21st, 2014

The Deserter, the Priest, and The Gun

The deserter and the priest sit in the church playing Russian roulette. The deserter’s face and hands are black with gunpowder and grime—only his eyes and teeth glow white in the dim candlelight. He gives the priest an exuberant smile and pulls back the hammer on the revolver. The cylinder spins with a reptilian hiss.

               The deserter and the priest sit in the church playing Russian roulette. The deserter’s face and hands are black with gunpowder and grime—only his eyes and teeth glow white in the dim candlelight. He gives the priest an exuberant smile and pulls back the hammer on the revolver. The cylinder spins with a reptilian hiss.
               “Perhaps if you told me what was troubling you,” the priest says tentatively. The game was not his idea. He had been hiding under the altar when the deserter climbed in through a breach in the wall. The war had been raging along outside for days and everyone but the priest had fled.
               “Nothing is troubling me,” the deserter says. He holds the gun to his temple and pulls the trigger. The hammer crashes, shockingly loud, on the empty cylinder and the sound echoes off the ruined walls of the church for a very long time. The deserter gives a dry little laugh and places the gun gently on the altar, his eyes on the priest. “I told you. I have come for a duel with God. If the bullet chooses me, God is stronger. If it’s you, well…” He shrugs, and his overcoat makes a strange rustling noise as it settles back around him. It is torn in many places, black and stiff with blood. “Your turn,” he says.
               The war had been sniffing around the town like a jackal for months, but it arrived in force ten days before, with the rebel army taking up positions in the surrounding hills. The priest had been instructed by his bishop to protect the church from looters, so when the metallic crackle of gunfire drew close, he bolted the tall oak doors shut.
               For over a week he heard the ebb and flow of the battle outside—small-arms fire, explosions, the despairing tramp of refugees, the cries of the wounded—tidal currents of violence and motion washing continually around him. The priest roamed the church in an agony of doubt. Was this truly what God wanted from him? That he should hide in this church, concealing himself from the struggles of the world? He imagined opening the doors, the oak spreading like angel wings before him, and striding bravely out into the inferno. But then he thought of his instructions, the stern warning that the purity, the sacred ground of the church depended entirely on him. Sometimes at night he would hear voices outside, women and children pleading for him to let them in. He would stand, his hands shaking on the latches. “I can no longer stand idly by,” he would tell himself. “Now, at long last, I will act.” Each time, however, he stepped back. He was so small, and the suffering outside so large. He would wander through the church, stroking the tapestries, running his hands along the inspirational inscriptions carved into the walls. But the saints of the stained glass windows cast their dark eyes heavenward, having already dispensed with the works of man.
               “I could shoot you. I could fire into the air,” the priest says.
               The deserter looks disappointed. “If there is a bullet in the chamber and you kill me, then God wins. Otherwise I suppose I will be forced to club you to death. It’s only fair.”
               After a week or so, the sounds of the battle began to ebb. It seemed that he had endured the worst, that the war would move on, leaving the church unscathed. With each new morning the priest felt faith swell inside himself with a hard brightness. The rising sun shone through the windows, the delicate panes still impossibly intact, and bathed him in the glorious light of God. The priest found himself filled with a brilliant feeling of joy. He had won. He had submitted himself to the will of God and, though he had endured a great trial, had emerged transfigured, humbled, and purified.
               Then, in the middle of a nearly silent afternoon, there was a deafening explosion. A single artillery shell had landed near the front of the church, shattering the stained glass windows and blowing a jagged black crevice in the stone wall facing the street. Smoke and dust filled the church, and fires caught and burned fitfully on the tapestries and some of the pews. The priest, his ears ringing, his breath coming in gasps, huddled behind the altar with a bottle of sacramental wine where, a few hours later, the deserter found him.
               “There are riches here,” the priest says. “Treasures. I can show you. You could be a wealthy man. You can take anything you want.”
               “This is what I want,” the deserter says. He looks at the gun, and then expectantly back at the priest. The priest doesn’t move.
               “You know, all of this,” the deserter waves his hand around airily, somehow including not just the ruined church but the whole town, the countryside, the world at large, “this was me. I did it.” He reaches over and grabs the priest’s bottle, draining it and throwing it down the nave where it crashes on the flagstone floor and shatters into bits, scattering among the sharp shards of stained glass, the remnants of God and the lives of the saints. “I was an artillery man, you see, before I settled on my new career as assassin of God. We sat up in the hills for days, tossing explosives down onto this town. We wrote prayers on the sides of our shells before we sent them off, our most heartfelt wishes, that your town be reduced to rubble, that everyone in it die a painful death. We would launch them heavenward, the embodiment of our desires, and God would bless them and offer them back to you.” He paused, craning his neck to look at the gash in the church. “I can’t be sure this was one of my rounds, but it’s very lovely nonetheless.” He gazed thoughtfully at the breach, and then looked back at the priest. “All good things must come to an end, of course, and the war moved on. But I had a powerful urge to see what God and I had done. So I slipped away from my company in the night, and came to visit.
               “I met such devout pilgrims on the road, father. You would have wept at their piety. I saw a young man, his chest shattered by a blast. With each breath I could hear the grate of his ribs against each other, and the burble of blood in his lungs. I found a woman in a ditch. I imagine that she was beautiful a few days ago, but her legs were bloated and useless and smelled of the putrefaction of the grave. I saw a baby. Someone loved that baby once, but when I met him he was alone, shivering and whimpering at his dead mother’s breast. His skin was wrinkled and gray, already ancient and tired of life. I gave them all the only gift I had, and they each met the bullet with joy, having had their fill of God’s presence in the world.” He paused and looked slowly around the church, at the vaulting ceiling, now torn open to the sky, the great gray walls painted with soot, the windows, their edges still jagged with bright fragments of glass. “When I had only one round left it occurred to me that I might be equally generous with myself, for I too had grown sad and weary with the burden of God’s love. Just then, I saw your church, and I thought that perhaps there was one sacrament I might yet perform—that God, selfish to the end, might want my final bullet for himself.”
               The moon, clear in the sky, beamed through the rent in the roof and the shattered walls of the church gleamed silver. The priest imagined a bullet tearing through his skull, admitting all of that light while a fine mist of blood and brains scattered onto the stone beyond. The revolver, silent and inscrutable on the altar, shone with such brilliance that he thought it must sear the flesh from his hand, but when he touched it, it felt bitterly cold. He picked it up and looked into the eyes of the deserter. A warm breeze sprang up, whispering through the walls, and he smelled gunpowder and smoke, the sweet odor of a new spring, rotting flesh, shit. Rats and carrion beasts shrieked and squabbled over corpses outside as birds, just beginning to stir, opened their throats in tentative song. The priest realized he was biting the inside of his cheek, and the taste of blood mixed with the scent of flowers in his mouth. He looked up at the sky and thought that the dawn, when it came, would be the loveliest thing anybody had seen.
 

*

 
John Haggerty’s work has appeared widely in magazines such as Confrontation, Nimrod, Salon, Santa Monica Review, and is the recipient of the 2013 Pinch Literary Prize. His novel Saline Springs, which he hopes to finish very soon, was a finalist for the 2013 James Jones First Novel Fellowship. He is enrolled in the MFA program at San Francisco State University.
 
 
What motivates him to create:
“My first thought was that I create out of envy and fear. Envy because, when I see a piece of great writing, I think, ‘Damn, I wish I had done that,’ which spurs me on to do something similar. Fear because the world is a scary place, and I use writing to try to make sense of it. But viewed in a more positive light, beautiful things, especially beautiful writing, makes me wish that there was more of that in the world, and inspires me to add my own pale contribution. And whether I am afraid of the world or not, art remains the best way for us to examine it in its entirety—its joys and sorrows, the terrible beauty of life.”

Minimize