JAMES P. ROBERTS – 3 POEMS

FLOW POETRY IN HUE, VIETNAM

                                                        for Adam

You speak to your ancestors
lying in shallow graves
mulched over by jungle.

You speak to alligators
and elephants, creatures
life spans longer than yours.

You speak to huddled mothers,
black-eyed babies who utter
never a word or cry.

You speak to bamboo winds,
hollow temples, dynasties fallen
and long forgotten.

You speak to fog-shrouded mountains,
roiling muddy Mekong River,
a black market dog tag.

You speak to rows of mildewed books
in a dozen languages, histories
yearning to be heard.

The raucous birds speak to you:
Go back home or we will use your dreads
to feather our lonely nests.

AND IF PAIN BECOMES A POEM . . .

I am full of poetry.
Poetry screams from every pore of my body.

My right ankle cracks poems so loudly
a microphone twenty feet away picks up the sound.

My left elbow tightens hard enough
I cannot bend it to write a poem without a rough

shake. Electric pings course through my chest,
irregular rhythms, like free verse, thrum inside a fat breast.

(man tits . . . the worst kind of poetic pain!)
Clumsy fingers struggle to write a refrain.

Dimming eyes spill tears, these inky words,
bright flashes of images vanish, go unheard.

Yes, I could continue this medical literary litany
and if pain becomes a true poem, I will die saintly.

COWARDS

I see them on the news.
The scary people.
The scared people.
The people who think of nothing
but themselves.
Who watch as the chaos mounts.
The people who have built
their survival tombs,
stocked with enough food and ammunition
to last as long as necessary . . . until
the last not-one-of-us has fallen
and they can come out again.
These are the cowards.
The true cowards,
for they have the means to change
the situation,
to take charge
and avert the damnation.
But they won’t.
Because they are hollow.
They are too selfish.
They are too scared.
It is their own fear
that will doom them.
They will become nothing
but shadows
wandering
a destroyed land.

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PHIL HUFFY – EMERITUS

Park View Drive rests at an early hour,

without tell-tale traffic

and before the sun better reveals

more recent influences.

Its stick built homes, in an older style,

date between the great wars

and upon brief observation

offer the appearance of days gone by.

Any original owners have long since departed.

The cedar roofs are also gone,

as are their more modern replacements

and even the replacements of those as well.

Near one end of the avenue

a figure steps from a clapboard colonial

and into the half-lit calm

of an emergent morning.

Though once considered a newcomer,

the Professor, as he is called,

and his equally credentialed  spouse

have been in residence for many years.

In the past it was his practice

to enjoy long, vigorous walks

out through the neighborhood,

up the steep climb to the Reservoir, and around.

These days, he does not get far,

shuffling but a few doors from his own

before slowly coming about

and retracing his tentative steps.

The professor is a genial fellow,

viewed as neighborly and polite,

but in his current condition

he walks early and sometimes unnoticed,

thus avoiding inquiries as to his health

as he ponders his weakened state,

his hapless knees, eroding joints

and feet unwilling to convey their exact location

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ROBERT OKAJI – I DANCED WITH A PLATYPUS TWENTY YEARS BACK

Which is of course a metaphor pointing out

disparities in function and form, and the dangers

inherent in assumption: despite its cute appearance,

the male platypus delivers venom through an ankle

spur on a hind limb; samba with one at your own

peril. My friend wanted to build a catapult, but I

convinced him that trebuchets more efficiently

demolish walls. Instead, he experimented with atlatls,

before reverting to his favorite compound bow. The

fly swatter remains my weapon of choice, followed

closely by steel toe boots. I have yet to meet a scorpion

whose armor could withstand them, but I would never

stomp a platypus without first determining its intentions

and seeking mediation, perhaps through handwritten

correspondence. Pencils owe their origin to the lead

stylus, which eventually morphed into the wood-cased

graphite tool we now use. In his day, Thoreau was better

known for pencil-making than cabin-building. Arthritic

joints prevent me from writing by hand, but I saw lumber

when necessary. According to Ovid, Talos, nephew of

Daedalus, invented the saw, using either a fish jaw or spine

as the model. I look at my food before eating, but the

platypus dives with closed eyes, and locates meals by

detecting electric currents through its bill. In considering

form, I assume function. But we know what that means.

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JARED PEARCE – MY RESPONSE TO WHEN YOU ASKED HOW I SLEPT LAST NIGHT

You rolled and roiled like a deep thing,

a miniature whale or submarine,

a shark with ten thousand teeth,

the lighted jelly, pearl jammed

beneath, and spray and sway, disattached

like kelp wreaths. The tune you leak

swashes across your siren sigh

then grunts like the rock topped seal.

I cast out, but the pole don’t dip

then the oars can’t beat. The bilge

slime shines a blinding beam

so even the gull won’t come to eat.

The dinghy swirls and bangs the alarm

bell, mad to be further lost at sea.

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JOHN GRAY – I KNEW A WOMAN

I knew a woman in a wheelchair,

lived in a clapboard house,

with a lawn she somehow trimmed.

and a garden she kept well-tended.

And another had breast cancer.

She wrote letters to all her friends

in the brief nauseous pauses

between radiation treatments.

Another had five kids

and a husband who walked out

but somehow put food on their table

and a roof over their head.

Another got a degree in some branch of science

and the consensus of her male friends was that

“I didn’t know women went in for

 that sort of thing.”

Of course, there was the one

who was forever trying to hide

the bruises on her face with makeup,

stayed with her abuser.

And another who hated herself so much

she sat around the house all day,

getting fatter and fatter

so she could hate herself the more.

From the start, there was need for women.

And a physiology to go with it.

Life was incomplete. There was a vacuum.

And then all kinds started filling it.

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READING WINDOW NOW OPEN!

Word up. Yo.
Send us your best poems
because we want to
publish them.
Send us your naughty poems.
Send us your funny poems.
Send us your poems that the
Sewanee Review refused. 
Send us your poem with the word
“Doody” someplace in stanza 3. 
Send us your poem nobody
understands but it’s got sexy. 
Send us your poems because Cacti Fur
has been around for, like, 4 years
and that’s the longest
any poetry journal has ever lasted
in the history of poetry journals. 
Send us your poems because 
that’s what poets do. 

Here’s our submission guidelines.

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BITTERSWEET – ANDREW HUBBARD

Bittersweet

Now I know why so few people
Go to their high school reunions:
You just don’t know what you’re going to see,
And it can be a shock.

I had a few shocks, but not too bad
And then I saw the girl
That I had loved so hard
And wanted so badly
I didn’t even dare to sit near her,
And when we were paired up
In a biology lab
I never lifted my eyes
From my sacrificial frog.

Tonight our eyes met and she smiled.
I couldn’t move, but out of the realm
Of sheer impossibility she walked—
She floated—over to me,
Took my hand and didn’t let go.

We talked a little while,
I can’t remember any of the words
But her voice was just the same.

We got drinks and sat down.
She smiled again (my heart twisted)
And said, “Remember Doctor Cohen’s biology?
How he always smelled like formaldehyde?”

I added, “And how his shirt would pull out
When he reached up to write on the board.”

She tipped her head back and laughed,
Then looked at me seriously,
“I wanted to go out with you,” she said,
“But I was real shy back then,
I didn’t know how to get your attention.”

“You got my attention,” I said grimly
And my lips were numb.

“I wish we had dated,” she said.

“Is it too late?” I said.
I was trying for lightness
But it came out more like panting.

She laughed again, and said,
“Oh much too late.
I’m a grandmother.
And my husband had an accident:
He’s in a wheelchair
And needs me full time.
It took me a week
To get an LPN for tonight.”

Then our class president gave a speech,
There were some awards,
A benediction, and it was over.

“Can I walk you to your car?” I said.
“No,” she replied. “I still live here.
Small town.” One more smile,
(Was it wistful?) and she was gone.

For sure, I know why so few people
Go to their high school reunions.

JUNE 2019

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