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Poets in the pond:
Lucille Gang Shulklapper
Jason Fraley
Daniel Donaghy
Keli Stafford

Lucille Gang Shulklapper 

Where Does Light Go when It Dies?

Light dies in the arms of smothered desire. It dies
in waiting rooms of doctors and auditors, who, 
checking the pulse and adding the columns
ignore its plea. It dies in traffic lights that snarl

red, jamming the music of a prayer.  Light finds
buried caverns, so deep their stalactites reach China,
but dies trying to touch it.   Light scurries, a sand crab 
digging for water, dying in its waves of thirst.

Light flickers on Mount Trashmore; it dies
in mound-mouthed  garbage; floats on barges
toward other dumps, a tinsel flash in graveyards lost. 
Who will put flowers on its grave?

Eyes close, eyelids weigh ocean tears. When
light dies, it enters the dust of unborn souls,
hangs hurricane lamps by their  bedside, and 
moonshades in the shapeless night.

(Appears in chapbook collection, The Substance of Sunlight
(Gininnderra Press: Australia).
 

And What Importance Do I have in the Courtroom of Oblivion?

I have this much: Sammy said, “I love you,”
slipping the handle from the open door,
holding his seven-year-old  shoulders high,
straw hair uncombed,  loose teeth unbrushed, parents
away, away-o. I am his lifeline.
I have evidence. Breakfast crumbs from his
toast, stains from cracked eggs, fragmented shells, an
empty plate. Proof of a grandmother’s love.

I have a cat book, curled-up pages, a 
pummeled pillow, two swimming towels, sweat socks, 
a tee shirt with the shark from Jaws. I keep
bottled water on ice in the freezer.
In the decay of memory, I will
summon love. In my trial, it is all.

Appears in Substance of Sunlight


Why is Psyche Like A Circus of the Mind?

Because clowns stumble in the circus I create,
Like a tipsy paperweight freighted with fallen birds,
flowered with clouds frothing at the mouth,
I want to balance the colored prism.

Like a tipsy paperweight freighted with fallen birds
within whiteglass prisons,
I want to balance the colored prism
you see that I wish I could hold.

Within whiteglass prisons,
snow domes crack.
You see that I wish I could hold
stilts like crutches, that touch ceilings.

Snow domes crack
when sleet rages.
Stilts like crutches, that touch ceilings
hold things together, that swirl, that eddy.

When sleet rages,
omens whiteblacken before turning grey,
hold things together, that swirl, that eddy.
Clowns stilttipping, red mouths sad.

Omens whiteblacken before turning grey
if I  walk high-wired without nets.
Clowns stilttipping, red mouths sad
beckon me toward falls.

If I walk high-wired without nets,
I am alone, not alone, while spectators
beckon me toward falls
where redpainted mouths silently cry.

I am alone, not alone, while spectators
flowered with clouds, frothing at the mouth,
hold their airweighted breath,
because clowns stumble in the circus I create.

Appears in The Substance of Sunlight
Lucille Gang Shulklapper leads workshops for The Florida Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress.  Her poetry appears in The Art Times, Curbstone Review, Slant, and others.   She is the author of What You Cannot Have (Flarestack Publishing) and The Substance of Sunlight, (Ginninderra Press. )

She can be reached at Lucs34@aol.com


Jason Fraley

Rip Rap

Catfish swim to the inlet’s surface
to shed their skin
of moss.  Beginnings of a green
sheet.  Barges harnessed
to rusted cauldrons.
River smooth for this moment,
a burial where the bones
are first removed, polished,
and placed on the shore
near the body.
 
 

Beachfront at Dusk

The ocean no longer has a skeleton.
Still it locks hands with the moon
and dances, casts bones
hollowed by waves and wind
across the shore as if the Atlantic
desires more than the constant sound
of its own drowning.
 
 

Broken engagement

She flinches when the wind
slides across her palm, notices

night when nearing the shadows
of apple branches burdened with fruit.

She rubs the pale halo of soft skin
on her finger, a wound where ghosts

escaped, scattering their bones
across the empty sky.
 
 

Bone Garden

Give me your hands,
fingers spread wide.

Watch my unshaven face
till your palms, open them

to wetness and feeling.
Wipe uprooted skin away.

I’ll plant my tongue
in your palm.  Hard

rain of breath sows
teeth into bone.
 
 

Sunday Morning

Crows arrive before dawn to pluck
blackberries. You call this sorrow.
At least this fruit won't gather dust.

Drupelets break inside the bird’s stomach,
collide with each other
before dissolving.  Just as Christ

wrestled himself in the mornings
to the echo of wings.

Jason Fraley is a newlywed and works at an investment firm.  His first chapbook of poetry, The Arche of Existentialism, is available through Little Poems Press.  His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Confluence, Amarillo Bay, Tryst, Redactions, Snow Monkey, Pebble Lake Review, and others.

He can be reached at jfraley@mail.com


Daniel Donaghy

Clever

When a man came to my door asking
about the Chevette by the curb,
I told the truth: cracked cylinder head,
bad brakes, a timing belt that could

snap any day, and I expected him
to be like the rest, to say thank you
and leave, but instead he asked
to take a look, said he had a friend

who was clever with cars, who’d fix
anything for fifty bucks and a case of beer.
I held the door while he leaned in
and clicked the key, pressed

on the pedal to make her roar
louder than I thought she could.
He offered 150, __twice as much
as the junk yard, so we shook on it,

then walked back to the house
for title and plates. I kept on
about extra fuses in the glove,
told him how the seats recline

all the way back, not sure
if I should mention how
Robin Richie taught me that
our senior year, or how

she kicked a dent in the dash
that night on Snake Road
when we were finally alone,
when I let her hair down

and buried my face in her breasts,
not sure he would care to know
how our flesh melted
to the seats, or how her neck smelled,

sweet strawberry scent that wafted
over the plastic Mary hung
from the mirror, over our knotted
shoes and sweaty hump of clothes,

over our stiff bodies,
out the window and down the road
that led to Visitation church
and then to our homes, 

side-by-side tenements
with yards linked by a gate
my father chained shut
when he caught me sneaking in

one four a.m, Robin’s black bra
under my arm, his beer on my breath,
my shirt out, her bedroom light
snapping off just as our door clicked shut.

first published in Yarrow


Laundry Night, 1983

Some nights she’d throw their clothes
into the car's trunk and take off,
hair rollered tight, no note, mother
of two teenagers gone for hours
down Oakdale and Albert Streets,
Frankie Avalon singing “Venus” above
the old Rambler's tapping valves
as it machine-gunned past Griffin's Deli
and Garzone’s Funeral Home,
past Visitation Church and School,
her unringed fingers tapping the wheel,
her breathing easier by the time
she made the tricky right at Kip Street
and swished into her usual spot
outside Soapy Suds, almost forgetting
her husband had left, she couldn’t find a job,
almost outrunning the family
she broke from when they said
he was no good, “A Perfect Love,”
“Don’t Throw Away All Those Teardrops”
coming back from the kitchen
of their first apartment.
    And now
it turned out her family was right,
a scar on her cheek the proof,
and the stack of bills, the nightmares
of police coming to take her children,
her house, her dog, leaving her nothing--
and so the fears flowed
while she sorted the brights and darks,
knowing there was no getting clean
after months of crying herself
to sleep, no point in scrubbing
the stains ground into their lives,
grass stains, blood stains
so much a part of her they might
as well have been skin, no way
to make her children look presentable
on what he sent every other week,
her own clothes stretched like
her sagging arms and breasts,
her shoes so holy they could be saints,
little joke she told the washer
when she dropped in a load of whites,
“Bobby Socks to Stockings”
coming back after twenty years
when she measured the powdered soap,
the fabric softener, the bleach,
always the bleach, which still stung
her nose after the cycle was done,
when she pulled out the clothes
and held them overflowing in her arms.

first published in Poet Lore


Soon summer will be over and the bugs will be gone,

Marguerite says, skipping into the overgrown
field of goldenrod and yarrow,
so far from the Y's other counselors
and kids that when I look back
I can't see the building or the playground,
and I can’t help thinking
it must have been a scene like this
from which a man abducted her last year,
dyed her hair red and called her
by his dead daughter’s name,
and about all that might one day flood
into her consciousness, how
even though doctors told her mother
it might take years, might never come back, 
I hold her hand knowing if it does
there will be nothing anyone
can do to end her grief,
and that if it all came back now,
there would be nothing more
I could do than what I’m doing.
As we head down a trail, I ask
if she’s having fun, and she says yes
and snatches a few more ladybugs,
making over twenty for the hour,
some big with spots on each wing,
others tiny with no spots at all,
their shells flawless as her face,
her cupped hands scooping them
one by one into our bowl before
she opens the lid and sets them free.

first published in Two Rivers Review


Streetfighting

When my sister fell into the house crying,
holding her face, I knew even before
she pulled back her hands
what her boyfriend Benny had done.

I ran upstairs to get my sneakers
even though it was nine o’clock
on a school night, almost time for bed, 
my mother’d told me minutes before,

my sister’s boyfriend sixteen,
me twelve, wishing I’d paid more attention
to my father’s drunken boxing lessons––
left hand over right, feet shoulder-width apart,

his slippers shuffling around that closet
of a kitchen while I followed him
in slow looping circles–– same moves
I made after I raced out the front door

wanting someone to stop me,
mix of who I was and thought I had to be
swirling in my head since he left us
in inner city Philadelphia, where

any day my mother could get mugged,
my sister raped, any day I could get
my ass kicked defending them in a fight,
anger lasting me only long enough

for one good crack to the jaw
before I fell back into myself
and felt the punches rain down,
the kicks, the shots to the stomach

that knocked the wind out of me
like the sight of his truck pulling away,
not once looking into the rear view
before he hit the gas and screeched

beneath the Market-Frankford El,
pain I swallowed until I’d let nothing
hurt us, clenching and unclenching
my fists as I walked toward where

I knew Benny would be, same fists
I flung into my father’s gut
those nights their voices rose,
still feeling the crown of my head

against his ribs, still seeing the glint
of florescent light off his belt buckle
while my mother locked herself
in their bedroom and called him

a crazy drunk, and with all this
I found Benny laughing with his friends,
one leg up on a car fender,
one hand wrapped around a beer can,

with all this I charged at him
and plowed my head into his chest,
swung at his jaw and neck, 
seeing not Benny’s but my father’s face,

unmistakable––the bloodshot eyes,
the scar plowing across his forehead––
and I flailed all of my weight at him
as many times as I could, roundhouses,

jabs, hooks, hitting and getting hit,
I’m sure, but not feeling any of it,
our neighbors circled around us,
some cheering, some with crossed arms

while blood flowed from our faces
and hands, sprayed onto houses and cars,
onto our shirts and sneaks and jeans,
before it mixed with the glass-littered ground.

first published in The Southern Review


You and Irene

It's Saturday night, senior year.
Everyone off someplace warm:
basement parties, barrel fires.

Kensington Avenue is all
piss and beer, empty stores,
stale air trapped beneath the El

you'll take tonight to meet Irene
at the Devon movie theater,
El you used to climb with friends

to beat the fare, shimmying
a beam ten feet until you reached
a service ladder, then climbing

the last forty toward South Street
or the Spectrum, rising into
the station's fluorescent glow,

never looking below until
Wild C fell into a broken back,
you watching from the catwalk

as he flipped once and landed
on his head, doctors sure
he wouldn't make the week

but he lasted three months,
head twice its normal size
and purple, never coming out

of the dark, the way light never
cuts through the El tracks
on Kensington, where it's always night,

rusted steel sky hovering,
shadows falling from everywhere,
slashing the wet crosses

above old Frankie and his wine,
and Richie from the bike shop,
guarding hookers asleep

in doorways until horns honk,
pulling at Ann Russell
as she dies of a heart attack,

and Joel Frazier as he chops
crank on a hand mirror,
and it sweeps up you too

as you shuffle toward the steps
to Irene and the movies,
Wild C still falling, your arm

still flailing the air because
the past is never past,
it's always present,

and you hope something
funny is playing tonight,
something you and Irene

can laugh about at the Melrose
over coffee and smokes,
little jukebox crooning,

neon lights lining the ceiling,
casting out shadows,
streaming down onto your booth.

first published in Beacon Street Review


Daniel Donaghy grew up in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. He is the author of a book-length collection of poems, Streetfighting, and two chapbooks, Stadium Traffic and Kensingston Avenue. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, and the Cornell Council for the Arts. His poems have appeared in various journals, including The Southern Review, Poet Lore, Alaska Quarterly Review, Texas Review, Commonweal, Image, New Letters, and West Branch. He lives in Spencerport, NY, with his wife and daughter.

He can be reached at Daniel_donaghy@hotmail.com

 


Keli Stafford

Mannequins

Growing up absurd in a museum without walls;
statues, empty headed, with their mad black hair,
stand in a small circle chipped and scarred. 

Eyes lead into corridors, through objects, snapshots, 
past a still life. On a shelf of horrors 
the books are dated with the hour, day, year. 

A globe that was bought to acquire its stand
joins yellowing newspapers, thirty years old,
and a social registry that dropped the family name.

Crowds tramp through as the amputated busts,
like beggars, waylay them in dirt and dust, 
amid fearful smells. They stand there still,

not bronze or stone, but garden plaster.
A cast they made of a head in red clay,
like savages guarding their soul,

they are in terror of throwing away.
It is like being watched by a jealous ghost
that rattles your dreams until they’ve broke.
 
 

Skin Diving

Anyone might shiver 
before the sun is up
but the purgatory of my cure 

stripped me of skin
I can’t afford to lose. 
It seems to want me 

to shrug it off, this skin 
like cellophane, nerve-peeled, 
fingering my wounds,

trying on skin like shoes.
My hands are desperate,
gathering up papers of littered 

language. Hands toy with it,
give up, fall to my lap. 
My flesh falls off too.

I stay where I am, avoid
mirrors that strip me down
for real, watching tissue 

come away baby-fine and raw. 
Stripped down to blood and bone,
just the faintest dying little

rail of a thing. Like a door
shutting in increments,
there is less and less of me.
 
 

Perfect Vision

I take it all in, to the last inch: the immaculate house;
A glass paperweight brighter than sunrise;
War maps done in watercolor dating from very far back.
A painting done in a hotel garden has the status

Of sacred junk. Now I see the snare. Low ceilings,
Earthen floor, rust-colored walls weeping with wetness.
Spots deface the floor. A scarcely verbal caretaker 
Stands very still, trying not to breathe. Chokes back 

Little sounds, hunger sounds, sick and starving. 
Dizzy wet, dripping liquid fire. So much want, 
So much terror. She shrinks away from the glass 
In the window, bids goodbye to herself in the mirror.

She returns to it. There is nowhere else to go.
 

Keli Stafford lives in Oregon with her husband and children. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Crimson Feet, Poetry Magazine, The Penwood Review, Asthetica, and The Southern Ocean Review.

She can be reached at stafford@open.org