Methodologies of Grace by Carol Shillibeer

Methodologies of Grace

There is a window that cracked. In the blistering heat of language,
there hissed by cool and faint, mountain air, far,
over the ranging hills, the walking
earth (the Cool Mind) tireless the breeze seems,
sweet with the ghost of flowers blooming leagues,
far into the body’s stoney green,
loops and loops of infinite iteration.

There is a window cracked. The watch tower roasts
above its linguistic stilts.
Before, it was other than this. It was never other than this.
And yet, the desert heat of words breaks holes in their own floors,
(there is always a way out) recursive seed, bloom, bee and seed;

roots gleam at night, they, thorns, petals,
reflective morphemes of competence,
between house and earth
cognition bees hunt their aromatic signals,
bees in the skull, and hives,
through the glass pane of linguistic separation
from the thingness of the world,
hiding the thingness of the self. This is
not. This is only this. Flowers break open with the beauty of it.


Asked once, if “approaching seizure, then later” was based on a real event, I had to agree that it was. It was the least false thing I could say. This poem you are reading tumbles down the same rocky slope of facticity. I will say, for example, that the crack in the glass is my particular form of epilepsy.

It is true that I was diagnosed as a petite mal epileptic. Epilepsy does run in my family, but really I have no idea if the identities that erupt during “seizures” are erupting due to the particular neuronal organization we name petite mal, or if there is another odd cognitive process going on. I don’t even know if such fissures in cognitive constructed-reality are an oddity. Sometimes I think these alternate assessments of identity and reality are always there; but normally, they are unconscious thoughts―unconsciously active ones, ones that carry sharp objects, ones that have managed to poke a hole in the monolith of their absence from awareness.


I don’t resent language for the presence of such absence. I’ve come to realize, with repeated attention to the form these quiet breezes take, that they are always there. In fact in sleep, when the blaze of language is at its most dormant, that which we imagine as mountain air, takes on shape, colour, tactility―in dream, in sleeping  memory―and thus (escaped through the floor boards of the linguistic watchtower) parades itself, for itself. The body thinking.

It is the watchtower, a newcomer, useful for Neighbourhood Watch, but with some peculiar ideas. Reminds me strongly of the lantern fish, as if the symbiosis of luminescent bacteria and a pendant fishy corpuscle—(dangling with an evolutionary attitude from a modified dorsal spine) in which they house themselves—as if they were all that.

So it’s useful for hunting in the dark of the sea—the lantern is not the fish; language is not the human. Dude, I want to say. Dude. Get a grip.


The glass, with language, ceases upon sleep.
The poem, ceaseless in its breath,
with no known impediment
(except for death),
an elbow pressed
.         between feather and bone
.                                takes on stanzaic proportions.
The limit of the legs’ ability
to reach beyond the warm pocket,
a line
.          break.


Having realized the ubiquity of the Cool Mind, as a child I set about attending Her. As if she were my Queen, I carry Her prize possessions. By becoming the stone carrier, I have learnt to recognize the first curling strands of wordless thought, or at least, I have reached out toward the edges of my perceptual ability and am thus able to perceive the body thinking. In other words, I keep my person, as much as is possible, tactile and aware of the cool that sparks the blaze of language.

I am quite sure that much goes on in the world
.                                                             (beyond the watchtower)
goes on
.                             the inner stones and breezes
.                            which I cannot perceive,
.                                                           which we
.                             a                                cannot
but I remain vigilant, and hopeful
that I
.          that I will manage
.                          more violence              against absence.


These are the methodologies of grace.

About the Poet
Carol Shillibeer lives on the west coast of Canada. Her publication list and contact information is at

Two Poems by Judith Skillman

Above the Snow Line
The demarcation begins—those who are ill go on
With one shoe, one bare foot flapping from their pajama leg.
Those who are well sit beneath a tree still green,
Reasonably comfortable, though the ground is strewn with scree
And odd-shaped rocks the glacier didn’t find, couldn’t smooth
Before tossing them into the moraine.

I want to discuss the ones who continue upward
Before they forget their names, their countries, their beloved,
The meadows of alpine flowers where a butterfly once opened
Its wings. Yes, it’s precious to think of life this way,
As having a point fixed like a star with any meaning.
The ones who are ill will scratch their wounds, and tumors

Spread, metastasize the brain and the eyes until the black patch
Is put on reluctantly, passively, without aggression. Those
Fellows—we hear their screams once they’re out of sight,
Wonder at the fall from which crevasse, and how unseemly to die
In one’s flannels, without even a rope, a piton, a karabiner
With which to jumar up the face of the cliff. Or a comrade

To yell down from above—Are you there? The ones
On the ninety-degree slope pitch forward, as oxygen thins,
Roots disappear and even the ancestors’ voices are silenced
By wind. Above the snow line this happens, flesh
Turns to ice instead of dust, faces remain beneath an inch-
Thick mirror, sickness disappears. We who are well sit

On thick coats to cushion ourselves from the earth, its uneven surface
Still bare, not cold enough to turn water into a white slate
Of erasure. We think of life this way or that, wane metaphysical
As a finger of moon passes overhead from east to west,
The day moon, same color as that into which our friends—
How could we not have known it was the end for them?—walked

Uncomplaining at first, willing to shoulder the load, to hoist
A backpack full of ropes and pears higher on their backs
As they walked. Perhaps they are singular although we remain
Plural. I want to speak to them as if each one had disarmed me
With his or her malignancy, unknown at the time of departure
for the great imaginary adventure.

After Winter Solstice
Still it comes early, sun setting over a lake.
It glows as if encaustic, a yellow trance

we embrace. Take the days—holy and dark,
how they fatigue us as they pass, our dance

a term, the “hellidays.” We flirt with age.
Then maybe a day comes when we’re certain

we’re old. How many times around the sun
can a body fly? Tongue-tied, gravitas

and honor small for a painful life lived
without having asked for the privilege.

Nonetheless there’s beauty. Its star hovers
above the water glowing from within.

Too far gone to turn back we become sin-
gular, my pursuit beeswax, yours VR.

About the Poet
Judith Skillman’s new collection is House of Burnt Offerings from Pleasure Boat Studio. Her work has appeared in Tampa Review, Poetry Seneca Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere. She has taught Humanities at many colleges and universities and has collaboratively translated poems from Italian, Portuguese, and French. Visit

Two Poems by James Sanders

Days (Albany) (0:31) (1:24)

days albany 31 124

 EpiphytePoem 88 epiphyte

About the Poet
James Sanders is a member of the Atlanta Poets Group, a writing and performing collective. His most recent book is Goodbye Public and Private (BlazeVox). His book, Self-Portrait in Plants, is forthcoming in 2015 from Coconut Books. The University of New Orleans Press also recently published the group’s An Atlanta Poets Group Anthology: The Lattice Inside.

Ismul, the Boy Warrior by Nina Kossman

Ismul, the Boy Warrior
(A re-creation of an ancient Ahkadian text)

If you pity him whose throat you have to cut,
you will not do it. Pity is the enemy of action.
He who acts must rip pity out of his soul,
and stamp on it fiercely with both feet,
with both feet he must take life out of pity.
Because that is the way to take life out of man.
If you are ready to fight like a man in an open field,
you must trample with both feet on your wriggling pity.

Ridicule him who does not step on his pity,
but be on the lookout for him too,
for he may change without you noticing it
and then make mincemeat out of you.
If you want to be a warrior who always wins,
you must stamp out your pity before it stamps out you.
For he who dares not kill his pity,
will not be a warrior who pleases his king.
He will be left alone in the open field,
a feast for a god of worms he will be,
supper for a god of vultures he will be,
tears for his mother, absence for his wife.

Anyone who heard of warriors, had heard of Ismul.
No warrior on earth was better than Ismul.
He defeated heroes from far and near.
He drove out the armies of Emih and Nagur.
Ismul was the best of them all because he had stamped out his pity.
There was a time when even he had a big load of pity. He cried
when they brought Shimus his father back from the field
where Nagur’s soldiers did what they had to do.
When they brought home his father’s body,
and the boy Ismul saw what had been done,
the boy ripped pity out of his own body
like a weak muscle of no use,
for he wanted to be of use to Shimus his father
who no longer would see Ismul as before,
from the near, but only from a distance
of a spirit that looks on from above.

Woe to him who does not avenge his father,
woe to him who forgets his mother’s tears:
soon enough he will find that they flow for him.

Shimus’ spirit guided the boy Ismul when
he went from house to house, gathering
young men, sons of those who, like Shimus,
were brought back from the field lifeless
or not brought home at all. His father’s spirit
rode with the boy when he rode in front of his army,
as the spirits of other boys’ fathers rode with them;
his father’s spirit let him know the time to attack.
But when the battle began and the blood was pouring,
the spirit of Shimus left his son’s side
for spirits do not like the sight of big blood
and flee the clanging of metal.

When Shimus’ spirit flew high into the sky,
it saw the spirits of enemy fathers, a whole army of them,
and there were more of them, and they were stronger
than his son’s army. The enemy army had sturdier
swords, swifter horses, and they had big shields
made of pure gold, each like a deadly sun.
Shimus’ spirit flew higher, and higher still,
for he wanted to have a word with the gods,
but the spirit could not find the gods anywhere,
not in the upper world, not in the place where they are not,
for where we do not see them is where the gods abide.

“Tell me the outcome of the battle, ye gods,
green, and purple, and bluish-black gods,
gods shaped as animals, and gods shaped as fishes,
bird-gods, frog-gods, and gods shaped as men!”
But in reply all he heard was silence.
The terrible silence of the empty sky.
For the gods had hidden; the gods had fled.
This was not a war they approved of.

Then a single thin cloud came nearer,
and Shimus’ spirit was flying inside it,
the spirit was merged with the cloud,
the cloud which was none other than Otz,
the god of unfinished business.
This is what Otz said to Shimus’ spirit:
“I praise you for helping your son,
for the boy must avenge your murder.
But this war is to have no winners.
None shall prevail in this battle,
for we gods have had enough warm blood
and are no longer thirsty. Living worshippers
are more pleasing to us than blood.
Fly back to your son’s army, spirit,
and whisper into your son’s ear
‘The gods order you to make peace.’ Meanwhile,
I shall order the spirits of the enemy army
to turn their sons away from the battle
with neither defeat nor victory,
but only obedience and humility
to serve and worship the wisdom of the all-seeing gods.”

Shimus’ spirit could not say anything,
for how can a mere spirit respond to a god?
But when the cloud receded, he saw another.
The other cloud was another god,
all-powerful Iannon it was, god of death
and of completed vows, and this is what
Shimus’ spirit heard: “You must not keep your son away
from this righteous battle, spirit.
Do not heed the god of unfinished deeds.
For all that is done is done for the highest,
the god of all gods, in the scheme of schemes.”
Then that cloud, too, receded
and Shimus’ spirit encountered no more gods
on its flight through the twilight heavens.

The spirit flew through the sky, and flew
until it was near Ismul’s army,
and it hovered over Ismul’s head,
not knowing what to tell him, which god’s advice was correct.
As it looked around it and saw the sky
in whose middle it flew, every cloud
seemed to sprout a god-like shape.
So torn was the spirit between the gods’ orders,
that it hovered above Ismul like a quivering fog.
And because it hesitated so,
and because it was at a loss for what to advise,
for which god’s injunction to give to Ismul,
Ismul grew suddenly weak as though by witchcraft,
his own spirit went out of him,
and he no longer knew what he was.

Ismul, the bravest boy-warrior, the boldest,
who out of his own soul had built a shield,
no longer could brandish his only weapon,
the blood-drenched sword he had forged himself
from two metals: revenge and courage.
Because his father’s spirit was torn in two,
Ismul fell on the ground as though stricken,
as though pierced by an enemy sword.
And even though Ismul was of superior strength,
he was nothing but an empty vessel now, a thing,
a piece of defeated flesh. That is what happens
when a father’s spirit is torn between
the commands of cloud-shaped gods.

Seeing that Ismul had fallen, Ismul’s army of
ragged boys fled too, and they fled so fast
that the spirits of their fathers could not keep up.
And the enemy warriors, with their sunlike shields
now dull yellow, spiritless yellow like bile,
they too fled at the sight of the fallen Ismul,
instead of rejoicing and furthering their gains:
for they knew that the gods were near.

When the gods are near and at war with each other,
everyone knows it is no time for mortals to fight.
For a man who is caught in the gods’ quarrel
is defeated forever, in this life and in all
his lives to come he is condemned to relive his defeat.
That is why Ismul was left alone in the field,
abandoned by all—enemies, friends, and his father’s spirit—

alone in the field with the dead and the dying;
and even his soul left him, although he was not dead.

There Ismul’s body lay, without its soul:
the soul left the body and flew.
His soul flew high and low, without direction,
like a butterfly that had lost its way.
Higher and higher rose the wind;
and the stronger it blew on the soul,
the higher and wider the soul flew.
Ismul’s poor, bewildered soul, flapping invisible wings,
frightened and lost, completely
alone in the empty sky.

But the emptiness was gradually turning solid;
Little by little it was becoming as dense as
Ismul’s own remembered flesh.
Only this was not flesh; this was firm ground;
as solid as anything the soul had seen
in its life on earth within Ismul’s body.
More solid than flesh, yet lighter than air,
and visible only to souls’ eyes.
It was the city of souls. Where souls were gods.
Here souls slept, played, grew sick, and recovered,
before returning to earthly bodies
and to bodily pleasures and tasks.

What Ismul’s soul learned in the city of souls is never revealed:
a lesson equal to no lesson it could have learned in the flesh.
When it was his soul’s time to return to his mortal body
of all the precious gifts proffered to it by the souls
it took only one: a transparent jar of pity.
Liquid pity sparkled in the jar like a superior wine.
When Ismul’s soul flew close to Ismul’s body,
it poured the pity over his limbs and chest,
and it opened Ismul’s mouth and poured the rest down his throat.
And only when Ismul’s body was drenched in pity,
was Ismul’s soul ready to re-enter the young man’s flesh.
Then Ismul arose from the field of battle
and went off by himself, only gods know where.
His army of ragged young men came to him
from every corner of the Amkabadian land.
And when they were gone, rumors were heard of them,
they were said to be seen here and there,
without their swords and shields, yet untouched
by an enemy weapon. Heroes! Heroes of a different sort!
And where they passed, the land became fertile.
Soon all of Amkabadia was in bloom,
for they walked it for years in the steps of Ismul,
their leader whom they called the Conqueror—
not of men but of his own heart.

About the Poet
Nina Kossman is a Moscow born translator, poet, writer, and playwright. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a UNESCO/PEN Short Story Award, grants from Foundation for Hellenic Culture and Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, she is the author of two books of poems in Russian and English as well as the translator of two volumes of Marina Tsvetaevas’s poetry. Her other publications include Behind the Border (HarperCollins, 1994) and Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths (Oxford University Press, 2001).

Untitled by Peter Res

In competing shades of shadow and alternate life, you call the power company and tell them to go away. There is a dead bluebird in the plant by the window. She came to us on the porch, when the sun was kind to birds and humans. I still remember the symbol crash of tears, black eyes streaking. I keep you in a jar beneath my bed.

About the Poet
Peter G. Res is a poet, teacher, and musician from New Jersey. He is a graduate of the New England College MFA program in Poetry, where he studied under Ilya Kaminsky. His first, full length collection of poems is forthcoming from A…P Press, April 2015. Previous chapbooks include: Neon Soliloquies (Erbacce, 2011, UK), Smoke and the South(Nassaice, 2010), and Vibrant Ghost (Differentia Press, 2009, ebook). Res is currently Adjunct Professor of English at SUNY–Westchester Community College. For more, see:

Two Poems by Kelli Allen

If Fairy Tales in Fall
It isn’t so much that the leaves are dizzy as it is they are lodged in confusion,
the same variety that persuades us to jump when the waters are on the rise. We
say, “look” as our feet reappear after tumbling over our shoulders on the way
down, we tremble and spill over. The repair work is universal
as the rake scratches our sides.

I contain so much thinning, yet lushness is my fresco when I stop at the bottom
of the well, climb back into the bucket and yell up “It matters! It matters!” until
only the rope tail hangs near the stone rim. Nothing whorls up in a shock
the way a name does, when its ours, all peacock and hiss, all vowel and cinnamon.

You have been told how to cut back the trestle, to light the lamp and fold your hands.
This way, we are advocates together for a splayed phrase and retelling. The only
stories we can give back are ones considerate of the moss digesting the ledge.

Suspending Delirious Limbs
Although I do not claw at my own chest, I recognize the desire as just that—
desire. It is a recitation of horrors, spoken in close iambic pentameter, which keeps
my hands, rounded fingers points against palms, close to my sides.  I say the cross
-hatched words in monotonous rounds, vowels slow, consonants exhausted,
becoming flat, and so calming.  Her wrists are the knotted tree where the rabbit sits,
eggs in its belly, waiting for Ivan.

Where my mother’s hands would have caught against pearlescent buttons when she
ripped through one blouse or another, trying to free breath, skin, small
cranberry-red streaks of rising flesh, mine stay this still. There are no legs long
enough to reach the branch where I was hatched.

So she has given me a house I am not to touch, its windows smaller than my
earlobes, its faces through the doors colder than expected. We stand on either side
of a roof peppered with mica, the pinks making me ache, the hues making her clutch
her peter-pan collar as I lean too close, too far inward.

There is no act of rebellion in remembering and I am trying not to hate this self
as compared to her self, compared to both selves one on either side of a dollhouse
made whole by attention, careful, careful attention.

About the Poet
Kelli Allen’s work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in the US and internationally. She is currently a Professor of Humanities and Creative Writing at Lindenwood University. Allen gives readings and teaches workshops throughout the US. Her full-length poetry collection, Otherwise, Soft White Ash, from John Gosslee Books (2012) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. See

Ours Poetica by Franklin K.R. Cline

Ours Poetica
  a                            For Cole Swenson
When I stand close enough, it
peeks into my peripheral
vision. Step back and it provides
a smaller and smaller point
of emphasis. Look into me.
What we make becomes us.
Let me make a world around
you, to show you the world
around me, the shape of if.


It can’t be too big. This land is quiet, simple. No murders here. Not anymore. It should honor that. Flatter. Abstract. From bronze. Curved up a bit. Nonsense. Wavy, like the hills. Put it in the middle of the field. Something symbolic of what we believe about nature. Not about what we know. Put holes in it so when someone saunters up to it they can see the sky, the field. An amorphous shape. Humanity doesn’t really befit this land anymore. Holes and waves. Something to frame the view. Circular. Smooth, forgiving curves. Stolen land. Nothing jagged or cruel looking. Maternal. The suggestion of rolling.


Give me an atom the size of my head! You
become nature, lucky! If I name it,
they will come. If they come, we can
finally eat all the food that’s getting
cold. I don’t know about
me, but it
sure looks like I want you by the way
my hand involuntarily stretches your
way. I’m so bland compared to
yellow flowers, I’m hardly
geometry. The conveyor belt Earth
ain’t doing me any favors. I graffited
the stop signs in my neighborhood to
read DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’ and now
every intersection is an art museum. My
first inclination is to use
words. The trees all look the same. What
goes into our head is what we see. Easy
peasy, no? The tree grows right into me, and you,
as we look past each other. I love your head, how it can so easily become.

About the Poet
Franklin K.R. Cline’s poems have been featured in Banango Street, Matter, Oyez Review and Word Riot. He is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin. He lives in Milwaukee with three cats and his wife, Rachel Kincaid.

Two Poems by Richard Fein

Relaxing the Grammatical Rules of a Dying South American Language
The language is pronounced as trio. The spelling is uncertain.
The village is in Suriname.

Truth is a grammatical necessity in Trio.
The syntax of this language makes liars speak poorly,
for one must name the direct source for each quote.
So when a stranger entered the village and read
from the talking leaves wrapped in hides,
how the Great Shaman, Jesus,
commanded the tribe to follow the god of the strangers,
that stranger’s sentence was grammatically incomplete.
For if the stranger was never eye-to-eye or ear-to-ear with that Great Shaman
how could he know what words the Shaman actually spoke?
In Trio the outcome of each verb is also part of its conjugation.
There are a half-dozen ways to qualify “to hope”
and a dozen ways to modify “to despair,”
but in their vocabulary of truths “to love” has no meaning.
for that infinitive, to love, is like a wide palm leaf that blocks the sun
and casts a penumbra that muddles clear distinctions.
In their tongue no one loves another,
rather they proclaim shades of affection.
One must speak this language meticulously,
for in this tongue hearsay is defined, lies exposed, and truths heard
in the myriad nuances of inflections.
Once upon a time truth and Trio were linguistic twins.
But enter gasoline generators, radios, and so many other fast-talking strangers.
Now when their grandparents try to teach them the old truths,
the grandchildren reply, “We’re listening,” but without a trace of inflection.

Auditions for My Multiple Personalities
I’ve typed not one character on paper
and so my room is full of my usual characters.
The writer in me issued my casting call.
Variety magazine classifieds must dangle somewhere in my brain,
for how else could this crew so suddenly show up?
The activist demanding to be heard,
the old Chinese guy who mistakes meaningless platitudes for Buddhism,
the disillusioned priest, rabbi, minister, the playboy,
the lonely lover, the baseball homerun king, the woman scorned.
The woman scorned???
Among this casting call of wannabe masculine thespians
is there an actual drama-queen queen anxiously awaiting her cue?
And of course there’s always the penniless writer in his daytime waiter garb,
that generic misunderstood oh so tortured alcoholic soul.
For isn’t every writer a closet-alcoholic puking out Shakespearian drivel?
I tell them all, once again, I can’t pay. All they’ll get is exposure,
exposure for a cast of self-absorbed exhibitionists upstaging one another.
Suddenly the personalities dematerialize, except the one in the mirror.
He yells, “Exposure my ass.”
He rips off his clothes and curses me for wasting his time,
then demands carfare to go home.
But I’m broke, and besides he is home.
So now he’s running around naked in my living room
waving blank typing paper.
I’d tell him to leave but I’d be ordering myself around,
and I take orders from no one.

About the Poet
Richard Fein was a finalist in The 2004 New York Center for Book Arts Chapbook Competition. A Chapbook of his poems was published by Parallel Press, University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has been published in many web and print journals such as Cordite, Cortland Review, Reed, Southern Review, Roanoke Review, Green Silk Journal, Birmingham Poetry Review, Mississippi Review, Paris/atlantic, Canadian Dimension, and others.

Metamorphosis by M.A. Schaffner

Items we can live without flourish
in a rich medium of advertisements
spouting from the bodies of passersby
like electronic organs or neuro-
fibromatosic blossoms covering
first the eyes and lips so one sees and tastes
increasingly only approved stimuli
linked to additional manifestations
until eventually the consumer
as host is itself consumed and becomes
but an appendage of its appendages
and an ambulatory ad for the same
advertising programs so that eating,
drinking, conversing, and reproducing
are the acts of a new, ephemeral species,
less ephemeral with repetition, less
ephemeral, in the end, than the host.

About the Poet
M. A. Schaffner has had poems published in Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, Agni, Poetry Ireland, Poetry Wales, and elsewhere. Other writings include the poetry collection The Good Opinion of Squirrels, and the novel War Boys. Schaffner spends most days in Arlington, Virginia or the 19th century.

Two Poems by Joe Balaz

Carcass in the Fields
The visual sermon went over everyone’s head.

Futility walked around in full daylight
holding a lamp and searched everywhere.
The only honest man in the village
ran and hid so he wouldn’t be found.

Concealment in this case was appropriate.
No need to consummate the quest of a sage
who filled his life with almost nothing.

A porous heart bled the intention
of that hidden man who was dressed in black.
Accustomed to burying philosophy
in the context of a final truth,
one could mistake him for a priest,
if he were not the undertaker.

Diogenes seeked some kind of answer
looking for honesty among humanity.
It must have been his mongrel spirit that moved him.
He stared into an empty bowl,
as a canine chorus whimpered and howled
to the minimal light of a shrouded moon.

Not that it even matters,
for any insight that ever was,
will always yield to a carcass in the fields.

Roadside Turnoff
A voodoo blast
slammed into the eardrums like a cyclone,
whipping and swirling paisley winds,
as the ghost of Jimi Hendrix exhaled.

Complimenting the psychedelic music,
a painting by Hieronymus Bosch hung up on the wall.
The Garden of Earthy Delights with a soundtrack.
I wondered who came up with the synergy.

At a roadside turnoff,
bikers and barflies
filled the watering hole next to a gas station.

Outside tumbleweeds rambled
into the far reaches of the desert,
like the slurred stories within,
from some of the patrons
hollowed out like dying cactus trees.

There was sand in my shoes,
but clarity in my head.
I just stopped to ask for directions.

The bartender laughed,
and cherry topped his answer
with a smirk,
even though it was a common cliché—

Just keep driving east
on the highway,” he said.
Until you reach somewhere.

About the Poet
Joe Balaz lives in Ohio.  His poems have appeared in Pittsburgh Quarterly, Wisconsin Review, and Hawai’i Review, among others. He edited Ho’omanoa: An Anthology of Contemporary Hawaiian Literature.