The Greatest Show on Earth
by Fernando Albert Salinas
The serpent in elephant’s clothing,
balanced ominous beauty,
a sack of bone marrow pale flesh adorned
with Himalayan tattoo-blue poppies
tiptoe upon a circus ball
over a hemp slack rope
above the mountains
and the prairies
and the rivers cutting
to the oceans
white with foam.
It blue-eyes a bumble bee,
There is no turning back.
It keeps calm as a Hindu cow--
as steady as Maha-padma
supporting the world on its back
while resting on the back
of the world tortoise, Chukwa.
We are both potentially
a moment from extinction.
Kiss the stem of my erect trunk
as though I were nothing more than
a delicate flower praying not to fall in the wind.
Let lips be bread and tongue wine.
Under different circumstances
your tiny prick
would go unnoticed,
but my cruel masters
have placed me here
for their amusement.
You have a kind of sick desperation in your buzz.
By Steve Braff
Flames he cannot see
but by feel knows
their waxen warmth
rooting—these light burdens
borne with ambling gate
yet all stand still
in wet-gray’s dawning.
And so the beginning
of this burning
Could any know
he was to be
round shelter and rough scale—
a living rock
among Spring’s three:
the Poppy Daisy and Violet Host
To never be denied
again, again, and again?
This time their time
rebirth the earth
By Jennifer Kelley
The bird hasn’t heard the word of the flame,
She’s hidden behind grandma’s flowers,
choosing darkness over light.
And how like the masses she is today,
embracing modern blindness,
choosing truthiness over truth.
I wonder if she even sees the flame,
understands that with a fling of her flowers
she could bring light.
I wonder if we understand the power of action,
of standing up for what is right,
that we’re so close to lighting the candle of knowledge
And then there’s the danger that she’ll be the one burned,
one stiff wind and she’s going to be dinner.
If only she could cast off her blinders, she could save herself.
And perhaps the blaze of enlightenment
will char us a little
but light is light is light, illuminated for generations.
But the candle of truth, waits unlit,
and the battle for right waits unfought.
And though she has wings, she’s chosen to stand.
And though we have voices, we’ve chosen silence.
by Steve Braff
The sacrificial swan tureen
of hallowed china bone—
where floats the empty
vessel? His tethered breast
by golden chain, moored
to a circus ring—
The Greatest Show
holds fish & loaves
when the light burned upwards
an earthen fire illumined trees
that would not ever burn
and that fisherman by trade
left his net for a better catch
not mindful of the wave
so certain, still
his blood bled through
the brush blue underglaze
where he first called
like brown wheat fell
* Mary Oliver—The Buddha’s Last Instruction
Hunting Above the Icarian Sea
bu Friday Gretchen
flies above the water’s surface—
smooth, after one hundred ships turned
back, counseled by heavy clouds
Dry, ebony wings
part the damp air with ease
Hungry and beguiled by a hue beneath
reminiscent of her lover’s throat,
Seabird wings, absorbent feathers
will not repel moisture—
another of God’s tiny miscalculations
Making each meal a risk
and snatching regurgitated fishes
from beaks of lesser birds,
Though still uncertain,
her emptiness moves her to plunge
Tailfeathers spread to temper her advance
Seconds from saturation—
a thick, tentacled grip captures her cry
and teaches her risk
By Jennifer Kelley
He’s so concentrated on precarious balance,
so hunched and preoccupied, like some batman villain,
that, at first, he doesn’t notice that it’s out of place:
the orange among the dunes.
His first instinct is to pick it up, to peck past that careful skin
and set the juices free,
but none of that can be done without toppling everything.
For these cups that he carries are life itself, all the minutia of living.
When the bills get paid, when the kids graduate,
when tuxedoed parents can live out their last days somewhere warm,
despite being designed for the chill,
it all makes sense,
these hunched shoulders,
this surrendered state of never meeting life eye-to-eye,
afraid of what he might see.
Because what if the meat of the thing,
the pulpy flesh is not in balancing,
is not in maintaining breath to breath,
but in the joy of breathing?
What if he’s passed up all these oranges,
misplaced and wonderful and far from the fields of Fresno,
afraid, just afraid, of letting go?
But he can’t. He just can’t; he’s too entrenched.
So maybe he kicks it, or maybe he just turns tail and waddles away.
Either way, its sultry juices remain untasted.
Either way, what is fragile, what is delicately maintained
doesn’t topple to the ground.
It doesn’t even occur to him that the sand might cushion the fall,
that it might be possible to drop them without breaking them,
that, if indeed they are essential, as he prides them on being,
he might be able to pick them up again, having tasted life’s sweetness
for a little while.
Or maybe it occurs to him,
but the thought of freedom,
the thought of standing up tall
is too tempting
too fragile in its own way
and must be protected, kept whole
Leaving the untasted treasure
for the next weighed down one
who will pass it
in the sand.
by Marsha de la O
A Canada Goose panics,
wound in the coils.
Do you dream
of that thing
you called water?
Please. I can’t
I don’t know.
Snowperson Wonders at What is Left of the World
by Nancy-Jean Pément
She stands in the clearing
naming the wildflowers
that grow at her feet.
The forest has sheltered
the last vestiges of winter
long enough to keep her whole.
Every year, the cold season grows shorter.
And, every year, she is uncertain
about whether she will return.
What is left of the trees
grab at her by the neck, choking
out the others as they reach
for the dim ruins of starlight.
Winter has either stopped coming
or has come too far, and
only the hardiest bits of ice linger
We rename our sins
to make us good again.
If only we had recognized our blessings
while we had them.
If only we had understood enough
to love the world as it should be loved.
The Unaccustomed Forest
by Nancy-Jean Pément
What was invisible
had been standing there
all along, looking straight at me,
wearing the gaudy regalia of a dowry—
Think about the timberframe
we could have built,
the family we might have made,
the pots and pans, the garden.
This should have been
a tender moment,
a homecoming of sorts,
but the land was unrecognizable,
and, in the storm
something seemed different—
timber milled straight,
a forest of structures within a forest—
a diversion that demanded
we rethink beauty, altogether
wild and white-tailed,
curious and almost gone.
This was my home.
And, once, it was yours, too.
We shared everything—
the land and the trees, the grey sky.
I wanted to tread gently,
to leave for good,
but I returned because
I couldn’t forget
the look on your face.
I couldn’t stop thinking
how what was tamed, eventually,
Steve Braff has been a featured reader at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Wildling Museum in Solvang, CORE Winery Poetry Series in Orcutt, Poetry Zone in Santa Barbara, Coastal Dunes Writers Club in Nipomo, Santa Ynez Valley Arts Association, Hospice of Santa Barbara, and Santa Barbara Squire Foundation. His poetry has been published in Tea House, Muryoko Journal of Shin Buddhism, Muscogee Nation News, Cholla Needles, Poetry Super Highway and Nomad’s Choir. His chapbook, Forty Days, was published by Cholla Needles Press (2017). Steve is founder and host of the Blue Whale Poetry Series at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History as well as the Wildling Museum Poetry Series in Solvang. He serves as poetry discussion leader for the Jewish Federation of Santa Barbara; outreach coordinator for Cal Poets in the Schools (CPITS) ; and judge for the Santa Barbara County Regional Poetry Out Loud Competition. More information at stevebraff.blogspot.com
Friday Gretchen’s poetry appears in ARTLIFE Limited Editions, Miramar, Askew Poetry Journal and within two anthologies, A Bird Black As The Sun – California Poets on Crows & Ravens and Rare Feathers – Poems on Birds & Art.
Jennifer Kelley graduated from CSU Channel Islands in 2017 with an English degree with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She has had the opportunity to read widely in Ventura County, from Art City, Bell Arts Studio, and EP Foster Library in Ventura, to the Carnegie Museum in Oxnard, and the T.O. Library in Thousand Oaks. Her poems, short stories, and essays have been published in a range of scholarly literary journals, including the Pawprint, VC Voices, and The Island Fox. She is also honored to have had two poems selected for publication in ASKEW in 2015 and 2017.
Marsha de la O’s upcoming book, Every Ravening Thing, from Pitt Poetry Series is due out in Spring 2019. Her previous book, Antidote for Night, won the 2015 Isabella Gardner Award and was published by BOA Editions. Her first book, Black Hope, was awarded the New Issues Press Poetry Prize. She has published extensively, including recent poems in The New Yorker and the Kenyon Review. De La O lives in Ventura, California, with her husband, poet and editor Phil Taggart. Together, they produce poetry readings and events in Ventura County and edit the literary journal Spillway.
Nancy-Jean Pément is originally from the Outaouais in the province of Québec. Elle écrit ses poèmes dans les deux langues officielles de sa vie notamment l’anglais et le français. Her poems have appeared in ARC Poetry Magazine where her piece, PHL>YOW about her father, Léonard, was the Editor’s Choice for Poem of the Year, as well as in Morning Glory, the Moorpark Review, and Askew among others. Her poem, Migration, was a finalist for the 2014 Common Good Books poetry contest. In 2016, she was invited by the late Jackson Wheeler to read as part of the 2017 Poetry Series at the Carnegie Museum and has been a featured reader at Poetry by the Sea in Malibu among other venues. As part of her dissertation research, she used poetic transcription as a methodological strategy to (re)present the stories of her co-researchers
Fernando Albert Salinas is an Adjunct Professor of English at Ventura College. He is also the Ventura County Area Coordinator and a Master Poet-Teacher for California Poets in the Schools, the Ventura County Area Coordinator and a recitation coach for the California Arts Council’s Poetry Out Loud program and the Editor-In-Chief for Spit Shine Publishing. As the Literary Arts Programs Director for the Ventura County Arts Council, he focuses on enhancing the presence and appreciation of poetry and the literary arts, raising awareness of the power of literature, poetry, and the spoken word. In 2012, Salinas initiated the Groundswell Committee: a small collection of local poets, with the support of the Ventura County Arts Council, and created the County’s poet laureate program. Most recently, he has implemented a youth poet laureate program for the county. His written poetry has appeared in several publications, including Askew Poetry Journal, Solo Poetry Journal, Miramar, and Lummox Press. He has performed his spoken word internationally. This year, he has been nominated for the City of Ventura’s Mayor’s Arts Award and California Poet Laureate.