Of the Palm by Toti O’Brien

I admire the naivety
How she stands among fellow trees
sporting nothing
but a scanty cluster of leaves
in guise of a canopy
as if going to a Victorian ball
in flapper attire
also wearing of course
a feathered hat
Of the palm
I admire the frail nakedness
delicately osé
like a dancer’s shaved leg
sheathed by nylon hoses
If she dares
intruding the arboreal crowd
without blinking
while so shamefully alien
uncaring of uniforms
she reveals
among sister specimens
exceptional
skills of discipline
How they march in orderly rows
tracing parallels
with their trunks
fastening earth and sky
with thin stitches
How concertedly
at the first puff of wind
they tickle the horizon
as if playing a keyboard
with soft, even touch
whole steps half steps
hand in hand
up and down the scale
facilement

 

Toti O’Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. She was born in Rome then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician and professional dancer. Her work has most recently appeared in Gyroscope, Pebble Poetry, Independent Noise, and Lotus-eaters.

 

Neighborhoods I’ve Yearned For by Michelle Grue

Prince Albert town homes
Trees so beautiful I can live with their
pollen that makes me sneeze
Museums of purloined art and the
heights (and depths) of science
Posh crêperie on the street corner

Creaking porch swings
Acres of grass perfect for the active
imaginings of my little black kids
Creek down the way filled with
pollywogs and crawfish
Trees with moss hanging down
obscuring the strange fruit they once hung

Tip-top walking score
Mom and pop flower shop
Ethnic food not yet gentrified,
A brewery that is
Black that don’t crack still
sitting on the stoop and
spilling tea like they been
doing since their double-dutch days
Miss Mary Mack still dressed in black

Michelle Grue is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She studies higher education pedagogy and writing studies through the lenses of intersectionality and critical digital literacies. She has previously published in the fantasy journal Astral Waters Review, The Expressionists Magazine of the Arts, and DASH Literary Journal. Feeding her creative energies and making space during motherhood and graduate school life has been a challenging pleasure.

 

“Elegy with Ice Cream” by Kathy Nelson

            ―Travis Leon Hawk

A man fits a contraption
onto a wooden pail, fills it with ice.
The child turns the handle as easily

as her Jack-in-the-box but soon
grows bored and runs to play
in the dappled shade of July.

This the man who, as a boy, teased
white fluff from the knife-edges
of cotton bolls under summer sun

till his fingers bled. Once, he spied
a rattler coiled between his feet.
He wants her to understand how

hardship built this good life, how
readily dust could blow again, how
quickly flak jackets could come back.

He calls her to him, teaches―add salt
to the ice, keep the drain clear, turn
the crank without haste, without desire.

Her small shoulder stiffens. He grips,
labors with his own broad forearm,
churns the peach-strewn cream.

Kathy Nelson (Fairview, North Carolina) is the author of two chapbooks―Cattails (Main Street Rag, 2013) and Whose Names Have Slipped Away (Finishing Line Press, 2016). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Asheville Poetry Review, The Cortland Review, Tar River Poetry, Broad River Review, and Southern Poetry Review.

Homage to the Horny Toad by Chuck Taylor

Friend Montrose says Why don’t you play the lead
in my next horror film? I’m filming in
Junction where the motel rents are low. The
Monster’s going to be the horny toad.

I’ll film him close and blow the image up
So on screen the horny toad looks large and
Scary what with all that horny skin.

That ought to work I say. We had them in
The backyard down in Deadwood. They can squish
Down flat or blow up big to scare away
The wolves, the foxes, and the coyotes.

You think you know these toads? Why they can squirt
Bright red blood out of their eyes. That’s why I
Am shooting the film in Technicolor.

They’re tiny guys, but not scared of people.
They’ll sit quiet on the palm of your hand.

Carolyn’s said she’ll play the heroine. She’ll
Be chased by what seems to be a giant
Evil monster. Its sticky tongue will flick
Out as if it’s going to swallow her
Whole. A developer’s out to buy her
Land and has trained the beast to chase her.
Good thing you’re using the horn toad. No one

Will recognize little guy made big on
The screen. When I was a kid growing up
I’d see them everywhere, but haven’t seen
The horny toad in more than twenty years.

Chuck Taylor’s first book of poems was published by Daisy Aldan’s Folder Press in 1975. He worked as a poet-in-the-schools and as Ceta Poet in Residence for Salt Lake City.

Michelle Renee Hoppe Launches “Capable,” Seeks Submissions

I first met Michelle Renee Hoppe in 2009 when we were both teaching for the same company in South Korea.  Though our contact with one another has been casual since then, we have managed to keep tabs on each other through various social media. I was excited when she reached out to ask me to help get the word out about her new literary magazine, Capable, and am very happy to share the following interview wherein we learn what Michelle has been up to these last 10 years.

Wow. It’s been a while since we last saw one another in person. Tell me what you have been up to since 2010.

Almost a decade! I have been teaching special education in NYC public schools, earning an MSED in special education, and, as of three days ago, really started to develop Capable. I’ve been to Hong Kong, fallen in love, almost gotten married, not gotten married, and even had my first online publication about it all. I’m now dating a wonderful Mexican engineer who supports my writing like no one else I know.

Tell me more about your current project, “Capable,” including the significance of the title. Do you have a mission statement? 

Right now our mission is to raise awareness of the community of disabled and ill among universities and clinics so doctors, medical advocates, and professionals. We aim to help universities teach disability and illness through an arts lens. There is a substantial amount of research that supports that having empathy helps physicians practice better medicine, and that narrative medicine, including reading literature and viewing art, goes a long way in developing such empathy.

Years ago, I brainstormed Capable with some friends from undergrad and they thought it was the best way to describe a zine that was dedicated to stories of disability and illness.

We seek exceptional work, because people with disabilities make exceptional work. I don’t pull any punches about that.

What kind of work are you seeking and where can people send their submissions? How many pieces can a writer submit? How many pages or poems? Are there any submission fees?

I would say this is the best example I can muster about what we are looking for in nonfiction: https://magazine.nd.edu/stories/his-last-game/

No submission fees for now, though fter we launch, we’ll charge $3 to $5 per submission to cover the costs for Submittable. Until then, snyone can send me as much work as they like at michellehiphopp@gmail.com, but I cannot promise I’ll get through all of it in a month. I recommend sending two poems and up to 3,000 words of prose. I love long pieces of prose, but I do want to keep things tight for the launch. I have a soft spot for humor pieces. I think a lot of us use humor to cope and it’s its own art.

What are some of your favorite literary journals?

I’ve found a reading home at Catapult. I absolutely adore them. They have such a sense of community there, and it’s remarkable to be able to offer classes in addition to a publication. I’ve taken two amazing classes and I really recommend Allie Rowbottom as a teacher. I also read Luna Luna Magazine, as they have a section dedicated to stories of chronic illness, and their founder Lisa Marie really showed me by doing that a publication is possible. She’s a bright light, despite the fact that I think there is not any such thing as magic. She’s also built such as sense of community through her work. I really admire that.

And, of course, Zingara Poetry Review. I love that you are able to teach. I still remember you were so kind in Korea. You and Gary were so welcoming, and you really spoke to the emerging author in me. Your warmth meant a lot.

Are you the sole editor for this project or are you working with a team?

I am not the sole editor, but I am kind of a one-woman show at the moment, as my editorial team is just getting together. I’m so impressed with them. I have to remind myself that I’m the manager of the talent and not the talent to keep going. I receive a resumes that are so impressive that I don’t know what to say to that person except, “Congratulations, I probably cannot afford you right now. I’m sorry.” I’m going to have to put together a team of all stars for the VC funding pitch, because these investors want a team they can believe in, and I am fully confident we have that through the #Binders group and others.

There are also the wonderful emails from reeeeally established authors. They are like, “Call me when you can afford me. I’m in.”

Honestly, I appreciate all the emails right now. This has been my baby for about three years now, ever since I recovered from my own illness and learned to cope with my own disabilities.

What inspired you to start such a literary journal? Will this be solely online or do you plan to send out print copies as well?

I have been “sick” my whole life. I’ve been misdiagnosed with leukemia and thyroid disorders, and I have celiac disease. It’s frustrating to be told again and again that I am making these things up when they are very real.  I also work with students with disabilities every day, and the disabled are the largest minority and the most underrepresented in the entertainment industry. I learned that from a friend of my cousin’s,  Maysoon Zayid. Everyone should see her TED talk.

I would love for it to be a print publication, but that’s not something I can afford right now. We are just getting funding off the ground. Right now, I want to get everyone on my team and my authors paid as much as possible. They deserve it.

What other projects are you working on?

I’m working on Teach North Korean Refugees. TNKR is a nonprofit that doesn’t get enough attention in South Korea. They help rehabilitate North Korean refugees and teach them English. They also help them author their own lives for the first time, and it’s really inspiring work. Honestly, they’ve done more for my career than any other position I’ve taken. They’re that into advocacy that they even advocate for their team, and I’d like to be like that as a Founder. The founders are geniuses of the nonprofit world, and so kind.

I’m writing a collection of essays about growing up in an espionage family. I probably never told you about that, but, yeah, both my parents were raised with spies. It’s tentatively titled We Don’t Talk About the Family. It includes many scenes with pinatas. My mother insisted on pinatas at every birthday. Gotta love being (kind of) Puerto Rican and raised in Japan. My work–I Can Make You Immortal, My Rapist Told Me–was recently endorsed by Donna Kaz and earlier Brian Doyle told me one of my essays was, “Damn fine, searing and layered work.” His words are something I turn to when I feel less alone, and the world really misses him. Like you guys, he was so kind to everyone.

 

“In the Era of Collective Thought” by Gary Fincke

From a hospital in Texas,
one hundred brains have vanished
and, as always, there are flurries
of posts suggesting suspects
from genius to sociopath.
Still unaccounted for, the brains
of the frequently concussed, those
in early dementia, those
whose last demand was suicide.
Tonight, after we lock our doors,
we speculate the thief lives
surrounded by so many brains
he cannot admit a guest.
That he must master home repair
or live among leaks and drafts
and dangerous wiring. All day,
we have seen nobody outside.
As if our isolation has been
perfected by the relentless work
of the brain-eating zombies
we are fond of discussing.
Cerebrum, cerebellum–
we recite our parts like beginners
in anatomy, counting down to
the constancy of medulla
while the underworld’s weather
loots the grid we rely upon.
Drought has master-minded
the overthrow of farming.
Rain is a hostage whose ransom
has been raised so high the sky
is unable to pay. Shut-ins,
we carry the memory of comfort
like a congenital hump.
Decisions made elsewhere are
hurtling toward us in rented trucks,
all of them explaining themselves
in a gibberish of slogans.

Gary Fincke’s latest collection, The Infinity Room, won the Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Established Poets (Michigan State, 2019). A collection of essays, The Darkness Call, won the Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose and was published by Pleiades Press in 2018.

 

The Impact of Unattractiveness: An Interview with Poet Camille-Yvette Welsch, Author of “The Four Ugliest Children in Chrstendom”

I am very pleased to introduce poet Camille-Yvette Welsch to ZPR readers. I met Camille at this year’s AWP conference in Portland, OR and had the great pleasure of reading with her at the off-site reading for The Word Works. I was immensely engaged with her collection of poems and think you will be too.  To illustrate what I mean, here is a sample poem from her book, followed by our interview together.

 

The Ugliest Girl in Christendom Goes to the Gynecologist

When she asks the doctor what it looks like,
the doctor hands the girl a small mirror.  The girl curls
her knobby shoulders forward,  places
the glass between her legs and gasps in fury.
Here, at last, all the missing pigment, all
the rich color, the plump curvature she longs for.

Outside, her body glows white, Siberian hair,
pale eyes, skin white as pneumatic froth.  And thin,
so very thin.  When she swims in front
of the pool light, her siblings see
her every attenuated bone, the long fingers
of ribs closing over her heart.  But here,
between her legs, smiling lipstick.

The doctor raises a questioning brow;
the girl scowls more deeply, shimmies
forward on the table and swings her legs down,
the knock of her knees a dull sound.
The doctor leaves, and the girl pulls
on her bra and shirt, contemplates ways
to wear very short skirts, to bend until people see
her burst, the real rage of her body, this small strip.
She pulls her bikinis up slowly, fuming.
What good is a secret that can’t be told?

Tell us about your book and the process of writing it. Where can readers find out more about your book and purchase it?

The book follows the lives of four children who have been adopted by two anthropologists, bent on doing a longitudinal study on ugliness. They handpicked these four children and keep subject reports on each child, monitoring their mental, physical, and emotional lives, and the impact physical unattractiveness has on those lives. In addition to the subject reports, we hear from the children themselves, get a sense of their voices and what it means to live inside these strictures.

The book got its start in some ways when my mother dragged my brothers and me to church as kids. I grew up Catholic and my mother loved the choir at one church in particular. One of the families at the church was led by a very angry woman who could not believe that she had not been invited to be a part of that choir. To make up for it, she screeched through all of the hymns as loudly as possible. When she and her children made their way up the aisle to accept the Eucharist, the kids looked dumpy and ashamed. I was talking to my parents about that as an adult, dubbing them the four ugliest children in Christendom. Immediately my mother said I should write a poem about that. When next faced with a blank page, I did exactly that.

Still, in the course of writing, and even in that initial moment, I had sympathy for those kids. They were in a tough situation with their mother demanding a kind of negative attention. Loudly and in a church. When I started writing the book, all of the poems were in third person. The narrator was a sort of anthropological voice over, in the early 20th century tradition of staring and studying anyone who was not white, cis-normative heterosexual and Eurocentric. My husband has a doctorate in Anthropology and an extensive collection of anthropology books and the early ones are insanely racist and paternalistic. I found myself wondering if we had gotten away from that or if we were simply more subtly immersed.

I submitted some of the poems to a workshop with Marilyn Nelson and she suggested writing from the children’s point of view. I really liked that idea a great deal, to give these charaters a voice would bring us a step closer to empathy rather than the more distant sympathy. Once I started writing in their voices, I felt I understood them much better and I started to see how the poems could become a novel in verse. Even then, I was in for more awakenings. My former student, Kayleb Rae Candrilli read a draft and told me that I had no climax, and they were right. Back to the drawing board again. I found joy in writing it as a novel in verse because there were lots of narrative, structural problems to solve, but because it was poetry, I didn’t have to do a huge amount of transition between time and place.

The other thing that worked out beautifully for me was sending my manuscript to The Word Works. Should you get a finalist or semi-finalist position, they offer feedback. That feedback was key. I revised again, submitted again, and got the acceptance I wanted.

For those interested in reading more, you can find the book at Small Press Distribution

How did you come up with your book’s title?

The titles all use some version of The Four Ugliest Children in Christendom do X. Because they are so visually marked, I wanted each poem, and the title, to also feel visually marked. The titles also gave me an entry point for each poem. I set up the plot and setting generally in the title, as in ‘The Ugliest Girl in Christendom Goes to the Gynecologist’ or ‘The Ugliest Boy in Christendom Attends the Star Wars Conference.’

Who are you reading right now?

I am all over the place, in part because I review books. I just read In My Own Moccasins, Helen Knott’s devastating memoir about violence against indigenous women, both by rapists and by the Canadian government. I was thrilled by Sarah Blake’s novel, Naamah that tells the story of Noah’s wife. She did all of the packing, the planning, the coordinating, the dealing with the in-laws—all of the mental load that plagues women today. It was a revelation. I am also diving into Lynda Barry to see if I can change up some of the ways that I write and teach.

For poetry, I just re-read Denise Duhamel’s book about Barbie, Kinky. Her book is fearless and funny. She pivots in so many directions with Barbie always at the center. My favorite poem is actually the title poem, where Ken and Barbie switch heads. My students are so alarmed by that poem, but it does everything I want poetry to do—it is startling, inventive, funny, and powerful.

What other creative activities do you take part in? What do you do to take a break from teaching, grading, writing, revising, etc?

A break, you say? I am not sure that I take breaks exactly. I do a LOT of reviewing, but I am also learning how to teach children how to write poems. In two classes I am offering this summer, we are creating our own Rorschach blots and writing about them based on an essay by Scott Beal called “Brain Spelunking.” And, I am writing poems with senior citizens about their lives as a part of the Poems from Life project sponsored by the PA Center for the Book.

I am also raising two children, so I find my creativity lit in that context—I designed an escape room style treasure hunt for my son’s birthday, and a series of ridiculous games for my daughter’s. We paint together and build things and make much of clouds and their shapes. Being with my kids helps me to pay more attention to little things as a caterpillar will stop them in their tracks, thus I am halted and returned to the world, breathless and awake.

What projects are you working on now?

Right now, I am working on poems about the body. Years ago, I wrote a poem entitled, “Ode to the Fat Woman at the Mutter Museum who, When Buried, Turned to Soap.” The alkaline in the soil reacted to the fat as it would to lanolin, thus turning it into soap. Crazy fascinating. The body has so much potential and is so very strange. We haul these bodies around but they are like a totally different galaxy inside with civilizations and outposts that we know nothing about. I find that compelling, and when these miraculous bodies don’t respond as we expected, we are at such a loss. Atul Gawande talks about bodies, or at least doctors’ perception of them, as being somewhere between the uniform melt of an ice cube, and the wildly divergent behavior of hurricanes. As a woman who experienced pregnancy, I know just how bizarre the body can be, the unexpected language attached to it, the ways in which it can suddenly and drastically change a life. The poems range from commentary on the Playboy Playmate who mocked a naked woman in a locker room to poems about being sliced open to reveal a face in your womb. I am both in awe and occasionally skeeved by the body and its manufacturings. I think that is a good place to be in a poem.

Camille-Yvette Welsch is the author of The Four Ugliest Children in Christendom and FULL. She works at The Pennsylvania State University where she is a teaching professor of English and director of the High School Writing Day. For more information, go to www.camilleyvettewelsch.com.