Category Archives: National Poetry Month

Finally Going to Tell You about the Staircase Ghost by Luanne Castle

When my baby said peaches, peaches,
I put the can into the opener.
Its lid rose on the machine’s arm.
The peaches smelled peachy-spice
and curled into little moons.
My son gummed his peaches, sloshing
juice from his mouth’s ends.
I washed out the can and then saw
what I had missed in my loving him
like water into wine. The cool blond
of pear slices on the Del Monte label.
The membrane between here
and there can separate as an unexpected
wind swishes silk draperies apart.

Here’s another one.
You might not have noticed.
You could have been standing
at the base of the stairs,
seen a woman in a long shift hesitate.
What was happening was this.
My foot reached for the next step,
and in that instant a ghost
passed through my chest
on its way downstairs.  It didn’t
move out of the way for me,
didn’t care that I knew it existed.
We both went our separate ways,
my path leading me to this moment
where I tell my tiny limitless tales.

Luanne Castle’s Kin Types (Finishing Line), a chapbook of poetry and flash nonfiction, was a finalist for the 2018 Eric Hoffer Award.  Her first poetry collection, Doll God (Aldrich), was winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, she studied at University of California, Riverside (PhD); Western Michigan University (MFA); and Stanford University.  Her writing has appeared in Copper Nickel, TAB, Glass, Verse Daily, and other journals.

Balm by Anne Whitehouse

A parade of goats clambered down the path,
bells clanging. Between two cliffs
jutting out to sea was a green valley
with a gray road like a fallen ribbon
surrounded by palm groves
and little houses like white sugar cubes
sprinkled down the slope.

The ocean crashed against the cliffs,
frothing white on dark blue, and puffy
white clouds massed on the horizon
beyond the shadowy shapes of distant islands.
The air smelled of sweet juniper, as I bit
into the soft flesh of a ripe fig
and basked in the warm sun.

Anne Whitehouse is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Meteor Shower (Dos Madres Press, 2016). She has also written a novel, Fall Love, which is now available in Spanish translation as Amigos y amantes by Compton Press. Recent honors include 2017 Adelaide Literary Award in Fiction, 2016 Songs of Eretz Poetry Prize, 2016 Common Good Books’ Poems of Gratitude Contest, 2016 RhymeOn! Poetry Prize, 2016 F. . She lives in New York City.

Other poems on ZPR by this poet: A Dog’s Life, Dance in a Drugstore, Shadows


Blackbird by Yvette R. Murray

(on Nina Simone’s “Blackbird”)

A dot sprouted in the universe
She wanted, she wanted, wanted flight
Doubt filled her hollow bones with sand
and night kept her black wings from rising.

How could there ever be enough tears
for an orphaned bird still at the nest?
How could fear ever make her sun rise
or drip moonlight rest into her soul?

No place wanted a black bird like this.
Nowhere a hometown she can call near.
A little sorrow can hold a soul back
and force the brightest of lights to roam.

Nina Simone: February 21, 1933 to April 21, 2003

Yvette R. Murray received her B.A. in English from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  She has been published in Fall Lines, The Petigru Review, Catfish Stew, Genesis Science Fiction magazines and online.  Presently, she is working on her first collection of poetry and a children’s book series.

Landing in Snow-Covered Landscape by Anneliese Schneider

I take the comfort from
the seasons’ soft edges

That this is not time.

The ice that holds your
footprint slides upwards
into my bones

We must step—
Carefully. Slower, now.

I have been thinking
that all snow is
       some form
            of falling

Soon it will be time
to forget the old fear,

slipping off
the wrong side
of that darkened line.

Anneliese Schneider is currently an undergraduate student, living in Virginia and pursuing a personal interest in poetry and literature.

Sound the Trumpet by Edith Friedman

All hail the trash-talking bball players, high-voiced sixth graders,
out on the courts this early summer evening
I curve my bike through San Pablo Park.
The city took the big oaks last year, but the fields are lush and broad
and the sunset sky is full of treasure.
Here at the border of have and have not
there’s a shooting about three times a year.

Four months since the last one took a grandfather to the ICU.
We’re nervous, but we can’t live inside.
At noon today the park was full for Eid al Fitr, prayers in the open
a woman in a burqa walked down my block with her package of food
then a family on bikes, dad and two little girls
long handlebar streamers and flowered helmets.
Flowing garments, people laughing,
full plates on laps, smell of grilled meats.

Tonight softball players race across the June grass.
The scofflaw dog owners, out in force
cluster deep in right field
as the bright lights come on.
Back home, praise the boy who unloaded the dishwasher unbidden
now he’s lacing up basketball shoes
bigger than dinner plates.

The gleaming crescent moon clutches her drab mother
but you always go back to the park.
I say, don’t come home too late.

Edith Friedman is sheltering in California with her partner and two stunned and bored sons. Her work has appeared in Sisyphus Literary Magazine. She studies Writing at California College of the Arts.


Maybe It was Spring by Luanne Castle

or winter
and there were nine girls or seven.
Certainly it was overnight church camp
when we formed a second
skin around Lacy
with our fingertips.
What happened wasn’t a dream unless
a mass dream dreamed en masse.
We were one organism,
the skin we made stretched
tautly like a drumhead, lifting
up the girl Lacy, a musical offering.
Our song flowed in and from us,
all seven or nine, with Lacy the melody.
But one of us must have felt an itch
and discovered she was separate
and, doing so, withdrew her touch.
An epidemic followed
from this undoing until Lacy’s body
shared many points
of contact with the floor.
I remember looking under her
just before and noting
her two inches above it all
though of course that is ridiculous
because it wasn’t a dream.

Luanne Castle’s Kin Types (Finishing Line), a chapbook of poetry and flash nonfiction, was a finalist for the 2018 Eric Hoffer Award.  Her first poetry collection, Doll God (Aldrich), was winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, she studied at University of California, Riverside (PhD); Western Michigan University (MFA); and Stanford University.  Her writing has appeared in Copper Nickel, TAB, Glass, Verse Daily, and other journals.

Hurt Friends by Max Reese

this body of mine used to be
all papercuts and scraped knees,
beestung summers clinging to our heels and sunburn blushing
across our cheeks;
you showed up to the picnic with bruises and I thought nothing
of it – clumsy boys will fall
as they please.
I never knew a home could be a gravesite until
you moved away and the grass overgrew
the porch steps.
I wish I could have saved you,
back then,
but we were both so far away and so hurt
we could never go back to our new skin,
to the blackberry stained mornings
when there were no broken bones,
or hearts —
only fireflies and cherry coke.

Max Reese is from Reno, Nevada, and currently attends the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as a sophomore. Max is long-time, self-taught poet whose mother instilled a love of poetry in him from a young age.

Listening To Poetry That I Don’t Understandby John F. McMullen

I sit in the audience
and listen attentively
trying to make sense
of what the poet
is reading.

I wonder whether there is anyone
who doesn’t understand what I write
I think not because I write very
clearly (or so I think).

Others may write about important
issues but in such unclear poetry that
I am not able to grasp their meaning.
Why is that, do you think?

Is my lack of comprehension
the fault of the writer or of me?
I clap anyhow.

After all
they clap for me.

John F. McMullen is a writer, poet, college professor and radio host. Links to other writings, Podcasts, & Radio Broadcasts at his web home,, his books are available on Amazon (, he may be found on Facebook, LinkedIn & Skype as johnmac13 and he blogs at Medium — He is also a member of ACM, American Academy of Poets, and Freelancers Union

Today the dog is tired of me by DS Maolalai

Today the dog is tired of me

and all my writing
poems. she comes
and sits in the kitchen,
with her tail banging
and a growling cough. she doesn’t like it; my writing
these poems in the kitchen – she likes walking
and going to the garden sometimes. she’d be ok, I think,
if for just once
I’d write on the sofa. she could sit up
next to me, curl her head
in. I get my hands under
and place her on the table,
hoping for some inspiration,
and go back. she grumbles to get down again
and goes to bed grumbling.
I look at her;
look at the poems
I’ve wrote, look out the window.
we are both

DS Maolalai has been nominated for Best of the Web and twice for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden” (Encircle Press, 2016) and “Sad Havoc Among the Birds” (Turas Press, 2019)

Above Asphalt by Carol Hamilton

Filigrees of rosy purple reach out
on slender arms of redbud
below the lettuce-and-grass-green heads
of newly-leafed trees.
Now my drive on pocked pavement,
huddled in with too many cars
and too much exhaust, is graced
with a quickly-passing revelation
of startling new life.
I never quite remember
to look and look, take heart
and watch the fleet hours
of jonquils, violets, lilies,
purple iris and daffodil.
It is the only time we can
breathe swift spring.

Carol Hamilton has published 17 books: children’s novels, legends and poetry, most recently, SUCH DEATHS from Virtual Arts Cooperative Press Purple Flag Series. She is a former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma and has been nominated seven times for a Pushcart Prize.

Chaninah by Steve Pollack

On feather filled pillows
he reclines easy as evening
crowned by a Cantor’s tower
castle shadows on sable hair,
white robe billowing
as if a cumulus cloud.

In sundown sky he presides
over minyan of five sons and wives
who sip sweet wine four times
with stained glass blessings,
children on shins a threshold
away, ask why in four questions.

Each year on the same full moon
he appears with Elijah, cloaked
in melodies at mystery’s doorway,
a virtual choir of crystal vibration
stirring psalms and folksongs,
midnight verses accelerando.

Like ten plagues passing over
a violent sea split in two, forty years
wandering to a land promised,
this family around that table
on a night different from all others
nothing less, a quiet miracle.

Steve Pollack hit half-balls with broomsticks and rode the Frankford El to Drexel University. He advised governments, directed a community housing corporation, built hospitals and public schools.

Poetry found him later. He serves on the advisory board of the Montgomery County Poet Laureate program and sings bass with Nashirah.

Safe Way to Go? by Gerard Sarnat

i. Sally Swinggood’s

With 1335 stores in the US alone,
the grocery chain appears to have set an upward looking
policy of equality in gender-hiring
which maybe is reflected in my statistically insignificant
sample size of a passel of 5 tall
clerks seeming to identify as She who are able to reach
the previously unreachable top
shelf to grab me a handful of packets of transfat popcorn.

ii. TransIt 





iii. High School 

She tries to boysex
gay away — but it don’t work
— so then avoids them.

iv. Not a Mr., Mrs., Miss or Ms.?

Then Mx.-match fluid
trans, a or non-conforming
gender honorifics.

Gerard Sarnat is a physician who’s built and staffed homeless and prison clinics as well as a Stanford professor and healthcare CEO. He won the Poetry in the Arts First Place Award plus the Dorfman Prize, and has been nominated for Pushcarts plus Best of the Net Awards. Gerry is published in numerous academic-related journals.

Embracing Earthen Roots, Book Review by Emily Wilson

Requiem for an Orchard by Olvier de La Paz

Manila-born and Oregon-raised poet Oliver de la Paz’s third collection of poetry, Requiem for the Orchard, reveals both his scientific understanding and literary interpretation of the world. Paz walks with the reader past sturdy apple trees of life’s orchard, literally and experientially. We are invited to stretch among the spring blossoms, to fall with the leaves as the seasons change – to remember that life, growth, death, and decay all give way to crisp apples weighing down branches for the harvest. We are asked to build an image of natural identity through a weaving requiem, studies of eschatology, and self-portraits of seemingly non-human circumstances (burning plains, taxidermy, what remains). Just shy of a decade old, this collection remains not only relevant but necessary; we share over half of our genetic makeup with our leaved brethren, and that matters.

In the opening poem, “In Defense of Small Towns,” the speaker describes the sleepy reality of growing up in a rural farm town: “When I look at it, it’s simple really. I hated life there” (1). The reverence for the speaker’s experiences and the slow and quiet beauty of a natural landscape will never leave him,

I shook loose, but that isn’t the whole story. The fact is
I’m still in love. And when I wake up, I watch my son yawn,
and my mind turns his upswept hair into cornstalks (26-8).

Hindsight is not pure, but laced with sugarcane and steeped in nostalgia. Paz prepares the reader to enter this quieter world, for a moment, to work in the orchard for pocket change, to cause a ruckus and grow with him through the darkness.  The first words of the collection’s namesake poem instantly conjure a memory,

The hours there, the spindled limbs and husks
of dead insects. The powders and the unguent
smells. What’s left now, of the orchards? (1-3)

Instantly we are transported between the rows of trees. Once congruent, this poem is broken up and spread out amongst the entire collection. Here, it is important to acknowledge and understand the complicated nature of plant growth; most notably in the resilience of spreading roots. This is to liken the “Requiem” poem, weaving within and among the surrounding pieces, to the stretching and fluid movement of a tree’s underground network. The growth of the speaker is palpable through small memories recalled in the pastime between work – shooting pellet guns becomes stolen tobacco becomes stolen flasks and skin magazines. The innocent work of boys becomes how to cheat the boss, how to do the least, how to become men – “It was stupid and we knew it” (68). The work on the orchard was not glamorous, and reverence for nature was not evident in boyhood. However, as Paz reflects, his respect and connection to these slow, hot days is evident.

Paz utilizes several eschatology poems to highlight the parallels between death and the human soul to nature and the cycle of growth. “Colony Collapse Disorder in Honey Bees as Eschatology” stands out in its spoken and unspoken iterations. The idea that honeybees are necessary in the aid of pollination, or growth, in the orchard is clear. Where the more interesting, and powerful message lies, is in the idea of the dispersal of the hive and the subsequent need for the apple trees to self-pollinate. Paz is able to strike the intricate balance of environmental and personal growth through this one eschatological discussion of the bees. Not to mention, the thought into where our human souls might disperse should we lose our personal ruler, “spreading over the landscape like oil” (31). Self-actualization and identity development are as much dependent on environmental circumstances as personal contribution.

It is in his reflection, through self-portrait poetry, that we are able to deepen our understanding of the experience and identity of the speaker. Paz bridges connections between human and experience by relating himself to inanimate specifics within a memory. In “Self-Portrait as a Series of Non-Sequential Lessons” the speaker seems to take one heaving breath and sigh out this entire realization. He speaks of scattered moments of growth, knowledge and failure, unrequited love, wives’ tales that “don’t do a damn thing except make a lot of goddamn noise,” (30) and eventually lands on the thought: “how little I know, how much I have to fear” (40). Lessons, of course, form identity. Paz acknowledges that the more one experiences the more they have to fear. Stepping outside the safe boundaries and confines of a small-town can rock the innocent or invincible instilled sensibilities while simultaneously opening a world of possibilities.

The collection ends with the “Self-Portrait with What Remains,” which opens with another recollection of the orchard. However, as the speaker continues, we are aware that this time, the remembering is weighted with a darker experience. This moment is tinted with the colorless and pungent memory of a hard time – an injured animal – and Paz uses the moment to call himself and the reader out, “the yellow birds stitched on his plush toy block / are not ghosts and that not everything is a metaphor” (29-30). There is something natural in the poet’s ability to call himself out without pulling himself out of the message. Of course everything is metaphor, this is a collection of poetry. Of course it is significant that he remembers this bird as he sees his son, as he recognizes the connection to earth in everything, as he realizes that “what remains are my son’s outstretched arms / wanting nothing more than to be held aloft” (41-2). This is the cycle alluded to throughout the collection, through death and experience is new life whether in physical blossoms or internal human growth.

We grow increasingly more distant from our natural roots with each passing year. We no longer set our roots physically but in the virtual realm of our manufactured, technological realities. With reflection on his own childhood, Paz allows us to sink our toes into tilled soil, to feel our own roots stretch out and search for life, real life. We weave around the rocks, we grow amongst the weeds, there is life in death and there is beauty in understanding and accepting that which makes us suffer. Paz invites the reader to swim in nostalgia for a town they have never known, to love a time to which they cannot return. Most importantly, Paz asks us to remember that we were born from the earth, and we will live and die amongst the trees.

Emily Wilson studied English at the College of Charleston. She now lives and writes in Jacksonville, driven by her passion for poetry and literary review.


Intravenous Nutrition by Elise Barker

A tube runs through his nose, down his throat, and into his stomach,
Pulling out anything he puts in.
He’s hungry but he can’t eat.
He dreams of blueberries and cherries.

I see blueberries at the hospital cafeteria. I leave them there.

I go home, to Dad’s house.
Laundry. Life goes on. Dishes. Life goes on. Feed the cat. Life goes on.
He has blueberries in the refrigerator.
Should I smuggle them into the hospital?
I leave them there.

In Dad’s dream of cherries,
He takes down a colander, sets it in the sink, and pours them in.
They thud and bounce into an uneven pile.

He turns on the faucet. The cool water rushes over their shiny, red skin.
The morning sunlight streams through the kitchen window,
Gleaming on their purple veins.

He picks up one of the cherries that had fallen into the sink,
A straggler. He dangles it by the stem.
It’s softer and darker than the others, almost black.
“This one’ll go soon. Better eat it now,” he thinks, greedily.

He drops the cherry in the hollow under his tongue then
Pops off the stem with his front teeth.
He holds the cool fruit in his mouth,
Feeling the taut, cool skin on his warm tongue.
Finally he bites through the casing,
Landing his incisors solidly on the pit.
His teeth scrape the stone, separating the sweet, fibrous flesh from the bony pit.
He spits the pit into a bowl, splattering purple blood on the counter.
Flecks of meat hang from its bones.
His mouth waters as he grinds the flesh to a juicy pulp.
He swallows, and the fruit slides down his throat, solidly.
Such satisfaction, to swallow food. Such joy. Such ecstasy.

He wakes to the beeping of his IV machine.
His intravenous nutrition bag is empty again.

Elise Barker is an adjunct instructor of English at Idaho State University, where she earned her Ph.D. in English and the Teaching of English in 2014. Her academic work has been published in Critical Insights on Little Women and Global Jane Austen. She also has published narrative non-fiction in IDAHO Magazine.

“Post-” by Joshua Allen

Swamp grass and muck rot
shelter a vibrant community.

Brown-speckled wren eggs crack
in six-pack nests beneath

black bag tarpaulins.
Aluminum can abodes dwell

 on shaded confetti lawns.
Insects scurry on tire tread highways;

 reptiles retire to Coke bottle brothels.
Father says, the lost architecture is the most tragic part.

Glossy magazines woven into webs
bridge trees as a canopy

of dates and events. The focused sun
illuminates the particular histories

we have tried to leave behind
during our marsh walk.

Instead, we think of the cooking fire,
the roasting meat, the hum of voices,

 which quiet as we approach, guns drawn.

Joshua Allen is a somewhat wayward soul who is soon to be mercilessly ejected from Indiana University Bloomington into the larger world. He has been published in Gravel, Origami Journal, Lime Hawk, Tributaries (forthcoming), and The Long Island Literary Journal (forthcoming).