SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: KELLY CRESSIO-MOELLER

Photo on 2014-12-29 at 18.20_2_2


By Kelly Cressio-Moeller:


ITHAKA

Dear Penelope, do you now sleep among the catacombs?

Scarves of white drift over the Aegean – an altar of bottomless blue.

I have gone to the edge of the world and still cannot find you.

Even the olive trees raise their spangled limbs skyward in longing.

Mother Earth slides her abacus beads, conjures storms quick as curses.

When lightning struck, did the boat protect or beckon the bolt?

Island flowers shut their eyes only when the stars disrobe – hope and sorrow held
within the same root.

She imagines him bright-toothed & swarthy, but her husband is just sunburned & homesick.

So many suitors holding her skeins – she’s woven a trail for her waylaid mariner, long
as his beard and her undoing.

In twenty years she has never asked, What shall I wish for myself?

Odysseus wonders, Do I have the right to return?

Maids cast offerings to the sea: red rose petals and grape leaves, love and wine all that remain.


** The line What shall I wish for myself? is a reworking Mary Oliver’s line What shall I wish for, for myself?


Today’s poem was originally published in Thrush Poetry Journal and appears here with permission from the poet.


Kelly Cressio-Moeller’s poetry is forthcoming in burntdistrict and has previously appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Gargoyle, Poet Lore, Rattle, Spillway, ZYZZYVA and elsewhere as well as the anthology First Water: Best of Pirene’s Fountain and Diane Lockward’s book, The Crafty Poet. Three of her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She shares her fully-caffeinated life with her tall husband, two ever-growing sons, and their immortal basset hound in Northern California.

Editor’s Note: “Ithaka” exists in the eye of the storm of the epic. Address and persona are interwoven with the personal, the poet’s experience becoming one with Penelope’s need and Odysseus’ long journey home. Against the backdrop of the familiar, we find ourselves adrift on a sea of the unexpected, where lyricism is heroic and longing is complex. Similes and metaphors are seamlessly stitched into the poem’s fabric: limbs are spangled, clouds are “scarves of white,” the ocean is an altar. When the poet enters, the simple is made profound: “I have gone to the edge of the world and still cannot find you.” When we arrive, the shores are shaped like questions: “Do I have the right to return?” “What shall I wish for myself?

Want more from Kelly Cressio-Moeller?
Boxcar Poetry Review
Cultural Weekly
Escape Into Life
Rattle
Valparaiso Poetry Review

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: STEVE MUESKE

SteveMueske


By Steve Mueske:


TO ALL THE FROGS

who sleep in the mud,
who cling to the trees and sing me
to sleep each night: I confess
a love for your instrument.
Your throats fill like instant bellows
with enough air for those
profundo lows: quick clench
of muscle that needs
the whole body, the Baby,-
I’m-Your-Man muscle, the muscle
that coils all the way down
to your toes. Then gone:
a belching horn blast of a note
that blows across the pond.
I love to listen to your ethereal choir –
your basses and altos, tenors
and sopranos – through my window
after making love, when you sing
of all the world’s loneliness,
and I lie sweaty on the sheets,
nerves jangling like a hotwired Yes.
“I love that sound,” my wife says,
her voice dreamy and slow;
I listen to the flavor of the dark,
its mosses, its mud and still water –
the insects, the leaves breathing –
as my body cools, and I feel
the drowsy tendrils of sleep
bring me down easy, so easy.


“To All the Frogs” was originally published in Thrush Poetry Journal and appears here with permission from the poet.


Steve Mueske is an electronic musician and the author of a chapbook and two full collections of poetry, most recently Slower Than Stars. His poems have been published in The Massachusetts Review, Crazyhorse, Crab Orchard Review, Third Coast, Court Green, Hotel Amerika, CURA, Water-Stone Review, Best New Poets, and elsewhere, with work forthcoming in The Georgetown Review. His music is available on Bandcamp. He can be reached on Facebook or Twitter @SteveMueske.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem pays homage to the wonder of the frog and the glory of its song. The appreciation is inspired: “I confess / a love for your instrument,” while the poem is humid, steamy, evoking earth and water, sweat and music. “I love to listen to your ethereal choir…through my window / after making love… I listen to the flavor of the dark, / its mosses, its mud and still water – / the insects, the leaves breathing.”

Want more from Steve Mueske?
CURA
Linebreak
Buy Slower Than Stars from Ravenna Press
Buy Slower Than Stars from Amazon
Steve Mueske – Bandcamp
Steve Mueske – Soundcloud

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: LI BAI

"Li Bai In Stroll," by Liang K'ai (1140–1210)

“Li Bai In Stroll,” by Liang K’ai (1140–1210)

By Li Bai:


GREEN MOUNTAIN

You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows down stream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.


STAYING THE NIGHT AT A MOUNTAIN TEMPLE

The high tower is a hundred feet tall,
From here one’s hand could pluck the stars.
I do not dare to speak in a loud voice,
I fear to disturb the people in heaven.


IN SPRING

Your grasses up north are as blue as jade,
Our mulberries here curve green-threaded branches;
And at last you think of returning home,
Now when my heart is almost broken….
O breeze of the spring, since I dare not know you,
Why part the silk curtains by my bed?


(Today’s poems are in the public domain, belong to the masses, and appear here today accordingly. The translators of today’s poems are unknown.)


Li Bai (701 –762), also known as Li Po, was a Chinese poet acclaimed from his own day to the present as a genius and romantic figure who took traditional poetic forms to new heights. He is one of the most prominent figures in the Chinese poetry of the mid-Tang Dynasty, often called the “Golden Age of China”. (Annotated biography of Li Bai courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: If you’re a long-time reader of this series, you know that I cherish and revel in the poetry of Li-Young Lee. That incredible lyricist honed his craft as all great writers do, by reading the great writers who came before him. Li Bai is among Li-Young Lee’s greatest influences, and while it is a sincere pity that many of us are unable to read his work in the original Chinese, the poems’ contemplative, meditative nature reaches us across the divide of translation. They speak to the natural world, to the heavens and the earth, and to love and loss, whispering to us like wind rustling through the “grasses up north… as blue as jade.”

Want to read more by and about Li Bai?
The Poetry Foundation
Encyclopædia Britannica
PoetLiBai.org

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: NORMA LILIANA VALDEZ

NLValdez head shot


By Norma Liliana Valdez:


UNACCOMPANIED

Everything is happening now. Everything is present tense. The horses. The running.

The losing. This operation is a well-oiled machine. All is slow motion until dusk. After

dusk come the icy furrows. Overnight temperatures the kind of cold that enters marrow.

There is so much winter in the eyes. From here the only lights: the moon and Chula

Vista. After the ice, the running. Ravine. Huizache. Thorns. The hiding. A Cadillac.

There is a gun in the glove compartment. There are two boys in the trunk. Two other

boys contort their bodies on the back seat floor, legs entwined. Face down. Face down.

He is the one balled on the front passenger floor because he is the smallest. He is bones

and destiny.



HUMMINGBIRD

every breath you exhaled

a blanket of hosannas

each hand like prayer, like

unfettered music

you were night, naked

shoulders in moonlight

I lost my breath

beneath your gravity

your touch slid along the arc

of every whisper

I inhaled greedily

filled every room

filled every empty space

inside of me

you must have known my anthem

when you left

urgent as an animal



“Unaccompanied” was the poetry winner of the 2015 San Miguel Writers’ Conference Writing Contest, and “Hummingbird” is an original feature on the Saturday Poetry Series on As It Ought To Be. Both poems appear here today with permission from the poet.


Norma Liliana Valdez is an alumna of the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop, the Writing Program at UC Berkeley Extension, and a 2014 Hedgebrook writer-in-residence. Her poems have appeared in Calyx Journal, The Acentos Review, As It Ought To Be, La Bloga, and Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop. She is the poetry winner of the 2015 San Miguel Writers’ Conference Writing Contest. Additional work is forthcoming in Poetry of Resistance: A Multicultural Anthology by University of Arizona Press. She lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Editor’s Note: Over the years Norma Liliana Valdez’s writing has grown much in the way bougainvillea grows. Along earth-toned buildings in warm places. A steady, fertile spread erupting in vibrant blossoms. Like the sight of bright and blooming bougainvillea, today’s poems take my breath away.

“Unaccompanied,” winner of the 2015 San Miguel Writers’ Conference Writing Contest in poetry, is a work of art. The title is evocative, deftly making its mark. The narrative envelopes us in a gripping and heart-wrenching tale that speaks as much to the experience of the few as to the dreams and suffering of the masses. This work is vocal, political, and brave. Brimming with stunning lyric, we feel “the kind of cold that enters marrow,” see how “there is so much winter in the eyes,” and are left with what reads like a told fortune: “He is bones / and destiny.”

While “Unaccompanied” is yin-like—covert and treacherous—”Hummingbird” is like the yang—in relief, open, belonging to this world. The energy is sensual and intense, with “each hand like prayer.” And while both poems end spectacularly, “Hummingbird” is volta-like in its finale, confessing that “you must have known my anthem / when you left / urgent as an animal.”

This is the poet’s third Saturday Poetry Series feature. Three is a sacred number. The Holy Trinity. Maiden, Mother, Crone. The Triple Bodhi. The Trimurti. Which is fitting, as the poet divines poems that are alchemical. Spiritual. Faithfully wrought and nearly religious in their lyricism. Evocative of a humanity made palpable through poetry.

Want to read more by Norma Liliana Valdez?
Saturday Poetry Series feature, As It Ought To Be, 2011
Saturday Poetry Series feature, As It Ought To Be, 2010
Winners of the 2015 San Miguel Writers’ Conference Writing Contest
Spiral Orb
The Acentos Review

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: DES LIENS INVISIBLES, TENDUS / TAUT, INVISIBLE THREADS


Liens


From DES LIENS INVISIBLES, TENDUS / TAUT, INVISIBLE THREADS
Poems by Dara Barnat; Translations by Sabine Huynh:


A BRILLIANT FISH

We must choose each other
again and again.

The feeling is a brilliant fish
you catch a thousand times.

We must carry each other
like smooth stones
in the palms of our hands –

a familiar feel,
a roundness.


UN POISSON MOIRÉ

Un poisson moiré
Se choisir l’un l’autre, s’y reprendre
à plusieurs fois.

Cet émoi ressenti face à un poisson moiré
qu’on pourrait attraper des milliers de fois.

Transportons-nous
tels des galets lisses
dans le creux de la paume –

toucher familier,
rondeur.



GROWING VEGETABLES

Her wide hips remind me
that I was born,
because in photos at twenty
they are still narrow
and slim.

Bending over
and planting roses
she gathers immense joy
from the dirty pebbles
and the new petals.

I hold her basket
like a daughter should
and almost pretend
to smile and be grateful
for the fresh, ripened tomatoes.

Is it with age
that happiness can be found
in growing mint
and drinking ice water
that has collected tiny bugs?

My mother shares soap
with a man who is not my father
but a good man,
waiting inside
to make our sauce.

The basket is now full
and since her joy
takes up the whole garden
there is no room
for my joy.

But she says daughter,
you will have your own life,
and your own garden,
just pray for rain,
and grow your vegetables.


CULTIVER SON POTAGER

Ses hanches généreuses
me rappellent ma naissance
– dans des photos d’elle à vingt ans
elles sont encore étroites
elle est encore mince.

Penchée
sur les roses mises en terre
elle recueille une joie immense
des cailloux sales
et des jeunes pétales.

Je lui tiens son panier
telle une fille dévouée
et réussis presque
à sourire de gratitude
pour ces tomates mûres.

Est-ce avec l’âge
que l’on trouve du bonheur
à faire pousser de la menthe
à boire de l’eau glacée
où surnagent des petites bêtes?

Ma mère partage son savon
avec un homme qui n’est pas
mon père, un homme bon,
il attend à l’intérieur
de préparer notre sauce.

Le panier est plein
la joie de ma mère
remplit le jardin
plus de place
pour la mienne.

Alors elle me dit : tu sais ma fille,
tu auras ta propre vie
et ton propre jardin,
prie pour qu’il pleuve
et cultive ton potager.



PRAYER I DO NOT KNOW

No one is here, just me,
alone. I close

my eyes and try
to remember your face,

its light, your
fingers, their light

touch, your laugh,
the lightness. I recite a prayer

that is my own:
May we live

a thousand years together
in another life.


PRIÈRE OBSCURE

Comment prier
pour toi ? Personne

ici, moi
seule. Je ferme

les yeux, tente de voir
ton visage,

sa lumière, tes doigts,
l’affleurement,

ton rire,
la légèreté. Je récite une prière

qui est mienne:
Puissions-nous vivre

mille ans ensemble
dans une autre vie.


Today’s poems are from Des liens invisibles, tendus / Taut, Invisible Threads, published by Recours au poème éditeurs (2014), and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Des liens invisibles, tendus / Taut, Invisible Threads is a bilingual collection of poems by the American poet Dara Barnat, translated to French by Sabine Huynh. Dara Barnat explores migration (between New York, where she was raised, and Tel Aviv, her adopted city), the experience of being an English-language poet in Tel Aviv, intimate familial relationships, her father’s long illness and passing, as well as secrets, history, and memory. Loss is certainly at the core of the poems; although she succeeds in guiding her readers to comfort, even joy, with wisdom she has learned from enduring grief. In the last poem of the book, the speaker addresses her father in the afterlife, and they are both happy to be “alive.” This exhilarating vision demonstrates how Walt Whitman informs the poet’s elegies. She imagines herself walking down the street with Whitman. It is also not surprising to encounter Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost, since the power of Dara Barnat’s poetry resides in its capacity to observe our solitude with grace and honesty.


Dara Barnat was born in 1979. Her poetry appears widely in journals in the United States and Israel. She is the author of the chapbook Headwind Migration (2009), as well as poetry translations and scholarly essays. Dara holds a Ph.D. from the School of Cultural Studies at Tel Aviv University. Her dissertation explored Walt Whitman’s influence on Jewish American poetics. She teaches poetry and creative writing.


Sabine Huynh was born in 1972. She holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), has authored poetry and prose books (novel, short stories, academic book, literary essay, diary), and has edited an anthology of modern French poetry, which were published by Galaade Editions, Voix d’encre, La Porte, éditions publie.net, Recours au poème éditeurs, E-Fractions Editions, among other French publishers. She writes in English and French, translates daily, occasionally teaches creative writing classes, and regularly contributes to the French literary journals Terre à ciel, Terres de femmes, and Recours au poème. Her website: http://www.sabinehuynh.com


Editor’s Note: The opening poem in Dara Barnat’s debut collection begins, “Please know that taut, / invisible threads / tethered us / to those years.” Threads that bind the speaker to mother and home, to father and illness, to time, to what comes into being and what inevitably slips away. And so Des liens invisibles, tendus / Taut, Invisible Threads invites us into a deeply personal yet resonant world of life and death, love and loss, relationship and the human experience.

Nestled within the honest, reflective, beautiful lyric of these poems are the moments poetry was made for: “maybe / we should part now, because oceans / dry up in time, / even the whitest bones / turn to ash.” Equally powerful are so many of the poems’ closing stanzas and end-lines: “daughter, / you will have your own life, / and your own garden, / just pray for rain, and grow your vegetables;” “May we live // a thousand years together / in another life.”

Throughout the book we are welcomed into a private, sacred space. Into kitchens and gardens, hospitals and homelands. We are invited to bake bread and receive intimate moments like sacrament. Crossing the wide span between memory and horizon, Taut, Invisible Threads is like a migrating bird that “fights the seasons, / and lands wherever / there are seeds, / water, and soft earth, // until it arrives.”

I wish that I were well-versed in French and thereby able to comment on the translations by Sabine Huynh housed within this moving bilingual collection. Falling far short of that wish, I can only say that I have had the pleasure of hearing the translator read some of her poetry translations aloud in French, and it was a transformative experience. Her voice is emboldened by its quiet humility, and the passion she has for translation is well-known amongst the numerous writers who seek to have their work translated by this gifted writer and translator.

I have had the pleasure of featuring both Dara Barnat and Sabine Huynh on this series, and am thrilled to see these two incredibly talented writers and translators brought together in one stunning collection. This book—and this collaboration—is a gift to the poetry world that should be read, shared, and celebrated.


Want to see more by Dara Barnat?
Buy Des liens invisibles, tendus / Taut, Invisible Threads from Recours au poème éditeurs
Dara Barnat’s Official Website
Dara Barnat’s Official Blog
“At Least Forward Now” in Haaretz

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MOTHER NIGHT

Edward-Robert-Hughes-Painting-003

MOTHER NIGHT
By James Weldon Johnson

Eternities before the first-born day,
Or ere the first sun fledged his wings of flame,
Calm Night, the everlasting and the same,
A brooding mother over chaos lay.
And whirling suns shall blaze and then decay,
Shall run their fiery courses and then claim
The haven of the darkness whence they came;
Back to Nirvanic peace shall grope their way.

So when my feeble sun of life burns out,
And sounded is the hour for my long sleep,
I shall, full weary of the feverish light,
Welcome the darkness without fear or doubt,
And heavy-lidded, I shall softly creep
Into the quiet bosom of the Night.


(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)


James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was an American author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and civil rights activist. In addition to being known for his leadership of the NAACP, Johnson was known during the Harlem Renaissance for his poems, novels, and anthologies collecting both poems and spirituals of black culture. (Annotated biography of James Weldon Johnson courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: This Yuletide season I have been thinking—and writing—about ancient holiday traditions that we still practice, and how we received them. So when I came across today’s poem I was struck by the homage it seems to pay to the ancient festival of Mothers’ Night. This winter celebration was held on the eve of Yule, and celebrated The Mothers (goddesses) giving birth to the sun and the new year.

Beyond its title, today’s poem is rich with images of this ancient holiday: the night of labor, the birth of the sun, and the cycle of a year, when “whirling suns shall blaze and then decay.” Yet just as winter is a kind of death, in the second stanza the poet turns “Mother Night” into a metaphor for his own eventual death, imagining that when his time comes he will “Welcome the darkness without fear or doubt” and “softly creep / Into the quiet bosom of the Night.”

Want to see more by and about James Weldon Johnson?
The Poetry Foundation
Poets.org

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE GLAD HAND OF GOD POINTS BACKWARDS

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From THE GLAD HAND OF GOD POINTS BACKWARDS
By Rachel Mennies:


HOW GRANDMOTHER PAID HER PASSAGE TO NEW YORK

One by one her mother sold her silver spoons
and heirloom bracelets; goodbye, porcelain bear,
silk blouses, patent-leather Mary Janes, the scarves
and stud earrings for newly pierced ears, the red wool coat
spotted walking on another tiny body’s shoulders
down Wittenbergplatz. Goodbye, books bound
in leather, bone china, even the hangers, the goblets
and cabinets; goodbye to the Torah buried in the backyard,

the neighbors, the schoolmates, the mothers dressed so well
at services, the men with businesses who stayed behind
one week, two weeks more. What stylish
objects they became: the coins from fillings
and wedding rings, the soap, the wigs, lamp
after lamp to light a thousand decorated homes.


PHILADELPHIA WOMAN

The old sisters spoke with the wild gestures of trapped birds, snared or
cooped, their wings working toward an impossible escape. They stood
on street corners in Germantown and gesticulated the full span of their
arms. They argued over coffee, over books, over the dinner table, food
chilled to the temperature of the air. They hewed their beliefs for the
sake of debate. Soft-handed and pale-skinned, they lived mostly inside.

They took the trolley to Center City when they were in their twenties,
living in Logan with the rest of the refugee Jews. They told wild stories
of their childhoods, never explored or questioned. They worked as
bookkeepers, secretaries. They went to Girls’ High School, classrooms
filled with young women speaking foreign tongues, caught and released,
caught and released each day, back when men and women were kept
separately until marriage, fine china and daily dishware.

The oldest of the three married a soldier (never explored) who loved her
dearly (never questioned). When he died his mouth made words that
opened her chest like shrapnel. Tell them whatever you want, he said,
but I need you to know. I need you to know. Her hands stayed slack at her
side. Her name was. It was. She left his bedside and paced a block of Old
York Road, north and south, east and west, as if a cage around her kept
her close.


YAHRZEIT

Here the eye of God opens, unblinking,
at the throats of our grandmothers. The small pale
candle flickers on the windowsill, making
constellations of all our deaths.

How long a wick, how short a year. And here,
the family site, the only real estate
that’s mine—how clever, the way earth
makes us into mud—how heavy

the feet of our commemorators, how white
the knuckles that clasp their books of prayer.


Today’s poems are from The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, published by Texas Tech University Press, copyright © 2014 by Rachel Mennies, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards: In her first poetry collection, Rachel Mennies chronicles a young woman’s relationship with a complicated God, crafting a nuanced world that reckons with its past as much as it yearns for a new and different future. These poems celebrate ritual, love, and female sexuality; they bear witness to a dark history, and introduce us to “our God, the / collector of stories / and bodies,” a force somehow responsible for both death and liberation. Here, Mennies examines survival, assimilation, and intermarriage, subjects bound together by complex, if sometimes compromised, ties to the speaker’s Judaism. Through wit and careful prosody, The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards lays bare the struggles and triumphs experienced through a teenage girl’s coming of age, showing the reader what it means to become—and remain—a Jewish woman in America. —TTUP


Rachel Mennies is the author of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, winner of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry (Texas Tech University Press, 2014), and the chapbook No Silence in the Fields (Blue Hour Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, The Journal, and elsewhere, and have been reprinted at Poetry Daily. She teaches in the First-Year Writing Program at Carnegie Mellon University.


Editor’s Note: The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards is an absolutely stunning collection. It is that rare breed of poetry book that you cannot help but read cover to cover, knowing all the while that you will return to it again and again. There is magic in this work. Ritual. Tradition. Its stories rise from the page in painstaking detail—vivid, emotive, and all too real. History is both honored and excavated; bones and memories are buried in the backyard. Time is not linear, but fifth dimensional; the past, present, and future unfold more like a snowflake than a line. The soundscape is rich and evocative, the themes resonant and deeply lyric, the entirety layered and striking.

And then there are these moments. These perfect, brilliant, heartbreaking moments. Reveals like the volta in “How Grandmother Paid Her Passage to New York,” when we discover what became of “the men with businesses who stayed behind / one week, two weeks more.” Lines like “When he died his mouth made words that / opened her chest like shrapnel.” Like every freakin’ moment of “Yahrzeit.”

Easy to invest in, the rewards of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards are “as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.”


Want to see more from Rachel Mennies?
Rachel Mennies – Official Website
Buy The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards from Texas Tech University Press
Buy The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards from Amazon
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Thrush Poetry Journal

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