Contact Tracing

by Lisa Eve Cheby

Rain in Griffith Park and my last human contact.
I snuck out early from day-one of work-from-home.
I lay my naked body face down under the sheet. 

After Marika prepared my body with oils, before I return
to begin shelter at home, the rain and no one but I
walk in Griffith Park. The eucalyptus and longleaf pines are closer
than six feet, their branches brush, alive and fearlessly fragrant.

Five men play golf as cars swish by. My umbrella still proclaims
slogans from last year’s teachers’ strike, where I learned
it is acceptable to walk in the rain     
                                    healthy             doable
                                                                                    even necessary. 

Eight days ago, when we were still pretending
our lives could persist
unaltered, we chose
the air & space
of Descanso Gardens over
a museum. We were already washing
hands more profusely, denying
hugs. We leaned up to smell
the cherry blossom, caressed
the rough skin of trees.          

Today             to feed my skin
I brush the Norfolk Island Pine

on my balcony            I had been craving
slowness, to clear the way for learning
                                    to say no,
                                                to value
time, the only yield
we can never recoup.  

But now

The balcony rail steams like mountains warming in daybreak. 
The plants drip accumulated dew that dampens the chair & my thighs.
The birds reclaim the mornings like humans their journals.

It has taken 13 days since Grace hugged me,
after the yoga class where I brought my own props,
for me to let gratitude seep in like the rain

carries in a wintery cold waking me from a fevered dream.
How should my body temperature feel on cold nights
under a down blanket?  

Now is the crying stage, even for the introverts.
This is not Christmas or a retreat. 
Someone is making bacon and I am alone.

Lisa Eve Cheby, a librarian, poet, and daughter of immigrants, holds an MFA from Antioch and an MLIS from SJSU. Her poems and reviews have appeared in various journals and the anthologies including Drawn to Marvel, Coiled Serpent, and Accolades. She was a SAFTA Writer in Residence. Her chapbook, Love Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Dancing Girl Press) was featured in The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed Series. Jim Baron is the owner, with his wife Liz, of the Dallas-based Blue Mesa Grill restaurants and TNT/Tacos and Tequila. He’s been a surf bum all his life, with his late brother Bob and younger brother Dan. He spends a couple hours every day painting water colors, and happiness for him is being on the beach with Liz, Kate, Zak, Ian, and Lola, the labradoodle, who runs the show.

Sleep Until Noon

by Elisa Subin

The garbage truck, the neighbor’s dog, the drop

of a toilet seat from next door, we share a wall, I wonder what they hear, we don’t yell, in fact, last night you won a gold medal for strongest


Tickling the sheets for an extra hour, watching TV Land reruns, calming the old dog, scolding the late night teen, replaying long forgotten embarrassments, existential worries, stop snoring, give me the blanket,

Cut your ragged jagged toenails already

And still at 5:30am

I am up, slippers, bra (yes, bra) and coffee in that old, stained mug, wearily proclaiming me World’s Best Wife

Yet morning is my only solace

So please dear sleep until noon

Elisa Subin is a poet whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in 34 Orchard Literary Journal, CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Not One of Us, Jam & Sand and Nebo: A Literary Journal, among others. She won an Honorable Mention in the Reuben Rose Poetry Competition. Stella Bellow is an illustrator currently attending Parsons School of Design in New York City. The illustration depicts Emily Dickinson in a cable-knit sweater.

Plague Morning

by Ann E. Michael

I had been well, twisting the stem
of a cruciform blossom or a forget-me-not,
and everything was ripening then
I took to my bed for dreaming.

When the birds began to waken
I found myself unwrapping a flannel sheet,
then bones, then a bloodless knot
at my feet, whitened

contrasting this damp dark soil,
the wide field tilled but nothing sown, and knew
at once that weeds would claim it—
but what of the unclaimed bones?

I don’t know, I could not tell
if they were my own or the bean-field’s
or dream-skeletons or a wayward bird’s.
I only know I took, then, to my bed.

Ann E. Michael lives in Pennsylvania, USA, where she currently directs the writing center at DeSales University. She is a poet, educator, essayist, and librettist who has appeared in print regularly since 1982. Her most recent collection of poems is Barefoot Girls; her next book, The Red Queen Hypothesis, will be published sometime in 2021 (Salmon Poetry). Varada J.M. is a 9th-grader based in Kerala’s Koyilandi, studying at Rani Public School, Vadakara. After hurriedly doing homework, Varada divides her time between practicing classical dance and watching horror films. She loves dogs but nobody at home wants one.    

After March Blew in like an Unholy Wind

by Margaret Koger

Summer, fall, winter …
January 2021 and I’m looking out a window

Where I see a flock of cedar waxwings
resting on the branches of the poplar tree.

For months and months, I’ve been reading
A tale of boys by my side today

Boys whose mother dies of the 1918 flu—
And birds, eyes masked in black, red wingtips

The brethren sail from limb to sinuous limb
Pause to drink from a rain gutter, fly again

Pluck berries from shrubs, swallow them whole
As doctors and nurses swoop from bed to bed

Endurance tried by flocks of new patients.
My thoughts long swollen into a single stream

The birds and I, dreaming in the unquiet air
I bury my head in a pillow.

Margaret Koger, a Lascaux Prize finalist, is a school media specialist with a writing habit. She lives near the river in Boise, Idaho. See more of her poetry online at Amsterdam Quarterly, Thimble, Trouvaille Review, Tiny Seed Literary Journal, Ponder Savant, Subjectiv, and Last Leaves. Arabella Luna Friedland is a visual artist and writer based in New York City. She’s influenced by a childhood with cartoons, a classical education in anatomy and life drawing, and a firm belief that all art — is a portrait.   

To Outwait the Pandemic

by Jeff Burt

what I wanted was a Ray Griffith sweater,
one with bulk, hand-knitted

by an aunt, decades old and worn,
warm, awkwardly fit yet comforting,

with measured sleeves and cuffs not frayed
though pulled and loose at the elbows

with that little collar that fenced the neck
from cold, that when you pulled out a pen

and paper something warm and witty
spilled onto paper, or a letter glib

with insignificant news, a caricature
or profile of idiosyncrasies,

a letter of comments on the weather,
a teabag like a wet plum on paper.

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California with his wife. He works in mental health. He has contributed to Heartwood, Williwaw Journal, Red Work Journal, and Montana Mouthful. He won the 2017 Cold Mountain Review Narrative Poetry Prize. Stella Bellow is an illustrator currently attending Parsons School of Design in New York City. The illustration depicts Emily Dickinson in a cable-knit sweater.

Isolation Times

by Mo Lynn Stoycoff

My home is a universe.
These rooms are worlds.
I am the ruler.
These are my constituents.
This pen is my constituent.
This coffee cup is my constituent.
Dog is my Prime Minister.
He disagrees with my policies.

My friends are people on a screen.
They are singing (because my friends
are singers) and arguing on screens.
They are helping each other on screens.
They are together on screens.
They are lonely on screens.

What is your Apocalypse Archetype?
The Lone Warrior?
The Opportunistic Entrepreneur?
The Slave? The Inventor? The Warlord?
Mine would be The Scavenger.
I would be a thief and a forager
but not a very clever one.
I would be whatever archetype requires
creativity without courage.

There is a new urge in me to look for things.
I walk miles, looking for things.
I don’t know what I’m looking for,
but I keep going, looking.
There is something comforting
about taking photographs.
There is something comforting
about foraging for nothing in particular.

There’s an aerial picture of the tangled freeway
I used to drive on my commute to work.
It’s totally empty, but for one car.
I feel my stomach drop to my feet.
The last time I saw a picture like that
of an empty bay area freeway,
it was broken in two.

Mo Lynn Stoycoff is a writer and visual artist whose poems have appeared in Poetry Now, Rise Up ReviewThe American Journal of Poetry, California Quarterly, Speckled Trout Review and many other journals and anthologiesMo works in the performing arts and lives in Central California. Liz Baron is an artist and restaurateur who lives in Texas by way of New York City. She and her husband, Jim, founded, own and operate four Mexican-Southwestern restaurants. She got her Bachelor of Fine Art from Pratt Institute but stopped painting when restaurant work and family life consumed most of her time. She is grateful to the online art classes of Sketchbook Skool that helped her regain the joy of a regular art practice. 

While I Wrote this Villanelle, the U.S. Death Toll Rose from 400 Thousand to 425

by Andrea Clark

Give us back all these lives
Such suffering we cannot brook
Give us back the earth, the sea, the skies

Find us paper products in ample supply
Return our borrowed library books
Give us back all these lives

We still go out for a drive
No longer linger in restaurant nooks
Getting back to the earth, the sea, the skies

We accept in exchange four ones for a five
But this bargain for a bribe you mistook
Give us back all these lives

And we’ll surrender what keeps us alive
We too have little time–just look
Give us back to the earth, the sea, the skies

Who decides who shall survive?
Our faith fundamentally shook
If you won’t give back all these lives
at least give back the earth, the sea, the skies

Andrea Clark lives in Oakland and is a low-residency MFA student at Dominican University of California. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Cathexis Northwest Press and Dark Moon Lilith. Her poem, “Tongues Not Welcome,” was a semifinalist for the 2020 Jane Underwood Poetry Prize. Jim Baron is the owner, with his wife Liz, of the Dallas-based Blue Mesa Grill restaurants and TNT/Tacos and Tequila. He’s been a surf bum all his life, with his late brother Bob and younger brother Dan. He spends a couple hours every day painting water colors, and happiness for him is being on the beach with Liz, Kate, Zak, Ian, and Lola, the labradoodle, who runs the show.

Adult Quarantine Friend

by Sharon Mesmer

Adult quarantine friend, the only thing keeping me alive in this cesspool of full body panic and late-stage capitalism are your slam-dunk queso blanco chips and dips: they make one-third of me feel oddly Eastern-European, the other third like Toto — the band, not the dog — while my middle part is thrown totally off-kilter by warm memories of our massive Halloween horse-foraging weekend. I will be going to great lengths to recreate snack feels as good as that, so make sure you have things to do.

Tall, mature COVID companion, would you agree that the Republican love story is revealed in bacterial DNA, while the Democrats’ is told by a stag beetle that lands on people? On Election Night 2016 I was that stag beetle, waving my pincers in a pathetic attempt to communicate something to three old Italian women sitting on a bench outside a Brooklyn beauty salon and trying to kill me with their dirty pink house slippers. Turns out I was right about the global need for mood stabilizers.

Grown-ass pandemic pal, have you ever been rushed to the ER because you had a fish jaw stuck in your eyeball? How about a small plastic Baby Jesus — or your own earring? I’m asking for a friend. Because you have all your limbs and teeth while I have a small plastic Baby Jesus and an earring lodged in my eyeball along with massive fear of being around people. This begs the question: am I already suffering the rude incongruities of Plague Christmas? Who will travel to vaccinate Santa?

Legal age asymptomatic amigo, fully developed BFF with whom I’m spending every waking second: I’m now living for queso blanco. That’s how attenuated existence has become. Decided: I will be filling all your mobile device screens with age-of-majority content photos, Just so you know. The fact that I have to skip all future Guitar Hero meetups means I will accomplish that, quar goals being a whole different set of goals that we’ve yet to fully understand. I think I’m beginning to, though.

Sharon Mesmer‘s most recent poetry collection is Greetings From My Girlie Leisure Place (Bloof Books). Previous books include The Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose Press) Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo) and Vertigo Seeks Affinities (chapbook, Belladonna). She is also the author of three short fiction collections. Her essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, New York Magazine/The Cut, the Paris Review and the New York Times. She teaches creative writing at NYU and the New School. Bill Mazza is a visual artist using chance, duration, and accumulation to reinterpret landscape as a relationship of people to their mediated environments, through painting, performance, and community-building collaborations.

Todos Vamos a Estar Bien

by Mell McDonnell

We’re going to be all right.

And how much more believable when
in Spanish it slips
silvery over the tongue,
exhales as breath—

this space

something newborn:
mine, yours, ours—

inhale .  .  .   .  exhale .  .  .  .
lungs, life, communion.

Todos vamos a estar bien.

Mell McDonnell is a person of several careers–as an instructor in English at the University of New Orleans, as a freelance financial writer, and as marketing/public relations director for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, University of Colorado, Boulder.  She is a member of the Denver Women’s Press Club and Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop. Ms. McDonnell’s poetry appears in The Silver Edge (Leaping Berylians Society, Denver), Third Wednesday (Ann Arbor), and The Road Not Taken: The Journal of Formal Poetry. Surekha spent her formative years in the beautiful hills of Nilgiris before she moved to her hometown, Thalassery, to pursue a career in fine art. Her works have been in many exhibitions across India, and most recently to “Revived Emotions,” an international exhibition at Ratchademnoen Contemporary Art Centre, Bangkok. She served as the head designer for a leading Kerala based jewelery chain for 17 years, leaving behind an oeuvre of more than 3000 designs. Painting has always been her first love, exploring the moods of nature, and finding shades, colours, tones and textures in landscapes, especially focusing on her memories of Thalassery and Nilgiris.  

The Puzzle

by Harriet Stratton

       …what draws itself apart pulls itself together.

Mother sits just where I left her
before the visits stopped—

at the jigsaw table. She puzzles
over small shapes scattered like shards

before her. The big picture, propped,
offers color and pattern clues,

the comfort of familiar objects,
a postcard from the past.  She’s trying

to piece it all together. That’s the game.
That’s always been the game

and her game, at age 96, is persistence, intention,
not dwelling on how it all came apart.

Harriet Stratton, the teenager, loved poetry but studied, practiced and taught Fine Arts. Once retired, she re-embraced her first love and joined the Poetry Collective of Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. She’s published a number of poems in local literary journals but remains proudest of a protest poem in The Colorado Independent.  She lives on the front range of the Rocky Mountains. Art by Karyn Kloumann, founder of award-winning indie publisher Nauset Press.