At the Church of the Holy Pajamas

by Mary Ellen Talley

I used to be tethered 
to my 9-volt transistor radio
unless chanting Latin inside a tall church
where I entered
through wooden doors
to wet my fingers for the sign of the cross

This morning, the kitchen timer chimes
to join chorus with birds
celebrating cleaner Covid-breezes
until hymns spread 
gigabytes of holy hope  
from screen to screen including mine 

I ask my laptop 
for one more prayer 
to help me retain this app of gratitude
as I exit church listening
to a choir of robins
outside my open window.

Mary Ellen Talley’s poems have recently been published in Raven Chronicles, Banshee, What Rough Beast, Flatbush Review and Ekphrastic Review as well as in the anthologies, Chrysanthemum and Ice Cream Poems. Her poems have received two Pushcart nominations and a chapbook, Postcards from the Lilac City, has just been published by Finishing Line Press. Art by Karyn Kloumann, founder of award-winning indie publisher Nauset Press.


by Mary K O’Melveny

Some people draw troubles like heat seeking missiles.
Others swat them away like gnats greeting dusk.
Most of us cling to a middle, swampy ground
like hikers who have lost their trail maps, hoping
for the best, yet unsurprised by thunderstorms
or piles of fallen rocks.  Who plans for planetary disarray?
Who anticipates any day’s discomfort?
When we began to descend into viral madness,
we did not know our journey would be limitless,
our ladder unsteady. We could not have predicted
how our tour guides would wander away as if
confused by light sources or ancient cave carvings.
Everyone wants someone   something    anything
to point in a direction that makes a shred of sense.
Now it turns out we are futility’s followers.
Long on desire. Short on rescue.
Eurydice moves forward. She hopes for salvation
but she is powerless to prevent the disastrous
look backwards. Like us, she turns faint, weak.
Her breath slows in the cave’s stilled air.

Mary K. O’Melveny,  a retired labor rights lawyer, lives with her wife in Washington, DC, and Woodstock, NY.  A Pushcart Prize nominee, Mary has had work published in many print and online journals. She is the author of A Woman of a Certain Age and Merging Star Hypotheses (Finishing Line Press 2018;  2020) and co-author of the anthology An Apple In Her Hand (Codhill Press 2019). Art by Karyn Kloumann, founder of award-winning indie publisher Nauset Press.

Grain of Salt

by Stephen Mead

Take it with, take it.
Over the shoulder,
right side; left?
Why be superstitious? Place bets on what’s become normalcy
as if to survive is precarious.
Here is an example:  at a coliseum-sized superstore where all can be bought for a soul
in desperation, two women without face masks face off in the children’s toy department,
unquestioned hostility a given as the thickest skunk stench
when for that gentle creature it is defense but for these two, who knows,
all their invisible potential corona drops falling on synthetic star swirls
of heaped toy goddess dolls.  Did they touch eyes, noses first & to what other children,
parents, will those rancor-laced touches go?
Never mind.  Asking risks accusations of self-righteousness, an empathic indulgence
for the socially responsible with no innate filters to prevent self-flagellation later on
dissolving into that you did not feel enough refrain, deeply consider the context,
the causes and how in hell could you?
In hell, how could you, the name of that fertility goddess was nearly erased for all time
by different religions smashing her statues, her edifices, so much alabaster
like broken salt shakers littering the ground to glint in dust and be trampled.
A handful of surviving druid types, escaped the stakes by going underground,
building labyrinth networks to domiciles of peace which included cisterns,
lightning systems and stoves, the good goddess in kitchen niches
blessing and smiling on them all.
For us what excavated henges, shielding secret life-devoted circles, will one day be found?
The tower block ruins as obelisks?  The torn billboards as giant hieroglyphic scrolls?
Pandemic dread looms cemetery-large as crosses for the unknown
marked in earlier times with afterlife goals shown by the canopic pots, the mummified horses,
the great swords and spears stockpiled; even ancient cave ancestors painting of large hunts still
in some sort of spirit world after toiling, tired, scarred flesh was through.
Oh, salt grains sparkling all over the heavens show us how the light gets in
and brought out again from all of the broken places, including the asylum-locked,
the quarantine fever hospitals.  Help us to step away from watching our demise
on social media amid conspiracy theories and non-violent protesters, the leaf-blowing dads,
the wall of moms napalmed by heavily-uniformed fire dragons, each a gargoyle colossus
becoming legions on home ground.  This is all way too dystopian.
Help us to farm our plots, watch for hummingbirds, join communally with our neighbors
painting rainbows with the faith of children saving the world.
Above this so distant in endless galaxies continuing to unfold what do the stars really know
with our eyes resting upon them for vast calm or for help?
They seem welcoming and expectant, winking and nodding around our little glowing orb
shining with the lights of so many sorts of homes, and eternity will not blink on it.
Eternity will hold, the frontiers of space encompassing everything like a great soup
to which our salt is flavoring, even if we be nothing so much as just grains all.

Stephen Mead is an Outsider multi-media artist and writer.  Since the 1990s he’s been grateful to many editors for publishing his work in print zines and eventually online.  He is also grateful to have managed to keep various day jobs for the Health Insurance. Currently he is resident artist/curator for The Chroma Museum, artistic renderings of LGBTQI historical figures, organizations and allies predominantly before Stonewall. Art by Karyn Kloumann, founder of award-winning indie publisher Nauset Press.

Waiting in the Hospital Parking Lot

by Royal Rhodes

On this false Spring day
the off-green embankment
I no longer can mount
without huffing and puffing
like a lung-damaged wolf
trying to blow down
a brick apartment house
— that rise of manicured turf
displays on its muddy crest
the spindly black limbs
of rigid trees, leafless
against a solid cloud bank
of sky that never ends
as I try to enter the hospital
and half expect the spectral
chorus line of a Totentanz
from Bergman’s “Seventh Seal”
to traipse across the horizon
the last dancer extending
a still-warm beckoning hand
on mine at the locked door
with its cold steel handle.
The glass reflects my fear,
but I still extend my hand.

Royal W. Rhodes taught Religious Studies at Kenyon College for almost 40 years. His interests include liberation theology, third world religious experience, monasticism (East and West), religion and the arts, and the Meanings of Death. He has given poetry readings at various locations, published poems with online journals, and also a series of art/poetry books with The Catbird [On the Yadkin] Press in North Carolina. Art by Karyn Kloumann, founder of award-winning indie publisher Nauset Press.

Belshazzar’s Table

by Lori Lasseter Hamilton

knees knocked, wood shook
like Lebanon cedars lightning-split.
Eyes widening, hand writing
“mene, mene, tekel, upharsin”,
God’s fingers carving glyphs.
You’ve raised gold goblets in boastful toast
between Babylon walls. Cups not meant to leave temple
but your father stole them.
Nebuchadnezzar never thought his son would meet end
at Mede’s hands.
God’s numbered your days.
You’ve been weighed
in the balance, found wanting.
Belshazzar, your Babylon falls,
split between Persians and Medes
lying in wait outside gold walls
as your servants bring you Jerusalem cups.
You refused to honor God, worshipped silver,
proclaimed only these gold cups are wine-worthy.
You thought nothing could touch you
but you never saw the cuneiform script that reads
“Blood Must Run”,
the way I saw it in a dream
on white wallpaper sheet,
with thin blood streaks striping the white.
Sometimes like Daniel I dream,
same dream since I was six,
of a heaven I could reach
by riding elevator from church first floor,
and when I got there,
heaven was a hardware store
with Native Americans roaming the aisles.
Last night I dreamed an all-girl band played in a back room
and on the wall in front of their microphones,
“Blood Must Run” in the center
but I wonder, whose blood?
Yours, mine, America’s, Belshazzar?
Maybe mine must run
or maybe blood of bulls must trickle down to melting ice
while gold glass shatters in Vegas towers.
Sun rays explode hotel windows,
God’s fingers drawing glyphs again.
All’s dusted gold, even man’s denials that
“everything’s better than ever”.
See his tiny, maskless mouth mouthing the words
great and fine?
Lips the color of amber grain waves,
proud, nude, and cloth-shorn
as America’s blood runs, red wine
on Belshazzar’s feast table.

Lori Lasseter Hamilton is a member of Sister City Connection, a collective of women poets, storytellers, and spoken word artists in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. She is a medical records clerk for a Birmingham hospital, and she earned a bachelor of arts in journalism from University of Alabama Birmingham, with a minor in English. Some of Lori’s poems have appeared in Steel Toe Review, Birmingham Arts Journal, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. She is a 50-year-old breast cancer survivor. Art by Karyn Kloumann, founder of award-winning indie publisher Nauset Press.

I pull the baby

by Miriam Sagan

I pull the baby
in a blue plastic car
along the empty dirt road
beneath the inverted
basin of a sky

two things are blue—
one small
one enormous

the baby has a fate
I can’t read
she likes to open
a board book 
put it in her mouth

the world has
gone to hell
and left us here
like shells
tossed up by a storm
to litter the tide’s wrack line

a pair of unmatched ridged
angel wings

one big
one little

Miriam Sagan is the author of over thirty books of poetry, fiction, and memoir. Her most recent include Bluebeard’s Castle (Red Mountain, 2019) and A Hundred Cups of Coffee (Tres Chicas, 2019). She is a two-time winner of the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards as well as a recipient of the City of Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and a New Mexico Literary Arts Gratitude Award. Illustration: “blue thing” by Karyn Kloumann, founder of award-winning indie publisher Nauset Press.

A Finger Tip Has One Hundred Nerve Endings

by Mary K O’Melveny

This fact explains why I want to caress
every surface. Press hard against countertop,
doorframe, bed pillow. Finger each avocado,
orange, purple onion. Fondle a pale
pink dogwood petal, trace each fine line to
its yellow center flower where hope resides.

Strangers and neighbors pass in hallways or
on sidewalks. I want to reach out, extend
my arms, hold their hands. I believe they might
feel the same though we simply nod our heads.
I am one of the lucky ones. Each night,
my wife and I explore our tender places.

Mary K O’Melveny began writing poetry after retiring from a long career as a labor rights lawyer.  She lives with her wife in Washington, DC and Woodstock, NY.  Her award-winning work has appeared in print and online journals and on blog sites such as The New Verse News and Writing in a Woman’s Voice. She is the author of A Woman of a Certain Age and MERGING STAR HYPOTHESES (Finishing Line Press 2018, 2020) and co-author of An Apple In Her Hand (Codhill Press 2019). Art by Karyn Kloumann, founder of award-winning indie publisher Nauset Press.

Fuzzy Socks

by Lois Perch Villemaire

Most days I wear fuzzy socks, 
the kind with rubbery grippers on the bottom 
because on hardwood floors 
there’s the danger of slipping, 
especially on the stairs. 
I put on shoes or sneakers 
only if we are going out for some reason. 
They are lined up in the entry hallway 
like a row of soldiers on duty, 
waiting for action. 
I used to scoff at those 
who announced the rule 
that shoes should be taken off 
and left at the door before entering 
their home. 
It was inconvenient and
I wanted to keep my feet covered. 
But now I get it. 
Why bring in dirt and germs 
from the outside to be dragged 
all over? 
We commandeer 
the dustbuster and Dyson, 
sucking up little particles 
of unwanted schmutz and hair.

Lois Perch Villemaire lives in Annapolis, MD. She writes poetry, flash fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. Her stories have appeared in Potato Soup Journal, 101 Words, FewerThan500, The Drabble, Pen-in-Hand, and Flora Fiction. She blogs for Annapolis Discovered and Wellness House of Annapolis. Illustration: “Fuzzy Socks Satyr Family after Tiepolo” by Karyn Kloumann, founder of award-winning indie publisher Nauset Press.

Ode to COVID-19

by Sarah Lilius

We wait for the apocalypse because the new human condition keeps us up at night. 
I stockpile food from three different sources for when the quarantine is set.
When I wake in the depth of early morning, there is a hum of the motor that keeps us alive.
Once I saw the massive green metal box that houses the engine, the important secret.
Men in suits everywhere are dropping down sewer grates.
They stopped killing chickens, for now.
I hear that in the country you can see the orange haze over the city existing like a net.
I constantly clean my hands, 20 seconds each time, then sanitize like some fool.
Soap and sanitizers run low and celebrities start falling ill.
It won’t be long after Hollywood caves into the Earth.
The soldiers don’t bang on doors, they stand around thinking about donuts.
Everyone coughs enough to make a new pop song.
I heard Taylor Swift is still alive and available.
The fires haven’t started but all of the Pizza Huts are closing without further notice.
Spring still pushes the world into weather patterns we need to feel human again.
Emails roll in that everything is closing, everywhere is cautious.
Airborne, it will find us waiting in line at Target where only two lines are open.
I tried to buy a thermometer at the store, but they were sold out.
I tried to buy a thermometer online, but the internet sold out.
The thermometer factories explode and now they’re sold out.
Our fevers are detected from the touch of a hand against a burning forehead.
This is where the fire starts.

Sarah Lilius is the author of five chapbooks including GIRL (dancing girl press, 2017) and the forthcoming Traffic Girl (Ghost City Press, 2020). Publication credits include the Denver Quarterly, Court Green, Tinderbox, Fourteen Hills, Boulevard and forthcoming in the Massachusetts Review. She lives in Arlington, VA with her husband and two sons. Illustration: “Santorio Sanctorius Thermometer Burn in COVID Times” by Karyn Kloumann, , founder of an award-winning indie press, Nauset Press.The balloon shows a woodcut of the first iteration of a thermometer, created by Santorio Santori (1561–1636).


by Stephen House

hopeful genius dirty collar situation wonder claiming
biting pencil scratching guess crossword puzzle giving answers chewing gum tied back hair fiddle greasy grey pot smoking
is anyone granting wish on hope be it lost or found in this

pink-lipped mummies designer gym suits platform sneakers outing needed selfie shots gossip babble murmur giggle text on phone
takeaway coffee gripping sipping keeping fast step separate pacing
walk hard team power beauty temple pouting flee delivers health

deal constructed business suits let’s go hey mate cool in awesome check out new porn up online no lunch spot sit down here allowed in shut down mode pull compensation feel strange new life in whine did you see gay dude look at you paranoia sings fear gamble

and them dot tightly small group thrice on well-mowed lawn hedge square as kids run shouting cake shop gifting wait birds squawk hopeful scrap day party happen easy rules social distance not held why
new work style no job or school manipulation welfare scandal

and me alone same time day night no change i still cruise wander
a swim they say no too cold bloke gape smile back on chat concern
in plunge to ice remind my real salvation claim i scribe own journey pack my bag when restricting travel lifts gain back my queer life amble

Stephen House is an award-winning Australian playwright, poet and actor. He’s won two Awgie Awards, Rhonda Jancovich Poetry Award, Goolwa Poetry Cup and more. He’s been shortlisted for Lane Cove, Overland Fair Australia, Patrick White Playwright and Queensland Premier Drama Awards, a Greenroom acting Award and more. His chapbook, real and unreal, was published by ICOE Press. Illustration: “HopePunkWorlds IV” by Karyn Kloumann, founder of an award-winning indie press, Nauset Press.