Better Than Starbucks
Poetry and Fiction Journal
. . . if you love diversity and creative writing in any and every form, then you’re in the right place . . .
Vol VII No III
February, May, August,
She bore and raised four children — three sons, one daughter
(and lost the first-born boy at six months old)
without electric lights or running water,
where wind shifts overnight from hot to cold
to mark the season’s turn, but never flags.
As farm folk go, the family wasn’t poor,
but clothes were handed down until as rags
they served to stop the wind beneath the door.
On an old piano, purchased on a whim
at auction when a neighbor farm went bust,
she sounded out a half-forgotten hymn,
discordant strains against each rising gust.
The children grown and gone as if the blows
had driven them away, the parents stayed,
a while. His pipe smoke wavered as it rose
through drafts that flickered lamp flame while she played.
Richard Wakefield’s publications include East of Early Winters (winner of the Richard Wilbur Award) and A Vertical Mile (short-listed for the Poets’ Prize). His new collection, Terminal Park, has just been published.
Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together.
All things connect. — Chief Seattle
I found the feather of a hawk today
while roving through a field, the sun as low
as the spirits of a fellow on skid row.
That field, no doubt, was plentiful with prey —
as teeming with vole, squirrel, and fleet rabbit
as the Sea of Cortez is with whale and fish.
Now, were a genie to fulfill my wish
that folks could see the globe that we inhabit
like hawks that spy the mice, they’d see the spasm
of extinction where life plummets like loose stones
thrown off a bluff; where countless shattered bones
lie at the bottom of a yawning chasm.
Like mice, though, seeing talons drawing near,
men try to flee the truth if too severe.
Martin Elster, who never misses a beat, was for many years a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. His poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies. A full-length collection, Celestial Euphony, was published by Plum White Press in 2019.
Out of Sight
Julia Warhola, 1974, a painted silkscreen
by Andy Warhol (1928-87), New York.
My mother’s great, but she doesn’t get out of bed
much. That’s how I answer those who ask;
I leave her death, a few years back, unsaid.
My bit of gallows humor serves to mask
my grieving. I recall my mother’s care
for me, a sickly kid (and quirky, odd) . . .
her saintly patience, floating daily prayers
“for Andy’s health and happiness” to God . . .
her moving to New York to live with me
(flat broke), assisting me for twenty years,
selflessly, into her seventies.
I’m well aware of how it would appear
that I did not attend her final rite.
I only cope when death is out of sight.
Prize-winning poet Barbara Lydecker Crane’s fourth collection, entitled You Will Remember Me, sonnets about portrait paintings in the imagined voices of 80 artists through the centuries, will be published by Able Muse Press.
She sat in her favorite spots where the sun was warm.
She liked her refreshments punctual and routine.
She carried an air of dignity and decorum
and kept herself impeccably groomed and clean.
Her voice was often querulous with impatience,
but she could win my attention with a soulful look,
her dark-wide pupils riveting and intense
across a table or over the top of a book.
She could be playful sometimes, and make me smile,
yet soon became bored with teasing or too much noise.
A graceful somnolence settled her aging style,
and she held the indefinite days in equipoise
clear to the quiet close. Requiescat.
I’d like to let go as indifferently as that.
Kansas City poet Barbara Loots has appeared for fifty years in literary journals, online magazines, textbooks, and anthologies. Her collections are Road Trip, Windshift, and The Beekeeper and other love poems.
Like the snow-covered woods around us
I’m having a season of silence.
Just a whisper of wind in the trees.
A fluttering bird at the feeder.
A snow shovel scraping on ice.
So when I clear snow off your car
While you're getting ready to go,
Then check your windshield fluid —
I’ll top it up if it’s low —
Or brush loose snow from your sleeve
Before we hug goodbye,
I hope you know what I’m doing
Is trying to say I love you.
Bruce McGuffin’s poetry has appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, and other journals. He divides his time between Lexington, Massachusetts, where he has a job, and Antrim, New Hampshire, where he fritters away his time writing poetry and admiring the view.
Good thing they lashed him to the goddam mast
or he’d be steering to their grassy isle.
No wax clogged his ears. What wicked squeals.
What sassy cries. They cooed with wantonness
the deaf could hear. He knew a come-on song.
He’d had a belly full of homesick Greeks
and stinking ships and wine-dark seas. The beach
was waiting. Lotus land lay just beyond
the point. He’d take the singers with him. They’d make
a ménage à trois, à trois, à trois. He’d stroke
their naked breasts. Limb entwined in limb,
they’d languish at the border between wake
and sleep. Get drunk on nectar. Smoke dope.
Screw their brains out till they made some end.
Glenn Irvin is Professor Emeritus of English whose wide-ranging interests are reflected in his poems and stories. Glenn lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and has four children and eight grandchildren.
To a Snapping Turtle
Intent on Crossing the Road
I cannot reason with you, it is clear.
Your mind, or what must pass for that, is set.
You have a firm idea of what will get
you to the other side, not far from here.
The problem is, this road is not a field.
There’s traffic. Though determined, you are slow.
I must impede you. Otherwise you’ll go
stubbornly headlong. Stubborn, I won’t yield,
and though you bite my stick, you won’t prevail.
Believe me (though you won’t), you shouldn’t advance.
If I show weakness, then we both will fail.
Be angry. I am giving you this chance.
Sometimes, and this is one of those, I’m right.
Still, I am careful to avoid your bite.
Bruce Bennett is Emeritus Professor of English at Wells College in Aurora, New York. His poetry website is https://justanotherdayinjustourtown.com.
Pantoum of the gifted child
I swear, I didn’t mean to end it all.
The beauty of equations killed the beast.
I rolled all forces up into a ball
and threw it at the wall, and watched it burst.
The beauty of equations killed the beast.
It hasn’t anything to do with me.
A child throws things to see how they will burst,
the world itself is pure fragility.
It hasn’t anything to do with me,
It’s just that centers always fall apart
unleashing force on all fragility.
The fatal end is seeded in that start.
Its centers by their natures fall apart.
That’s nothing I could stop. Neither could you.
The fated end’s implicit in the start.
There’s really nothing anyone could do.
Nobody is to blame, not me or you.
I rolled all force into a glowing ball
and threw it, just as anyone would do.
I swear, I didn’t mean to end it all.
JB Mulligan has published more than 1100 poems and stories in various magazines over the past 45 years. He has published two chapbooks as well as two e-books: The City of Now and Then and A Book of Psalms (a loose translation).
W H Auden and the ashes of anxiety
He chain-smokes cigarettes. They are kissed
By lip-puffs launching acrid clouds which wreath
Round his cratered face in thought-filled mist.
Peaceful contemplation? But his eyes seethe.
He plucks a tobacco strand from between
Ochre teeth and adds another tight line
To the ash-scattered paper. What he’s seen
Are refugees fleeing the fascist sign.
His lover breaks. Law claims his love is crime;
Children rickets-buckled; youth consumptive,
Yet the richly-decked dance in frantic time.
Their tears are dew-drop pearls trapped in a sieve.
Each fissure on his face maps out his pain.
Each inhalation kills to keep him sane.
With three poetry booklets and many poems in magazines, Ian Enters is also a novelist and a librettist of opera and musicals. His most recent works are Word Hoard, translations of and about Old English poetry, and his third novel Redhead.
An All-Too-Familiar Story
I think you dried out slowly. Oh, you clung
like parasitic creatures always do,
but when it came to it, removing you
was relatively easy. I grew strong
and you grew whiny; that was part of it.
You whimpered at me, so I sidetracked you.
Perhaps you gorged yourself as leeches do
and just fell off, but leeches would beget,
whereas you only lay there passive. So
I think I simply made you work at it
until your mouth grew weary, and you quit.
Or I'm too bloodless. All I really know
is that I throve and raised my children, while
you pooled and stagnated until you choked,
and I went on without you. There are folk
who say I should have plunged in after till
I dragged you back, and if I went down too —
oh well, it happens. But I think that's bull.
I think you used me and I let you, and
then one day I grew up —
Kathryn Jacobs is a poet, professor emerita, and editor of The Road Not Taken. Her fifth book, Wedged Elephant, was published by Kelsay Press.
“Watch for giants,” says the sign,
as if by watching one could do
anything effective to
avoid being crushed. Is it benign,
this warning? On a lovely day
suppose some great foot flattens you;
would it be helpful if you knew
beforehand? Would you stop to pray
instead of taking in the view?
Or would you merely agonize
until the moment of demise?
Better it comes out of the blue.
Of course, the giants don’t intend
to trample us. They’re passing through,
they really haven’t got a clue
we’re here. And since we cannot fend
them off by observation, why
make signs? Try to forget that you
live in the shadow of a shoe
whose owner’s merely passing by.
Hilary Biehl’s poems have appeared in Able Muse, The Orchards Poetry Journal, Light, Mezzo Cammin, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband and their son in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Finding an Old Clay Pipe While Farming
With fingers numbed by rain, pluck at the soil,
clicking your fingernails on shattered stones.
Repeat the back-bent ancestry of toil
that worked meadow with muscles: now but bones
in the graveyard beside the grey-stone church.
But the grey-stone walls that surround your field
were raised by them; now alder, hazel, birch
rise in the chill grey drizzle where they kneeled;
Kneel in the soaking grass and further pluck
at pebbles, limestone shards, and fling them wide,
then flinch from pearly whiteness in the muck.
Let your rain-numbed finger move aside
the clinging, rain-damp clay, then, careful, wipe
pearl-white patterned edge of a lost clay pipe.
Shane Leavy is a writer and researcher based in the west of Ireland with works published in Trasna, Popshot: The Illustrated Magazine of New Writing and The Ekphrastic Review.
The Old Lover’s Message to the Young
The young today would not believe how chaste
Our courtship was. How long before we kissed,
How modestly we, fully clothed, embraced —
The young would only see what joy we missed,
Not how we made up for it when the time
Arrived! Though even then our wedding night
Was a fiasco, but who cared? All time
Was ours. We practiced till we got it right.
Each was the other’s only teacher. Heat
Was kindled every night and morning. Then
Only at night. Then when desires would meet.
And now in old age we are chaste again,
Yet the flame burns with more intensity,
A fire which — again — the young don’t see.
Gail White is a Formalist poet whose work appears regularly in such journals as Measure, Raintown Review, and Rotary Dial. She is a contributing editor of Light Poetry Magazine. Her most recent collections are Asperity Street and Catechism.
You Are Old, Father William
(with apologies to Lewis Carroll)
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And the money’s become very tight;
And yet you’ll spend anything not to be dead —
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I figured that old folks should die;
But now that I’m perfectly sure that I’m one,
I do not see a good reason why.”
“You are old,” said the son, “as I mentioned before,
So consider your grandson’s position,
Since the money that keeps you away from death’s door
Could be used for his college tuition.”
“I am old,” Father William replied in a yell,
“But I’ve not taken leave of my wits!
I should croak so young Willie can go to Cornell?
Be off, or I'll blow you to bits!”
First published in The Los Angeles Times.
Felicia Nimue Ackerman is a professor of philosophy at Brown University and has had over 200 poems published in a wide range of places.
The gardener toils, taking care to destroy
Any plant he’s not chosen, and then he proceeds
When he can to a National Park to enjoy
Max Gutmann has contributed to dozens of publications including New Statesman, Able Muse, and Better Than Starbucks.
On the chest of a barmaid from Wales
was tattooed the price of all ales,
and on her behind
for the sake of the blind
was all of the same, but in braille.
Luke Palmer on Unsplash.
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