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 VI No I
February, May, August,
Regular Feature Pages
Haiku with Kevin McLaughlin
Formal Poetry with Vera Ignatowitsch
Poetry Translations with Susan McLean
Poetry for Children with Robert Schechter
African Poetry with Gabriel Awuah Mainoo
Experimental, Form, & Prose Poetry
Better Than Fiction (creative nonfiction)
The Interview with Jeffrey Alfier
by Tobi Alfier
Jeffrey Alfier at Bukowski’s grave.
out to kill rabbits
the first day we dressed out
in P.E., in high school, a senior
boy punched me in the face,
called me a queer, and a chorus
of other boys howled in derision.
a rabbit sits atop a grassy
knoll, eats grass and watches
at 16 i had yet to accept
long legs and gangly arms;
acne, sadness, and general
a rabbit hides during daylight, in
thick bushes or down holes
in the earth, fearful of predators
and potential death.
throughout 10th grade everyone
picked on me, put me in a corner,
bullied me into complete sorrow.
yet i learned to run, to shout them down,
to fight without remorse,
to keep secrets
locked down tight.
coyotes and wolves and kids
with rocks stalk the rabbit, but
if the rabbit is smart, they
stay safe. they must always
be smarter than those that wish
by senior year i reached full
height, full strength. mind
quick and nimble and more clever
than bullies. i outgrew the noise
of high school, but not before
breaking bones and crushing souls.
a rabbit cornered can be a fearsome thing
and they will fight for survival when
running away is no longer an option.
just after winter break my senior year
i found myself in front of the damning
gaze of a vice-principal, his face red,
voice rough from yelling. i had become
a rabbit’s life is short due to so many
predators. life in the wild is
always a struggle.
upon graduation i left high school,
never looked back. i still break bones
out to kill rabbits.
Jack Henry is a writer/editor based in California. Recently he has been published in Ariel Chart, Rusty Truck, Scarlet Leaf Review, Horror Sleaze Trash, alien buddha press, and elsewhere. His next collection, driving w/crazy, will be released by Punk Hostage Press. Visit jackhenry.wordpress.com.
Bodies fill graves, graves grow honeycomb, earth rests
lightly on its sodden cells, time swells
bones broken to pollen, death’s redolence, leaving
nothing behind but bitter honey.
Only the dead know how to taste bitter honey,
the taste that restores their strangled cries.
For a moment the cries are melodious with loss,
then silence wrings their voices again.
Dig deeper. Beneath the graves lie even more
ancient bodies hardening into rock.
Time layers the sediments, strata crack, bend
and rupture under memory’s fire.
Millennia on millennia of erosion
expose petrified amnesia.
Wind, sun and moon now pass serenely over
indecipherable fossils waiting
for bodies to grow into armies, fill graves
and join their amnesty of memory.
Steven Willett is a retired Classics professor specializing in ancient Greek and English versification. Much of his work has been in poetic translation in many languages.
When they handed him the changol and told
him to dig, he dug. Hard and deep like his life
depended on it. They said to dig for sustenance
of ten, but he dug for sins and sorrow of one.
Beyond the tarp, rain beat down on ground
like drums he used to play as a child—
insistently, aggressively—overflow bleeding
into his sheltered patch, turning soil to mud.
He had stood too long in the same spot and so
began to sink, borrowed boots engulfed in
red and brown as earth reclaimed him. They
promised he could wash off in their stream.
Atonement is fat that feeds seeds of good a
self-proclaimed sinner sows. Forgiveness is
the fruit it bears. Do good not for good, but to
be good. He picked chilis, beans, and basil.
Allison Thung is a writer from Singapore. She writes for the same reason she knits — to make sense of what would otherwise just be loose threads of thought and yarn. Allison has poetry published in Eunoia Review. Her website is www.allisonthung.com.
The lost garden
She carried the garden inside her
so she could take it with her across borders.
The lemon tree settled and its roots
grew down one leg.
Lemons, she thought, are always useful.
A Norfolk pine kept her standing straight.
The bamboo she kept in a pot,
so it would not take over everything.
Her mother’s lavender clasped her heart
and urged it to keep beating.
Passion fruit vines grew out with her hair.
In the midst of her grief,
blue and red parrots flew out of her suitcase.
Susan Sklan is a social worker and published poet. Her poem “On passing an old lover’s address” was selected by the Cambridge, Massachusetts, Sidewalk Poetry program of 2018, and installed in a city sidewalk.
Jeffrey Alfier’s latest collection of poems is The Shadow Field (Louisiana Literature Press, 2020). He is also author of Gone This Long: Southern Poems, The Wolf Yearling, Idyll for a Vanishing River, Fugue for a Desert Mountain, Anthem for Pacific Avenue, Southbound Express to Bayhead, The Red Stag at Carrbridge: Scotland Poems, Bleak Music: Poems & Photographs of the American Southwest, a photo and poetry collaboration with poet Larry D. Thomas, The Storm Petrel: Poems of Ireland and The Color of Forgiveness — co-authored with fellow editor Tobi Alfier.
TA: Briefly, when did you start writing poetry and when did you start submitting your work?
JA: I began toying with poetry in the mid-90s, though it was nothing serious. I didn’t begin writing poetry in earnest, in seriousness, until 1997. I also began submitting poetry that year. It was very bad writing in those early days; I had a 100% rejection rate my first year of submitting poems, but I finally turned the corner around late 2003. Since then I’ve had a 30-35% acceptance rate.
TA: When you’re reading poetry for pleasure, what draws you to those writers and poems? Specific turns of phrase or vocabulary, styles, great figurative language, etc.
JA: I look for images that stay with me, those wrought from a sense of concision that produce memorable lines, especially great endings that employ a sense of what Keats called “negative capability” where the poet is able to inscribe — especially in the last line — uncertainty, obscurity, or doubt without any desperate reaching for resolutions derived from reasoning processes; clarifying moments but not necessarily logical outcomes.
The Inhabitants of Paradise
She loved the way the tiger kitten
jumped into her naked lap.
The red lines did not hurt,
washed away in the river,
leaving unbroken skin. How good it was,
the way they watched the shadows
climbing up the birch trunks,
evening a softer, different kind of day.
The names were not fixed, she thought
She’d call the animals by how they moved.
The waddles could swim, too,
but the swims stayed inside water.
And if they built a structure,
she and he, of leaves spread over vines,
they would fold it up soon, there was no
need for shelter, it was just to build,
out of joy. No anger, none of this
sad wariness, if he were late
she would just wait there, threading daisies,
until he came. And then the night
curved over them, every familiar star.
And pride a good thing, look,
I made this for you, is it not
beautiful? No accuser. No sin.
Janet McCann taught creative writing at Texas A&M. Journals publishing her work include Kansas Quarterly, Parnassus, Nimrod, Sou’wester, Christian Century, New York Quarterly, and more. Her most recent book-length poetry collection is The Crone at the Casino, Lamar University Press, 2015.
You need to hydrate love.
Find the balance
of chemical support
and mix it with
the freshest of water.
Share this often
the domestic day.
It will prevent
the low blood pressure
of a tired heart,
associated with life lies
the occasional self-inflicted fall
from blurred vision.
R. Gerry Fabian is a retired English instructor. He has been publishing his writing since 1972 in various literary magazines. He has published three books of poems and three novels. He lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. His web page is https://rgerryfabian.wordpress.com.
An Abstraction on the Tangible, With Trees
I tend to wander through forests of abstractions
to reach the tangible. The old hump-backed chair
in the living room. The knots on the pine floor
speaking the steady code of trees. The pictures
on the walls with trees in them. The trees framed
by windows. The dream catcher in the window.
The picture of the stag, in trees, my abstraction
of maleness, an invitation. Then you came to plant
trees, catch my dreams, sit in the chair and slowly
make the abstract tangible, as if you had emerged
tangible from some abstraction of mine but
that would only be the part that was not you.
The best part is you.
Carol Casey lives in Blyth, Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in The Prairie Journal, The Anti-Langourous Project, Please See Me, Front Porch Review, Cypress, Vita Brevis, and others, including several anthologies.
Yair Mejía on Unsplash.