FIRST LITERARY REVIEW-EAST
In memoriam: This issue is dedicated with great sorrow and much love to our friend Dean Kostos (1954–2022), who was an amazing poet and a beautiful human being. Dean, your wise words will always be with us, and this issue begins with a lovely poem that he had sent to us shortly before his untimely passing. Dean will be sorely missed by all those who had the honor of knowing him.
pages in a book of prophecy.
Whorling in dim contentment,
straining along steppes,
winds implore, stab
flesh of the past.
Biting words follow
a sleigh clenches carved tracks.
Dean Kostos was a poet and educator, anthologist, curator of Greek and Greek-American poetry, and editor of Mama's Boy. He was the author of numerous collections of poetry, as well as a stunning memoir, The Boy Who Listened to Paintings, published by Spuyten Duyvil in 2019.
You were already asleep by midnight so I kissed myself
on the back
of each wrist.
Shae Krispinsky lives in Tampa, FL, where she fronts the band Navin Avenue, whose sound she describes as Southern Gothic ’70s-arena indie rock with a pop Americana twist. Her fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in Connotation Press, Thought Catalog, The Dillydoun Review, Vending Machine Press, Sybil Journal, and more. She is currently working on her band's second album and a novel.
don't spill so pretty.
Heath Brougher is the Editor-in-Chief of Concrete Mist Press and co-poetry editor of Into the Void, winner of the 2017 and 2018 Saboteur Awards for Best Magazine. He received Taj Mahal Review’s 2018 Poet of the Year Award and is a multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. He was awarded the 2020 Wakefield Prize for Poetry and has published nine books. After spending over three years editing the work of others, he is ready to get back into the creative driver’s seat for a while. He has four books forthcoming in 2023.
With a flap of ashen wings, sew
at dusk and watch, graceful heron,
the long sutures of the sky. It will reveal
dawn again, the rosy ones
and its most fibrous scars.
Erika Dagnino is a poet and writer from Italy who has performed with several musicians. Since 2016, she has been writing about public transportation. More info at www.erikadagnino.it
Tantamount to Success
Take a dragon heart,
Smother it in a thick béchamel,
Preferably with slivers
Of roasted almond, and bake!
Marc Vincenz is a poet, fiction writer, translator, editor, and artist. He has published over 30 books of poetry, fiction, and translation. His work has been published in The Nation, Ploughshares, Raritan, Colorado Review, Guernica, Willow Springs, The Common, World Literature Today, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. He is publisher and editor of MadHat Press and publisher of New American Writing. He has lived all over the world—from Brazil to China to Iceland to India. He was born in Matilda Hospital on the Peak in Hong Kong, but now lives on a farm in rural Western Massachusetts overlooking Herman Melville's Greylock Mountain, where there are more fiery searcher caterpillar hunters, big dipper fireflies, and earth-boring scarabs than people.
She was about as simple
As a clock holding time
I call you mine
The way someone saw the sunrise
And gave it a name
Esteemed Basilikon phuton
Plant of kings and queens
I have grown all this way to tell you that
I, too, become more powerful when crushed
Ruhani Gandhi Nigam was born in New York and grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. Raised as a first-generation American by Indian parents, she was surrounded by poetry. She began to write poems, short stories, and essays at the age of eight, and followed her passion for writing to Northeastern University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies. After graduating, Ruhani was an artist in residency at La Macina di San Cresci. She is currently living in Dublin, Ireland, working for a digital marketing agency.
Powdered half-white in the distant mountains.
Parched brown ground crunches underfoot.
At the southeast edge of morning, a tenuous
orange line separates night from the cold
winter sun. Sharp blue cloudless sky
holds this dry winter close.
Breath, the color of snow.
A crow flies overhead.
—Amy L. Smith
Amy L. Smith is a poet, unfolding. Her work is informed by unanswerable questions, by the spaces between us, and by the deep conversations that take us there. Her first poetry compilation, Composting the Moon, was published in March 2022.
Like a wet spark
I saw the first unfolding leaf
this morning after a Monday
night cold, white as a skull
freezing little seedlings.
I was afraid perennials pushing
into resurrection would die.
But they’re hardier than I
thought. Snow eddied down
a few inches, then sun drew
it back up next day. Interim
days and nights, neither winter
nor quite spring. Yet I saw
a green leaf this morning
unfurling a tiny flag of hope.
Marge Piercy has published 20 poetry collections, most recently, On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light [Knopf, September 30, 2020]; 17 novels, including Sex Wars. PM Press reissued Vida and Dance the Eagle to Sleep; they brought out short stories The Cost of Lunch, Etc. and My Body, My Life [essays, poems]. She has read at over 500 venues here and abroad.
Every evening he lights his eye candles
and says a few words
in a dying language.
Not because he is imprisoned
by the word "goodness"
but to keep alive the possibility
of the impossible.
Tony Kitt lives in Dublin, Ireland. His poems appear in multiple magazines and anthologies. His collection entitled Endurable Infinity has been published by Pittsburgh University Press, in the Pitt Series, in autumn 2022. His other collection, Sky Sailing, is due from Salmon Poetry, Ireland, in 2023. His chapbook, The Magic Phlute, has been published by SurVision Books in 2019. Another chapbook, Further Through Time, has been published by Origami Poems Project in December 2022. He edited the anthology of Ukrainian poetry about the war in English translation entitled Invasion (SurVision Books, 2022), and was the winner of the Maria Edgeworth Poetry Prize.
Beauty of Waiting
Inhale and Exhale
Waiting for the Unknown
Beauty of NOT Wanting
Desire and Thought
Beauty of Letting Go
Of the Space
between Exhale and Inhale
Beauty of the Big Surprise
Writing as Giving Birth—
—Eelka F. Lampe
Eelka F. Lampe, Ph.D., is a bi-coastal writer/poet and teacher of the healing arts www.heal.me/eelkalampe Her essays on performance artist Rachel Rosenthal and director Anne Bogart appeared in various journals and anthologies. Eelka has been sharing her poetry publicly since 2017, including at Brooklyn Poets, Artful Dodgers, the MBR Salon in Chelsea (featured poet), great weather for Media, the Yakima Coffeehouse Poets in WA, and the Olympic Peninsula Authors’ Fourth Friday Reading. She will be a featured reader at the Blue Whole Gallery in Sequim, WA, in October. Currently, Eelka is working on her first poetry collection Awake in this World.
Dogs are about Loneliness: Theirs and Ours
You could drive a train
on steel in the stare between
pick-up and Walmart.
Linda Malm was published as a teen and then only returned to poetry after she retired as a college dean. She was selected in a state-wide competition as a Writer of Los Luceros (the Robert Redford/NM Film Board enterprise). Her poetry has appeared in several issues of Howl, and the four Adobe Walls anthologies, as well as the Iowa Summer Writing Festival Anthology and the literary journals The Examined Life and Sugar Mule, the Women Writing Nature edition and the anthology Ms. Aligned 4. Her chapbook, Winded from the Chase, is in press with Kelsay Books.
Krysia Jopek’s Dog Eliot
escaped the Pound. There will be no fascist salutes or mental asylums for him but it’s hard to keep your trousers rolled when you have four legs. Three-legged dogs get along fine. I’ve even seen dogs with two rear wheels looking like they belong in the chariot race in Ben-Hur. Of course, none of this applies to Eliot or ever will.
If William Wyler had cast a beagle instead of Charlton Heston, Wyler would include a feast of Alfred Lord Venison under an Edna St. Vincent Mole along with a canine poetry reading. Malamutes would hog the mic, howling introductions longer than their poems and going on past their time limits. After Eliot read his epic, a corgi named Carlos would growl, “He set poetry back fifty years.”
Jon Wesick is a regional editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. He’s published hundreds of poems and stories in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, New Verse News, Paterson Literary Review, Pearl, Pirene’s Fountain, Slipstream, Space and Time, and Tales of the Talisman. His most recent books are The Shaman in the Library and The Prague Deception. http://jonwesick.com
The Spotted Lanternflies
They are helping themselves
to my fourth-floor terrace
with parti-colored impudence,
ledge, window, lounge chair.
I once read of a Buddhist monk
who, before bathing, ritually
offered the bacteria on his skin
an apology for killing them.
I am not a Buddhist.
Joel Allegretti is the author of, most recently, Platypus (NYQ Books, 2017), a collection of poems, prose, and performance texts, and Our Dolphin (Thrice Publishing, 2016), a novella. He is the editor of Rabbit Ears: TV Poems (NYQ Books, 2015). The Boston Globe called Rabbit Ears “cleverly edited” and “a smart exploration of the many, many meanings of TV.”
To the Bug on My Basement Floor
You don’t belong here.
There is no food for you,
no mate, no chance
for a long or happy life.
I will step on you
with mercy and reluctance.
Returning you outdoors
would face the challenge
of mounting a staircase,
for an aging man
himself on the way
to being squashed.
—George H. Northrup
George H. Northrup is a poet and psychologist in New Hyde Park, NY. He is the author of You Might Fall In (2014), Wave into Wave, Light into Light: Poems and Places (2019), When Sunset Weeps: Homage to Emily Dickinson (2020), and Old Caterpillar (2021).
One is silver and the other gold.
Lined up by height, we sang what we were told.
There wasn’t enough room, enough light.
Who was expendable? Who mattered?
Lined up by height, we sang what we were told.
The pretty and powerful taught us
who was expendable, who mattered.
To be desirable was to be safe.
The pretty and powerful survive.
Cute endangered animals get more protection.
To be desirable is to be safe.
Some plants we poison, some tend.
Cute endangered animals get more protection.
There’s not enough room, enough light.
Some plants we poison, some tend.
Milkweed’s silver, dandelion’s gold.
Alison Stone’s published seven collections, including Zombies at the Disco (Jacar Press, 2020), Caught in the Myth (NYQ Books, 2019), and They Sing at Midnight (2003 Many Mountains Moving Poetry Award). Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, and many others. She won Poetry’s Frederick Bock Prize and New York Quarterly’s Madeline Sadin Award. She’s a painter and created The Stone Tarot.
I finally understand avocados
This avocado isn’t too ripe or
browning inside or, like those O’Keeffe
painted—a dried-out seed rolling
in its shell. The womb shape compels,
n’est-ce pas? I palm it, watch its dark curves
on the wood table, touch its soft, firm shape.
When is ripeness done? When I cut off
the top, this one doesn’t slice easily. It’s green
next to the skin, hard yellow around the seed.
Do some ripen inward? Overripe ones
brown closest to the seed.
Ripeness must be the space between
under and over ready, and, no matter how
you slice it, ripeness comes once or not at all.
—Jan Garden Castro
Jan Garden Castro (www.jancastro.com/): Afterword for The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Suntup Editions, 2022–23). Poems in New Letters, Black Renaissance Noire, Konch, Chronogram. Writer for ABR & Sculpture. Books include The Last Frontier (poems, Eclectic Press), The Art & Life of Georgia O’Keeffe, Sonia Delaunay: La Moderne.
Time unwinds into a lifetime.
I try to catch it with one hand,
to grab all of its string.
Come with us, the winds say,
We’ll delight you, make you rich.
We’ll get you into beachfront property,
the green surf and scallop shells you love.
Come with us and dilly-dally,
because you don't really want
to get to the end.
Elizabeth Morse is a poet who lives in New York’s East Village. Her work has been published in literary magazines such as Ginosko, First Literary Review-East, and SurVision. A poetry chapbook, The Future Is Now, was published by Linear Arts Press. She has her MFA from Brooklyn College and supports her poetry with a job in technology.
We live in an old chaos of the sun . . .
We sense how Hereafter might be,
what to make of the Other Side.
Too blond. Not black enough.
Either way, it’s hard to imagine
what seems to be that may not.
And without art or intel or Deep-
State background, back-channeling,
special-ops, recons in those parts,
blogs, vlogs, podcasts and webinars,
alternative facts, walkback fake news,
inevitable spin, we just have to make-do.
Go blond. Go blind. Go fish.
—G. Timothy Gordon
Timothy Gordon’s Dream Windwas published in 2020 (Spirit-of-the-Ram Press), Ground of this Blue Earth(Mellen), while Everything Speaking Chinese was awarded Riverstone Poetry Prize (AZ). Work appears in international journals and has been nominated for several Pushcart Awards. Eighth book, Empty Heaven/Empty Earth. will be published November 2022. Divides professional and personal lives between Southeast Asia and the Southwest Sonoran Desert Organ Mountains.
Love in Space
I'm cockpitting with my boyfriend, the Dummy,
or test pilot, to be PC. We are rocking the
galaxies in Elon Musk’s Tesla.
Every time we orbit earth I say
Hi Mom or Let’s Go Mets, depending
on the season.
I smuggled in extra batteries
so we can keep the Bowie going a little longer,
I don’t even have to go to the bathroom up here.
Starman and I want to settle down
on planet Zillow that welcomes our kind.
Instead of looking up at God
we will tell our little space cadets to look down
on earth. We thank our lucky stars
that we have risen.
[Editors’ Note: the poem “Love in Space” first appeared in the poetry collection Not Sorry (Alien Buddha Press, 2020.)]
Vicki Iorio is the author of the poetry collections Poems from the Dirty Couch (Local Gems Press), Not Sorry (Alien Buddha Press), and the chapbooks Send Me a Letter (dancing girl press) and Something Fishy (Finishing Line Press). Her poetry has appeared in numerous print and online journals, including The Painted Bride Quarterly, Rattle, poets respond on line, The Fem Lit Magazine, and The American Journal of Poetry. Vicki is currently living in Florida but her heart is in New York.
I’m sitting in a dim bar
when a woman says to me,
“You look tan. Have you been on vacation?”
“No,” I say, “I’ve been here, in the city.”
“Your face looks dark,” she says.
I don’t know how to explain
that my face looks dark because my skin is dark.
“He’s wearing a light shirt,” a man next to us says.
“It contrasts with his face.”
The woman doesn’t say anything.
I think she gets it.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
The Short Unhappy Tale of a Brown Rabbit
He waited for Alice, but she never came.
Perhaps what he needed to help stake his claim
and to catch the attention of her drowsy eye
was a pocket watch, waistcoat, and matching bowtie
so she’d jump up and chase him, as if he were quarry,
deep into his rabbit hole for fame and glory!
In telling like tales, the improvisatori
named Carroll employed his complete inventory:
some politics, lyrics (before he wrote limericks);
illusion, confusion, a pipe dream’s profusion;
new fantasies, nonsense, and logic absurd;
a white rabbit, mad hatter, a great dodo bird,
and cat who would vanish before his last …
[Editors’ Note: We want to thank Mr. Gosse for sending us a poem that reminds us that it is the Year of the Rabbit]
Ken Gosse prefers writing short, rhymed verse with traditional meter, usually filled with whimsy and humor. First published in First Literary Review–East in November 2016, his poems are also in Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Pure Slush, Home Planet News Online, Spillwords, and other publications. Raised in the Chicago suburbs, now retired, he and his wife have lived in Mesa, AZ, usually with rescue dogs and cats underfoot, for over twenty years.
A broken note hangs in the air:
A turtled spoon trembles. You see
the music. Her hands hover. She
exhales, caresses the keys with care.
Timid chords begin to engage
the surface of coffee. One
sugar packet’s content is spun
across the table. The image,
all white, of a saint, a surprise,
emerges on blue cloth and you
begin to remember someone
you kissed just once. Those perfect eyes
have appeared in dreams, always new.
Quiet, a fresh tune has begun.
—Mark J. Mitchell
Mark J. Mitchell was born in Chicago and grew up in Southern California. His latest poetry collection, Roshi San Francisco, was just published by Norfolk Publishing. Starting from Tu Fu was recently published by Encircle Publications. A new collection, Something to Be, and a novel are forthcoming. He is very fond of baseball, Louis Aragon, Miles Davis, Kafka and Dante. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the activist and documentarian Joan Juste, where he made his marginal living pointing out pretty things. Now, he’s looking for work again. He has published two novels and three chapbooks and four full-length collections so far. His first chapbook won the Negative Capability Award.
@Mark J Mitchell_Writer
As It Happens
Silence and books are kept in libraries.
“The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.”
Allow me to congratulate you on your chivalry.
“100% lemon juice with added ingredients.”
Give me the Swiss embassy any time—there’s neutrality for you.
It has the logic of a koan and the rhythm of an algorithm.
Give me the binoculars and I’ll examine your symptoms.
Hello, Doctor Smith,
You really are a disastrous figurine.
He sounds like a saxophone player
Who sounds too much like John Coltrane.
Then there are those who are only shallow.
If there is anyone among you who fancies himself wise
He must become a fool if he is to be truly wise.
A suicide note that takes all of one’s natural life to complete.
Let’s not jump the gun too far up the creek.
Ian Ganassi’s work has appeared recently or will appear soon in numerous literary journals, such as New American Writing, BlazeVox, SurVision, and The American Journal of Poetry. New work is forthcoming in Offcourse, and Home Planet News. His first full-length collection, Mean Numbers, is available in the usual places. His new collection, True for the Moment, will be out next year, and a third collection is in the works. Selections from an ongoing collaboration with a painter can be found at www.thecorpses.com.
In Japan, the sun goddess has retreated to a cave.
In Iran, on this day, they drink and eat
and read poetry to ward off evil spirits.
The stones of Stonehenge align with
the sunset on winter solstice.
Lean times could be ahead. Everyone!
Eat hearty food and drink rich wine
thanks to the farmers who grew the crops
we turn into meals
and thanks to those who crushed the grapes
and boiled the hops during harvesttime
and thanks to nature for fermenting
these libations during the last months
and thanks to the poets for their poetry.
[Editors' Note: We do indeed thank the poets for their poetry and to our faithful readers for supporting it]
Geer Austin is the author of Cloverleaf, a poetry chapbook (Poets Wear Prada Press). His poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, Fjords Review, Main Street Rag, Big City Lit, and others. He lives in New York City.