April 2016 Issue

“January 20” by Patricia McKeown (Poem)
“Thaw” by Patricia McKeown (Poem)
“Hobgoblins” by Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen (Flash Fiction)
“Service” by Michael J. Vaughn (Poem)
“Desert Honey” by Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen (Flash Fiction)
“The Night of Delete” by Cleo Griffith (Poem)
“A Little Drop of Poison” by Cleo Griffith (Poem)
“Drought” by Kara Arguello (Poem)
“Gardener’s Delight” by Lita Kurth (Flash Fiction)
“Hideaway” by Kara Arguello (Poem)
“Fishing for the Moon in the Water” by Kara Arguello (Poem)
“Sojourn of the Soul” by Cynthia Benson (Flash Fiction)
“Dear Tania” by Kara Arguello (Poem)

January 20

at Ragdale

Another week has tramped by
in mud boots. And still
what remains of the snow
drains deeper
into the brown-sogged roots
of meadow. To the west

and north pastures, a few
great scraps of whiteness
crouch low, the way
swans might tense to bend
deeper, to sip
the warmed red waters
they churn with their feet.

The wetted white necks
of a southern stand of birches
bob one degree back,
then forth, perhaps
with the wind, perhaps
with mild admiration.


The sun rises

turning air in its sleep,
its stone bed.

Sun, luminous
no clear edges,

like the girl’s hand
waving slowly to the fisherman:

“Find me” now
in the spring-broken lake.

Patricia McKeown lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with her husband, poet and artist Tom McKeown. They have two grown children. Patricia has worked as a reporter, teacher, grant writer and editor, including as an editor with Wisconsin Trails magazine and Wisconsin Review literary journal. She is currently studying occupational therapy with a special interest in the use of mindfulness and creative arts therapies.


She closed the book, placed it on the table, having decided to walk once again through the door.

Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s newest work could wait, like Hannah waited—but unlike her, the book could remain in one spot. She’d promised herself she’d try to do the same, but she couldn’t. The parlor window had a view of the bay.

The people were in there again, talking, twittering like birds after a spring rain. When Hannah passed the settee, the man trailed off mid-sentence. The woman sucked in a breath, and the boy—the one who often sat in the corner wearing a strange, stiff-brimmed hat and thin white strings that dangled from what looked like waxen plugs in his ears—spoke a single, tremulous word: “Mom?”

She hushed him. Good. Hannah had no patience for them today.

The water was deep gray, the sky a lighter shade of the same. Hannah stood gazing through the rain-speckled pane for a long while. No sign of the ship out there, no sign of William. Did she really expect to see the Plato sailing into port after so long?

The boy’s voice cut the silence. “What should we—?”

“SHHHHH!” Both adults did it this time. The man held up a silver box with a dark circle in its center and a startling green light on top, aiming it at Hannah like a pistol.

Shoot me, Hannah thought, but did not say. Seven weeks overdue and more than halfway through a ravenous hurricane season, no other conclusion could be reached: William was not coming home.

Reading Self Reliance wouldn’t help, but neither would standing there like some forlorn pup awaiting its master. Hannah began to retrace her steps. This was her foolish consistency—waiting for a husband who would never return. Watching her do so, rapt, was theirs.

Perhaps I am beautiful, she thought. William had said so, several times, but he had been so young then.

“Are you getting this?” the woman whispered.

Halting, Hannah glared at her. Who was this strange creature in her parlor, dressed like a man in these navy pants with loops at the waist, wearing an indecent top with no sleeves or frills? Why was her hair loose, no braid or bun, no fashionable curls tumbling from her temples?

The woman went as still as a marble statue and turned almost as white. “Sweet Jesus,” she whispered.

“He will not help you,” Hannah said, walking on. “Believe me, for I know.”

In the moments following, Hannah heard only the swish of her own petticoats. When she cleared the threshold, the boy jumped up and rushed toward the man. “Did it record it this time?” he cried. “Did it?”

Back in the study, Hannah turned to look. They were all gathered on the settee, watching a bright rectangle on the back of the silver box.

“No,” the man moaned, throwing it down.

“I could actually see her gown this time,” the woman hissed. “The dropped waist, the pleats…”

“What period do you think it was from?” the man asked.

“How do I know? Mid-1800s, maybe? Old.”

They were mad, Hannah decided, smoothing her bell-shaped skirt before sitting down. She wasn’t too certain, though. There was the matter of the reflection in the window glass. She could see them in it, always, but never herself. Nor could she remember letting them in.

Sighing, she took up her book again and read.

Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Literature from Stony Brook University. Her work has appeared in several literary magazines, including Proteus, The Southampton Review, The East Hampton Star, and in the anthologies The Best of Every Day Fiction Two and Suffolk County Poetry Review 2015. She is the author of Publicize This! Promoting Your Group or Nonprofit on a Limited or Nonexistent Budget. She teaches literature and writing at Suffolk County Community College.


She drags the corpse of her
best worst friend enemy into the
karaoke bar, where she hopes it
will attract the people she
lost during the Great Frenemy
Wars of 2010

After all, things are now different:
her companion, having recently died,
is a celebrity. Best of all
(having recently died), she
cannot speak for herself.
All in all, an ideal situation.

Sadly, although the evening draws
singers, who love nothing better
than to apply lilting, pathetic tones to
the passings of their comrades
(and frankly wish that more of
them would provide them with
this opportunity), none of
them seem all that eager to
rejoin the circle of worship around the
worst best enemy friend

(X steps outside the restaurant,
feels dizzy and says,
I think I’m going to fall.
Lying on the sidewalk, her
fretful heart beating itself to
pieces, she flashes on her
first sight of London, age
thirteen, the buildings going
on forever)

Y sits there with the
best boyfriend she could get and
a corpse who is no longer as
celebrated or as sweet
smelling as she once was

You, my dear, she says,
were never particularly
good for me

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of seventeen novels, including The Popcorn Girl and Nature Boy. His poems have appeared in more than 100 journals, including The Montserrat Review, Skidrow Penthouse and Terrain.org.

Desert Honey

Gravel crackled under rolling tires. Clara hobbled to the door of her converted garage and peered through the dusty pane. A black and white car, roof rack glowing blood red in the sunlight, idled in the driveway.

“Afternoon, Sam,” she said, emerging from the side door.

“Afternoon, Clara.” The Sherriff’s car door groaned open. “Hubert back yet?”

She shook her graying head, looking away. In the distance, cacti shimmied in the desert heat. “Gone for good this time.”

“He’ll come back when he gets whatever-it-is outta his system. Always does.” Sam stood up, thin and bow-legged, and pulled his sunglasses off. “Woman, what’re you doin’ in your workshop on a day like this? I’m surprised you ain’t melting!”

“Building new hives. I’m glad you came. Tea?”

He chuckled. “Iced, maybe.”

She led him to her sunflower-yellow kitchen, hand-painted teapots perched atop the kitchen cabinets, fragile floral domes of periwinkle, sage and rose. Taking his hat off, Sam sat at the farm table and scratched his silvery stubble while she readied the kettle.

“Darn cheeriest kitchen I ever did see.”

“Is that a compliment?” she asked.

“I suppose so. Get that mouse?”


“The poison on the counter. Havin’ trouble with vermin?”

She’d left it right out in the open. A big box of guilt. All it lacked was a bow.

“Can’t be too careful with that Hanta stuff around,” he said.

Clara made no reply.

In the silence, Sam would begin thinking, working things out, but that didn’t frighten her. How calm she was despite all scared her more.

“You know, if I didn’t know you all these years,” Sam said, “I might think you’d done old Hubert in. Always did wonder why you put up with his nonsense.”

“We were married forty-seven years.”


She wanted to be caught. These slip-ups only proved it.

“He’ll be back, Clara. Prettiest gal at Mohave High, Class of ’63, a-waitin’ me at home? I’d bet on it.”

She came to the table, sat beside him. “I’m fond of you too, Sam.”

He grinned, showing off the gap between his incisors. “So, how’s them bees you keep? Gettin’ testy in this heat?”

“No more than usual.”

“Good to hear. Never did understand how you could work with them. One false move and they’re all over you.”

Clara shrugged. “Workers protect the hive. That’s their job. But it’s not so bad once they get used to me.” Her eyes drifted to the tabletop. “If one gets riled and stings, though, it’s in her nature.”

Her? I thought them nasty little buggers were male.”

“Drones don’t have stingers. They’re only for mating. The females pitch ’em out of the hive when they tire of them lazing around, messing things up. Then they make sure they stay out.”

Sam hooted. “Sounds like what you oughta do to ol’ Hubert!”

Again, Clara said nothing.

He studied her. The kettle whistle began to sing soft and low, building to a frantic squeal. Clara’s hands shook when she took it off the flame. “Would you bring down a teapot for me?”

“Sure.” He picked the only one with a chip in the spout. “This okay?”

“It’ll do.” She placed eight bags inside and poured. The tea bled deep, brown swirls overtaking the steaming water. “Honey?”


She put a spoonful of liquid gold from a mason jar into a glass. “Hubert took tea this way. Just enough to quell the bitterness, not enough to make it sweet.”

“Clara.” Sam had begun leaning forward in his chair.

“I made it the way he liked.” Her voice became strange. “Forty-seven years.”

“Clara, I need to ask something.”

She looked at Sam, ready.

“If Hubert don’t come home… well, of course, he’d be crazy not to! But if he don’t…”

Sighing, she opened the freezer and took out an ice tray. “He’s not coming back, Sam.”

“You don’t know that.”

A signed confession. That’s what it would take. She tossed the ice tray onto the counter. Three cubes jumped free. Grabbing the pot handle, she tipped the spout into the mouth of the angled glass. The honey thinned, dissolved.

“Clara, didn’t you hear me?” Sam was at her side now, loud, trying to reclaim some semblance of ignorance. “Hubert will come back. And then—”

“Didn’t you hear me?” She dropped an ice cube into the tea and watched it vanish. “He won’t.”

See Ms. Powers-Vermaelen’s earlier listed bio.

The Night of Delete

She chose the night — her new and angry
symbolism of delete—
to settle with the unwelcome intruders
in her garden. Flashlight in hand she walked
down the un-repaired back porch steps
to the concrete block dividers,
(cracked and split, not replaced)
where the fearsome live—
females of most unpleasant reputation
with siren-red poison kisses.

Her weapon was a bottle of Dawn
poured down upon the spiders
flash-lighted in their dens—
sleek, glossy, round, accessible—
no chance for these violators to escape.

It was not meant to be a fair exchange.
Trespassers deserved no warning,
transgressors no call for passwords.
She poured and destroyed and,
without looking up at the stars,
which once had been what drew her to the night,
went back inside to wash the suffocation
from her hands.

A Little Drop of Poison

I’ve read that if you taste a little drop of poison
then slowly increase your intake
you may be able to withstand a large dose
when others around you die —
so it is with us today,
fed the dramas of daily sorrows,
increasingly able to take in horrors
until immune to suffering,
able to take it on —
see anguished faces, not cry,
smashed bodies, not recoil.
Little by little our systems adjust
to the drops of terror by madmen,
we accept losses of war as ordinary
because we have imbibed
so many draughts,
so many tumblers of liquid pain.
Inside our machinery tightens,
absorbs the metallic odor of disaster,
turns our hearts heat-resistant black,
every year another hundred acceptances
for the gadflies of disaster.
No longer do we tremble at the sound of bombs.
Worst of all, no longer do we laugh at tyrants,
know we will defeat their attacks.
Incident by incident we build immunity.
In the end, all we will be:
lumps of cross-hatched shells
with our insides eaten out.

Cleo Griffith was Chair of the Editorial Board of Song of the San Joaquin for twelve years, and remains on the Board. She has been published in: POEM, Cider Press Review, Iodine, Main Street Rag, More Than Soil, More Than Sky: The Modesto Poets, the Aurorean, The Furnace Review, The Lyric, Tiger’s Eye, Time of Singing and others. She is a member of the Modesto CA Branch of the National League of American Pen Women.


When I wake up so empty
I go out to the garden
pull back the sod
and lie down with my face to the sky.

If you ever come to water
I will open my mouth, my eyes,
to absorb it all, root deep
down in the earth.

I am more like the plant
that holds on to only one flower.
My pot would boil over
with too many blossoms.

The bloom’s off the rose, you say.
I have to agree.
Morning light shows
everything cut back
to a glistening stump.

Kara Arguello was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and now lives, works, and writes in San Jose, California. Her work has appeared in Cream City Review, The Fourth River, Sugar House Review, Aperçus Quarterly, and Snail Mail Review, among others. Kara is an in-house attorney at a prominent Bay Area technology company, and in her spare time edits Poetry Center San Jose’s member newsletter, In So Many Words. Above all she basks in the company of her husband and their toddler son.

Gardener’s Delight

Jenna knelt by the triangle of front lawn made into a showpiece by her own considerable skill. She dug the hand-trowel (nice rubberized handle and perfect point— you get what you pay for) into the soil, soft from extensive mulching and recent rain. Her garden flourished and dazzled year round; she made it look easy. With a private, guilty smile, she looked down at a yellow iris. Sometimes when she was sick of a plant, she donated it to Suzie, her neighbor who could barely grow marigolds. Of course it died right away. You just can’t help some people. Although they need it.

Into just the right size hole she set her newest acquisition, a vine—lavender and forest green with a deep maroon underside. She’d bought it that morning at the Queen’s Retreat. Maybe she’d train it onto a trellis. She sang a blues song. Music just welled out of her when she felt good.

In her fingers the vine felt like a lizard, cool but with a heartbeat. Infinitely special. She was a sun radiating beauty on all the earth, well, her patch of it.

That night, she applied lotion to her hands, not minding the little calluses and slight itch from pulling weeds.

The next day she could have sworn the plant had spread two inches in all directions. Against the river stones, its color was exquisite. Dog walkers, joggers, even bicyclists complimented her as they passed. She beamed like a parent at a recital. Because of her, something fabulous was added to the world.

In bed before sleep, her hands itched distinctly, and for five minutes she scratched them until the skin puffed up like scaly pink marshmallows.

Suzie came by the next day to tell about all the seeds she planted that didn’t come up. “Wow, what happened to your hands?” she said. “That must hurt like the bejesus!”

“It’s not that bad,” Jenna said, but she started wearing bigger longer gloves. She found the right trellis and gently attached the vine with almost invisible ties. She stepped back, and the beauty-pain in her heart told her she had something world-class. She couldn’t help imagining the envy at the garden show. The vine exuded loveliness, not braying like some giant zinnia, that pigeon of flowers, but glowing like a rainbow, almost warm.

Was it a surprise? –no, not really—when the local paper and the university horticultural center took an interest in the vine. When you’ve got it, flaunt it. She wore long sleeves now.

On weekends, people slowed their BMWs and Mercedes just to view the plant. Jenna’s hands throbbed outright day and night. She saw her doctor, then a specialist. The itchy red bumps were intransigent. She hummed the blues, feeling her heartbeat in her hands.

But she could still garden. That was the main thing. Life is not a bed of roses. She wasn’t about to let a hand ailment stand in the way of her greatest joy and achievement. She looked over the vine. Was there a stem out of place? Carefully, carefully, she trimmed it right above the leaf notches. It oozed a drop of purple sap. Pruned, it was smaller but possibly more awesome.

By evening, the bumps had retreated down her wrist. What relief. Back in the front yard, the next morning, she pulled up an ugly Oxalis that dared to grow next to her perfect vine. Accidentally she folded and bruised one of the vine leaves. Her whole thumb cleared up.

The very next week she saw a psychiatrist. He told her don’t be ridiculous and sent her home with an anti-anxiety prescription.

That summer Jenna got a five-page spread in Gardens International. At the awards ceremony, she had to wear gloves that went almost up to her shoulders, but she took two of her pills, and it hardly even bothered her.

Lita Kurth (MFA Pacific Lutheran University) has had work published in Fjords Review, Brain,Child, Main Street Rag, Tikkun, NewVerseNews, Blast Furnace, Raven Chronicles, ellipsis…literature and art, Compose, Redux, Chicago Literati, Composite Arts, Verbatim Poetry, the Santa Clara Review, Gyroscope Review, Vermont Literary Review, DNA-Dragonfly Press, Defenestration, Draft: a Journal of Process, Tattoo Highway, and others.

Her CNF, “Pivot,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her CNF “This is the Way We Wash the Clothes,” presented at the Working Class Studies conference, 2012, won the 2014 Diana Woods Memorial Award (summer-fall 2014) and appeared in Lunchticket 2014. She contributes to Tikkun.org/tikkundaily, TheReviewReview.net, San Jose’s weekly, The Metro, and classism.org.

In 2013, she co-founded the Flash Fiction Forum, a reading series in San Jose profiled in the San Jose Metro weekly.


Rode a pointed wing south of my cage;
found him among reeds in the bayou,
mastering tai chi on a peeling kayak.

Chest-deep into Alabama August, reason
abandoned me on that dock.
Concentration capsizing, I watched
his chest filled with silence.

Then I was honeysuckle melting sticky
in the sun; I was a snakeskin boot
propped cocky on his chrome.

He poured into bowls, like country gravy
one morning, a dream of verandas, gulf shores,
garden music. Laid me down on a patchwork quilt,
pieced us a life of low-tide watercolors off the pier.

But touched me only behind opaque veils,
asked me to exit by anonymous back stairs,
lest peering neighbors see that
he and I are hardly family.

Fishing for the Moon in the Water

I took a hangnail in my teeth and yanked
it hard to see my bright red undercoating.
I wanted to be a mad dog, to snarl
at those who walked too close on the street.

I brought this rod and rusty reel
here to the dam where I once took your picture.
I’ve caught nothing.

The earth is mostly under water,
like the thin blue of your tired eyes.
So what is the use of lighting candles in a grotto,
of desperate prayers before night drowns the day?

Locusts chant and whir from low-leaning branches.
By the last chord, the one we dredged
up from the murk, that note we hummed
through cornfields and down runways,

I am defanged.

See Ms. Arguello’s earlier listed bio.

Sojourn of the Soul

Some people go to India to get in touch with their spirituality. I choose Italy.

I stroll through these narrow cobblestone streets, marveling at how a simple, rectangular window becomes an expression of the glorious. Framed like a masterpiece, with a Romanesque arch and a Gothic peak, an ornate cornice, columns alongside, a balcony, and a window box of bright red geraniums. A spread of fuchsia bougainvillea reaches skyward up the centuries-old wall. Parting the shutters, a white-haired matron in a flowered apron shakes out her bedding. I smile up at her. She nods.

I see her later, hobbling, a bit ahead of me. She stops, and I freeze, curious. She is genuflecting. Before one of those little alcoves in a walled section. Rows of shops and restaurants and suddenly an arched alcove. Its window like a department store’s, but inside resides not a mannequin dressed in the latest styles, but a life-size statue of the Virgin Mary, with a crown of tiny lights, and vases of violets on a marble altar. Below her, a creche with the baby Jesus.

The woman enters a wooden door on the side. I hide. She is tending to the shrine. Replacing the withered blooms with fresh ones, making a little bow each time she passes in front of Mary. My guess is that she has tended here for a long time.

I walk on, wondering if these little alcoves affect all who pass. Do they unconsciously pull at their souls, even when the being doesn’t pause to look? Does it keep them more conscious, just as the gongs of Thailand, or chants from a mosque, are said to do? And now those bells from the church tower chiming. How can these reminders not affect?

I am sure it is true. But the next day, I see an Italian teenager, clad in tight American jeans, tangled in an embrace with her lover on a park bench, a common sight everywhere in Italy. She bids goodbye, shuffles past me, and stops before the shrine. Will she genuflect, too?

But she does not. Instead, she smoothes her locks in the reflection and reapplies her lip gloss.

Still, I cling to my belief. But when I near the shrine, I hear a stirring. The door is ajar and a sweating, middle-aged workman in blue coveralls is sweeping the manger straw. In his right hand is the baby Jesus, hung upside down, held by an ankle. He swings him into the crib with a thud.

It lands like a thud in my heart. I will go home knowing the truth, at least. Spirituality is anywhere… or nowhere… depending on each individual’s soul. Icons have nothing to do with it.

Cynthia Benson is the author of ALL VISIONS OF BLIND LOVE, which tells the tales of 25 very different people from around the world, each on his or her own journey of “blind love,” whether good or bad. The short story collection is nominated for the IPPY award. She has published in literary short story publications and anthologies, including Confrontation, The Call: An Anthology of Women’s Writing, Palo Alto Review, The Pistol, DIQ, Potpourri, and Dodobobo. Her screenplay, About Face, was nominated for Best Screenplay at the 2012 Naperville Independent Film Festival.

Dear Tania

I wish for you two pairs of wings,
one hard and outright, one that beats to power
your flight out of East San Jose
away from dingy cheap motel apartments,
up from the VTA lot where your stepfather
hit you like a man, forced that horrible wrong,
out of your mother-viper’s nest
where you stay pinned and broken.

I wish for you one purple humid evening
when locusts’ whir will quiet the thrumming
in your head, the childish thrill of spotting
the cold light of fireflies hovering over
flowerbeds ripe with peat moss,
flashing a message only you can decode.

I wish for you a night to spend safe and spying
their wink, watching for patterns
of nocturnal, winged bioluminescence,
to read their secret message. To believe
it all means something; to hear yourself say it
and know it is the truth.

See Ms. Arguello’s earlier listed bio.