Katharyn Howd Machan’s What the Piper Promised was selected as the winner of the first AQP chapbook contest and was published in August 2018. We were honored to receive so many powerful submissions. A few of the poems from those submissions stuck with us. So we’ve gathered them in a special portfolio. Here they are.
With chopsticks, we dip
our spider rolls in dim-green
paste, lift the circles to ignite
the flame along our tongues.
A man and woman pull stools
to the adjoining table, lift
their pipsqueak of a girl to sit.
A woman joins them, drops
her satchel to the floor, leans in.
The adults chatter in words we do
not understand – but not to the girl,
who twirls a strand of jet hair,
watches steam curl from the spout
of the teapot. Bowls of udon arrive.
The parents unwrap chopsticks,
prong a strand or two into
a jade-green bowl for the girl,
who pulls them out and lets them
drop, pulls them out and lets them
drop. The friend twists her waist-
length hair into a bun, fastens it
with a comb, turns to see the girl
pushing her noodles around
the bowl. Reaching into her bag,
she lifts a package, wrapped,
lipped with scissor-coiled ribbon,
plops it in front of the girl, who lays
her chopsticks down. Together,
they ease the ribbon off, tear
the paper to reveal a square
book, padlocked. Hello Kitty,
says the cover, I see by squinting,
as they release the key and pencil
fastened to the side, unlock
the tome. The girl turns it over
and over, takes the inch-long pencil,
opens to a blank page, puts point
to paper. Letter follows letter.
They wobble on and on in crooked
lines, pencil growing shorter
and shorter, voices softer and softer
until they stop, and we see the faces
of the parents as they turn
to see the girl.
MARTIN WILLITTS JR.
A cloudbank, low to the ground,
was easy to walk through;
he did, entering into the next world.
She tried to follow,
but the secret door had already vanished
into mist, breaking apart.
She had hesitated. The moment went
before she could respond,
and all she could do, was wonder —
what was it like, there? She’d miss him, perhaps;
perhaps not. He had tangible faults,
but he had other qualities she couldn’t name.
Perhaps not even then. Perhaps, never.
She questioned her own tangibility as she, too,
became one with the longitude and latitude
where we could belong, or not.
I’d witnessed her dying, one hour
after her husband, her face no longer clouded.
The branches dipping down into the pond almost
where they dip up eternal in their joining of hands almost.
In my mind I pluck a branch from the weeping willow
on the other side of the water to graft it into the wild cherry
tree almost makes the plunge into this placid mirror
where I can hear the plip of frogs jumping little
by little into the pond. If only I had Queen Anne’s
lace to web around the wild cherry tree, that too
would look more like the willow and less like –
well, less like something rigid and separate
from the realities of life spread out before us.
A WINTER DESCENDS IN THE MIDDLE OF
YOUR SIXTEENTH SUMMER
Sex at sixteen is a matter of who
persuades fastest—quick like cherry blossoms,
quick before the rhododendron
sickens. And what if you never signed up
for debate team, what if you know nothing
of straw men, red herrings, and slippery slopes?
Without warning, a prolonged death
begins. And what do you say
when a hell-pained voice through a cell phone whispers
god dammit I NEED my freedom
when you don’t know your own nature yet—
only what authors’ ghosts tell you
during your afternoon naps?
Maybe you wake up confused, ride your bike home
and write a hundred lines,
each the first line of a novel.
You tear the paper so each puzzling line becomes
its own long strip, then tie them separately
to thread-thin branches
because you don’t know what’s beautiful yet.
And some of them you put in pickling jars
with jasmine and thyme
because you don’t know disappointment yet.
You sit in the backseat for hours
trying to dazzle the summer into dancing
for you, the world’s would-be seducer,
you walk like a diplomat
and perch with a book on a high rock at sunset
because you don’t know how young you are yet.
Distant is a collection of acres next to the waterfront.
It would be inappropriate to call it waterfront property.
The District of Distant stares at glorious smokestacks
where smoke lifts into your eyes and burns them with visions.
Distant gives you hope. You see it in the driftwood.
You see it in the river that shows you the face you own.
Distant gives you perspective.
The perspective of reaching into your pocket
feeling the matchbook you put there
when you first encountered Distant.
To make fire you must disengage your inclinations,
swipe the sulfur against the sandpaper.
Distant will not help here. You are alone in Distant.
You smoke your cigarette in smokestacks
beautiful plumes released as cloud formations.
In this way you have made your mark on Distant
and she will let you back in. But now you must treblecleff,
flatten your soles, place the matchbook back in the pocket
you got it from when you first encountered Distant.
Leaving will be different now that I love you
so much more than yesterday.
When I heard your voice
on the phone
I smiled so wide
a sound like a small signal of joy
Escaped my throat.
That's when I knew.
Shaded streets have held us
as we talked about ideas,
strolling and sharing,
coupling our concepts
as if the world cared what we thought.
My voice silenced now,
Only my heart will reply
and long to stay.
—“Leaving” appears in Lost and Found and other poems of loss, grief, and joy by Mary Helms
these are my feet—
could be any feet—
you wash them one by one,
your white dress tucked
under bare legs;
a strange detour
on your wedding day,
but here you are
with them in your hands,
a basin full of hot water.
—originally published in Out of Anonymity —The Journal of the UCLA Writing Project (2018).
She cannot see
her body in her
but she is sure
it must have once
When her head
hangs over the
bathtub the traces
just out of sight
trickle from her
so she can count them
until they have
as they are
—”Toweling” appears in A Long Drawn Face by Homa Zarghamee (Finishing Line Press)
“TELL US ONE OF YOUR RECIPES”
Scare up a little
and I’ll feed us
’til we’re full—two hemispheres,
with a single moon.
There are new people:
And there are specks of old stuff,
Paper and dust,
An unexpected person.
Membrane on a keypad,
Memories through an oeuvre;
Words, let them flow,
Patience when I cannot cry.
I would never be over you
Sated and lenient one!
There are secrets,
And weakening lineage.
The photo gray and grainy
sits encased with the rest
documented and logged
I am unrecognizable
We are ready for resurrection day
us four all dressed up
mommy buys two new hats for the girls
and measures two boys for unfamiliar suits
Daddy looks into his Kodak
another cloning against the expectant sky
black and white smiles locked in the lens
a backdrop to innocent times
New shoes too tight to run
sits in church for just one hour
walks on the avenue to show off our stuff
a classic time with a familiar family
Faded and worn
suspended on glossy photo paper
six souls saved on salvation day
one vibrant grin eroded by perfidy
Mercy outstretched her hand
grants clemency to me, then God
the snapshot hangs with the others
I see myself with a blameless smile
Past the light, the stretch of trees that leads
to his house, past the doorway to the room his sisters
keep alive with their incense of tears, he comes
like a crow eyeing these shiny emblems of his life.
In shadows three days, he watches
his sisters drifting in rooms as if upon water
till on that third day they are almost transparent, flat,
something he can put his hand through.
By the fourth day, it is uninhabitable:
he cannot remember why he has come or why
light hurts his skin so, or what the settling of
dark birds means.
Motes move through him but not God. Evening bleeds
to the horizon, women’s voices move around him—
an insistent sirocco that will not cease.
A man wearing white comes then leaves again—
his hand burns, the light burns... something he has known,
a distant whisper then moving... passing
the branches... the stone by the tomb’s door... a luminescence....
When he awakens from that second sleep bandaged
in what he could remember, a dream of falling
in which the air itself had become a seam of light
an insect humming close that would not leave,
he first heard the voice of God
an indecipherable whisper,
over and over in his ear.
—based on the oil painting:
The Raising of Lazarus
Alfred Leslie (1975)
Rob Carney is the author of four previous books of poems, most recently 88 Maps (Lost Horse Press, 2015), which was named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award, as well as the collection The Book of Sharks (Black Lawrence Press). In 2014 he received the Robinson Jeffers/Tor House Foundation Award for Poetry. His work has appeared in Cave Wall, Columbia Journal, and many others, and he writes a regularly featured series called "Old Roads, New Stories" for Terrain: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments. He lives in Salt Lake City.
Anthony DiPietro is a Rhode Island native who worked for 12 years in community-based organizations that addressed issues such as violence, abuse, and income inequality. In 2016, he moved to New York to join Stony Brook University as a candidate for a creative writing MFA and now teaches undergraduate courses. A graduate of Brown University with honors in creative writing, he has earned fellowships or residencies from Aspen Summer Words, Azule, The Frost Place, Key West Literary Seminars, and Sundress Academy for the Arts. His poems have appeared in Anomaly, Assaracus, The Good Men Project, Rogue Agent, and Talking River, as well as American Poetry Journal, Canyon Voices, Welter, and others. His website is AnthonyWriter.com.
Chapman Hood Frazier is a Professor in Residence for James Madison University and has been a poetry editor for the Dos Passos Review, published at Longwood University, and guest editor for The Hampden Sydney Poetry Review. He has published poetry in a variety of publications including: The Virginia Quarterly Review, College English, The English Journal, Antietam Review, The Cincinnati Poetry Review, The South Florida Poetry Review, Eclipse, The South Carolina Review and The Patterson Literary Review and has won a variety of awards for both his poems and prose. He is currently working on a collection of interviews with contemporary poets including Gregory Orr, Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove, Bob Hicok, Claudia Emerson, the northern Irish poet, Medbh McGuckian and others. Several of these have appeared in The Writer's Chronicle and Shenandoah. He lives in Rice, VA with his wife, Deborah Carrington and is Co-Director of The Sunrise Learning Center, an innovative pre-school located in southside Virginia.
Mary Helms has been an Executive Coach and Leadership Consultant for the last 20 years. Earlier in her career, she held Human Resource Management positions in international organizations. She has nine grandchildren, ages 8 to 26, who have inspired her and their love has been a great gift. She lives most days in gratitude. Her chapbook, Lost and Found and other poems of loss, grief, and joy is available on Amazon.
Ann Huang is a seasoned marketer with more than fifteen years of experience working with the spoken and written word. As an MFA recipient in Poetry from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Huang’s poetry has appeared online and in print extensively. Her recent manuscript, Saffron Splash was a finalist in the Cleveland State University Poetry Center's Open Book Poetry Competition. Huang's new poetry collection, Delicious and Alien, came out in March 2017. Her poems follow the surrealistic gestures that weave reality into divergent realms of perspectives and perceptions. Visit AnnHuang.com for more poems and press information.
Dr. Juanita Kirton earned MFA from Goddard College 2015 and a recipient of Spirit of Goddard Scholarship. She is a member of Women Who Write, Inc. and Women Reading Aloud workshop series. She facilitates Blairstown Writers Group in NJ, directs QuillEssence Writing Collective and is on editorial staff for Clock House Literary Magazine. Juanita is published in several anthologies including, Chester H. Jones Literary Journal, Caribbean Writer, Goldfinch Literary Magazine, A Journal of Hope and Healing, Clevergirl, Exit 13 Magazine, Mom Egg Review, Persimmon Tree, Narrative, Stone Canoe, Rat’s Ass Online Journal and Veterans Voices Magazine. Juanita won the Sisters in Script self-publishing grant, resulting in Inner Journey, a chapbook, published in 2009. Her Peace Haiku was selected for Peace Mural in Philadelphia. Dr. Kirton works for the Pennsylvania Dept. of Education and is US Army Veteran. She resides with her spouse in Northeast PA. Besides writing, Juanita enjoys touring on her motorcycle.
Gerard Lambert is a graduate of the Creative Writing M.F.A. Program at Syracuse University (2005) and a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College (2002) with emphasis on philosophy and writing. Most recently, he was a member of the Sewanee Writers Conference. The current Poetry Editor at Opossum, he also does copywriting for traditional and digital media, teaches and continues to complete his full length manuscript. He can be found at email@example.com
Steven Petersheim is Assistant Professor of English at Indiana University East, where he teaches American literature and writes poetry between pilgrimages to Walden Pond and his childhood home in Western Maryland. His poetry has appeared in Wilderness House Literary Review, The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature and elsewhere. Much of his poetry explores the conjunction of nature, memory, and human activity – some of it drawn from memories of his Amish childhood. He lives in the Whitewater Valley region, where can be seen reading, hiking, or spending time with his family when he is not working.
Joanna White, Professor of Music at Central Michigan University, has poems published or forthcoming in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), The Examined Life Journal, Ars Medica, Healing Muse, The MacGuffin, Measure, The Lyric, Cape Rock, Chariton Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Earth’s Daughters, Emrys Journal, Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine, Temenos, Chest Journal, The Intima, Abaton, Blood and Thunder, Minerva Rising Literary Journal, The Naugatuck River Review, KYSO Flash Anthology No. 2, and The American Journal of Nursing, among others. She frequently reads her poetry at English conferences and, although she has a doctorate in music, between the hours of her real life she recently completed a masters degree in English with a creative writing concentration.
Martin Willitts Jr. is a retired Librarian living in Syracuse, NY. He has over 20 chapbooks including the winner of the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, The Wire Fence Holding Back the World (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 11 full-length collections including National Ecological Award winner for Searching for What You Cannot See (Hiraeth Press, 2013), and recently Dylan Thomas and the Writing Shed (FutureCycle Press, 2017), Three Ages of Women (Deerbrook Editions, 2017).
Homa Zarghamee is a professor of economics at Barnard College and affiliate scholar at Columbia University's Center for Psychoanalytic Training. Homa’s chapbook, A Long Drawn Face is available from Finishing Line Press.