Coming Home (Spring/Summer 2018 Issue 13)

spring summer 2018 cover

Late last year I attended a sharing session by Li-Young Lee. I’d already been enraptured by his poetry of course, his meditations on love in particular. But until I read his memoir, I didn’t really know about his family’s harrowing journey as refugees before they sought asylum in the United States and settled into a new home. He had said that we’re all a version of Odysseus trying to get home.

Why is that? Home—is that a place of origin that determines who we are? Home is tied up with the stories that get told. It’s history and geography and a lot of storying of self. What if you’re an emigrant? Well then yours would be an emigrant’s story. America is a melting pot of people of different origins isn’t it? But even if place plays a key role, the journey is a journey with self. It is ultimately a spiritual journey, a journey of becoming.

Remember the epic story of Don Quixote, who imagines himself as a knight in a chivalric setting? It’s really a journey of the imagination. Sure Don Quixote is delusional, living in a kind of personal utopia—a fantasy no doubt. But if the exploits of the anti-hero in Cervantes’s picaresque novel is infused with so much humor, warmth, humanity and imagination, can it be meant as a total indictment of the world of fantasy? Sure we have to come down to earth but if there are only Sanchos, wouldn’t life be dull as ditchwater? Imagination is self. Perchance there’s more than one self. If the self is imagined, then the song is the thing. I think the best poets know this. Well, isn’t the song of the poet just the way poetry operates to lie against time, to hold a staying hand against time and nature?

One of my favorite stories is the film, Cinema Paradiso. It tells a touching story of the relationship between a famous Italian film director and his town’s projectionist, Alfredo, who had taught the young Salvatore how to operate the cinema projector. But Salvatore was advised by Alfredo to leave his village to pursue his dream to become a film-maker. Thirty years later, Salvatore returns to his village to attend Alfredo’s funeral and as he plays the film reel that Alfredo had left for him comprising all the censored kissing scenes of films he once projected, Salvatore experiences a sense of fruition as well as deep loss. His coming home is a coming home to self–the beginning of self meeting the journeying self if you will.

So there it is—the theme of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue is “Coming Home”. If journeying is exploration, adventure, and becoming, then no journey is complete without coming home. Inasmuch as it will be a physical journey, it is really a poetic one. Its reality is spiritual, so I’m calling that poetic because it’s how we get to a sense of the sublime. It is remembrance. It measures the spiritual distance between our original condition, having not journeyed, with the post-journey self. So journey is transformation. How can we not call this reality poetic, because as Lee pointed out,

“Poetic reality is the reality. All other realities are packaged bites. I think poetry is reality. The world is a poem.”

What he meant was that as much information as possible has been packed in as tight a space as possible—that reality is actually saturated. Much like what we experienced at the ending moment of Cinema Paradiso. We’re all a version of Odysseus getting home.

In this issue, we call for poems about the spirituality of self, the self in moments of sublimation, the fictions of self, journeying, the return. We explore what home means. Where do you feel at home? How do you feel at home? Or do you not feel at home? What is home? Does it mean coming to a kind of peace with the life you’ve been given? Does it mean changing your life and if so what are your choices? What does it mean to come home, to be home? Is home a place, a person, a feeling, a journeying back?

Oh that quote from T S Eliot’s “Four Quartets” goes:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

Life’s a cycle, so things from the past come back to haunt. We journey back, this time much wiser, and things assume a clarity that wasn’t there before. And ultimately we return to dust. But before that we’re on a quest aren’t we? What is your quest? Are there common grounds with others or is yours unique as hell?

Whatever it is, we hope it will be a worthy one and that you’ll share those poetic moments filed under “notes toward becoming who one is supposed to be”. In other words, think about your narrator’s destiny. What is the path or journey of your narrator? What shape or meaning does his or her life take on? Does coming home mean coming home to the self after the soul’s journey, a kind of soul recognition? I mean, really think about who he or she is, and also who we are. Life’s journey perhaps is best seen as one of being cured of one’s delusions. But what a ride. Tell us stories. Tilt at windmills if you must, because you can’t help it.

These stories, I think, tell of the soul’s longing, its quest, do they not? Whose soul? We’re not really sure. If it is ours why do others find resonance in them? I once saw a performance where a woman started off with a feather and started to place all kinds of twigs and branches over her body in counterbalance, one thing balancing the other, till she’s totally laden with twigs and stuff. She held an amazing, seemingly makeshift contraption. In the final act, she removes that feather and everything falls. Is the soul a feather, holding everything together?

Submissions are open for the Spring/Summer 2018 issue. Closing date: 28 August 2018. Please read our submission guidelines before submitting.

Selected poems will be posted on this site from March 2018 to August 2018.

Our journal has a prompt site, Red Wolf Prompts. You are encouraged to write to the prompts over at the site, if you so wish.

Irene Toh and Tawnya Smith, Editors
Red Wolf Journal


Heading Home, by Alan Walowitz

Heading Home
by Alan Walowitz

Call off your dogs.
A seller I’ll be and happy–
or whatever you want–
if you give me a moment to think.

The highways of America stare
open and ready. And potholed,
you might say. But life is entrapment
avoiding being trapped in them.

Let me rodeo a moment.
I’ll convince Uncle Harry or anyone
that a cow’s life is just as my own,
waiting to be hoist and weighed.

I won’t wait on your reply.
for I don’t fear as you grow closer
and I grow old
we might emit some same syllables.

I’ll be ugly only
when our mouths move the same.
I’ll be home soon.

Process note: This is an old poem, from around 1972. I think I wrote it when I was convinced I wanted to be a Jewish cowboy; or perhaps I was just going through some extra, late-adolescent rebellion–which has continued right through today.

Alan Walowitz has been published in various places on the web–and off. He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an online journal, and teaches at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY and St. John’s University in Queens. Alan’s chapbook, Exactly Like Love, was published by Osedax Press in 2016 and is now in its second printing. For more see

It is the Nature of the Beast, by Debi Swim

It is the Nature of the Beast
by Debi Swim

See the wisteria’s jumbled limbs? Their tightly clasped leaves just beginning to unfurl makes a green lacy pattern against a clear sky. Soon it will be a jungle, a maze of hidey holes and perches for the birds. The feeder hangs from a low branch. All day juncos, grackles, jays, cardinals and their cousins dash and jostle, scrabble and fuss for a place on the ledge. A woodpecker swoops in, hangs by its claws, half its body underneath dangling like an acrobat. The nuthatches fling seed hither and yon – picky eaters – while below on the ground heavy, clumsy doves clean up their mess. Turkeys come early morning and late evening scratching the spot beneath the feeder for leftovers furrowing a patch that will become a muddy mess with the next rain.
Marvel at the chipmunk as he climbs the thick, twining base and gracefully, agilely jumps to the feeder, the squirrel, too. Deer come, mostly fall and winter and butt the feeder with their heads, then munch on the splatter at their leisure.

                In every season the feeder an oasis, a cheery café.

And yet, this happy scene is marred by an ominous shadow. A circling hawk is attracted by the activity below. His keen eyes on the prize, he waits for his chance, sees a careless chipmunk scampering across the lawn and with a noiseless plunge scoops his prey in deathly grip of talons and carries the limp bundle away. Imagine the calamity of it on a peaceful, ordinary day. The swiftness of the attack, the scurrying of the creatures and then the waiting, with trembling and skipping hearts till one brave bird dares the feeder again and all becomes normal again.
It is the way of nature and of the world. But, at least nature is not malicious. It does not attack out of hate and erroneous ideology. It is only survival. Let man take notice.

                Greed, terrorism, hate, ways of the human order, nature’s greatest foe.

Debi Swim writes primarily to prompts. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and persistent WV poet.

Nest Building, by Alan Toltzis

Nest Building
by Alan Toltzis

The first few years, mud and struggle
filled our yard. Longing for birdsong,
you played tapes of songbirds,
and kept a cage of finches.

Now, magnetite, DNA, scent, and star,
faithfully guide our sparrows.




                                           to cherry

       to deck,

gather up bits of chickweed,
oak twig, twine, cedar scrap,
grass, and bark,
constructing yet another nest
under the retracted awning,
and the air sings
crescendos of lilting reassurance
that biology and fate
will lift us homeward.

Process Notes: The poem tells the back story. The sparrows arrived a couple weeks ago this year too.

Alan Toltzis is the author of The Last Commandment; his second book, 49 Aspects of Human Emotion, will be released this summer. Alan has been nominated for a Pushcart and his work has appeared in numerous print and online publications including Hummingbird, Right Hand Pointing, IthacaLit, r.k.v.r.y. Quarterly, and North of Oxford.

Feathers In Your Hair, by Christopher Hileman

Feathers In Your Hair
by Christopher Hileman

Something has happened.
It shows on you like feathers
in your tangled hair.

I wish to devour
your soul salted and peppered,
braised to medium
rare and sliced thin on
a garden salad with lime.

I hope you take this
dream in morning’s light
as I fondle you awake
and raise your heart to
full maturity
in the long sweep of all things
possible and true.

Christopher Hileman moved to Oregon in 1973. He has retired to live on the volcanic bluff overlooking Willamette Falls in Oregon City, Oregon. He ascends the stairs from his basement digs to improvise on his Yamaha keyboard or the house Playel grand when the calico cat releases him from below. The part-Irish Wolfhound here likes him.

Ulysses Bound, by Christopher Hileman

Ulysses Bound
by Christopher Hileman

Passing the siren
rocks in the fog of present
circumstance and strapped
to the white white spar
replacing the mast broken
by last spring’s torrent,
I call out, respond
to your naked misty shape,
take the leather stripes.

Christopher Hileman moved to Oregon in 1973. He has retired to live on the volcanic bluff overlooking Willamette Falls in Oregon City, Oregon. He ascends the stairs from his basement digs to improvise on his Yamaha keyboard or the house Playel grand when the calico cat releases him from below. The part-Irish Wolfhound here likes him.

Lord, Have Mercy, by Debi Swim

Lord, Have Mercy
by Debi Swim

Delicate bones under dried leaf skin
fingers clasped loosely in her lap
tributaries of green in ropy veins
and her thumbs go round and round.
She sits and stares into the past…
a burning house, she upstairs
a jump into the banked up snow.
She sees it all again.

I know she’s thinking of two small graves
and she whispers “Lord, have mercy.”
And her thumbs go round and round.

Debi Swim writes primarily to prompts. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and persistent WV poet. Blog:

Rainbow Hollow Good News Tent Revival, by Debi Swim

Rainbow Hollow Good News Tent Revival
by Debi Swim

In the field back of the houses it stood
as though the gentle overnight shower
had mushroomed it into being.
We kids dropped our bikes, awed, excited
and entered that great tent, its flaps raised
to let in what bit of breeze was stirring.
Straw was scattered over the stubbled
ground, dusty, musty, hot smell of barn
and row on row of folding chairs, empty,
waiting to cradle sinners’ sorry selves.
A lectern at the front stood
full of grave responsibility for tonight’s
Rainbow Hollow Good News Tent Revival.
Giggling, I stood behind the lectern,
motioned the others to sit and preached a
rousing, shouting, glorious story of
sin and death, and born again. Then
we ran out lest the Holy come down
at our possible sacrilege (though I
think He would have smiled at our game)
ran out into bright sunshine of
biking and tag and country lanes.

Process notes: Every summer, in the small community of Rainbow Hollow in northeastern Tennessee, a tent revival appeared like magic for a week of hard preaching before moving on to the next little town, an attraction (not unlike the generic carnivals that were small town fare in those times) to the children filled with wonder and yet a thing to laugh about, too.

Debi Swim writes primarily to prompts. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and persistent WV poet. Blog:

Pax, by Debi Swim

by Debi Swim

Winter is a sulky bitch pitching
her fits into spring when she
should be gracefully walking away,
instead a hissy fit of jealous ire
before she retires to sleep.
She’d been all silvery glittering sway
in her heyday but like an aging beauty
queen she fades. Age spots on the porcelain
skin, hair dulled to dishwater drudge,
a sludge of cinders and salt, she peppers
her talk with indignant spit and sputter.

But Spring knows you catch more flies
with honey sweetness. She persists,
gently insists on having her day,
replaces the glitter of snow and ice
with buds and blossoms, scents of spice,
as we long for her to stay awhile, warm
the grass, swell the lilac limbs with nubs,
spread maternal love to birds nesting in trees.
She wafts health to body and mind
and I’m buoyant with a zest for living.

Process notes: Saturday and Sunday we had around fourteen inches of heavy wet snow. The electricity was out for twelve hours and by Thursday the temperature got to 78 degrees. I was ecstatic. Friday, overcast and cool. Last night a heavy frost. Today promises to be nicer and tomorrow even better. Snow flurries are forecast for Monday. GAH! I wish Winter and Spring would quit bickering!

Written in response to Red Wolf Prompt 373.

Debi Swim writes primarily to prompts. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and persistent WV poet. Blog:

Retriever, by Joseph M. Felser

by Joseph M. Felser

Her heart beats
to the sure rhythm
of his pure dog joy
as he lopes along
pine forest trails
near the big lake
called by natives
great stretch of water
free of leash and collar
chasing nothing
but sunset blaze
pink sky at night
to her delight
watching him paddle
to get nowhere
dig holes in sand
to find no treasure
bark at whitecaps
and granite rocks
for no good reason
he brings back
to her
she never lost
purity of heart
is to will one thing

Joseph M. Felser, Ph.D. received his doctorate from The University of Chicago and teaches philosophy in Brooklyn, New York. The author of numerous articles and two books on philosophy, religion, myth, and parapsychology, he recently began writing poetry, which has appeared in both print and online journals.

Bones Dance, by Nanette Rayman

Bones Dance
by Nanette Rayman

Out of the rain near a forest, they’ve discovered some beautiful bones—
eaten by animals, rotted by insects, cradling a journal decorated
with lilacs and watermark stripes. There are things worse than death.

Was she an American, an actress, a dancing lawyer? Did she touch
a dark orchid in its dark lips of death? What is a woman—if fragrance
and bones and flesh are here one moment and not the next?
Does without-home double as done bones? I remember that home,

my mother whipping shame onto my face, my body—look, you!
This is what you’ve done, you’ve unraveled this house with that face
that all they boys want. I can’t have that.
I remember my body being
flat and skinny, no bosoms and wild flames making me un-dead in that crypt.

They say it’s the sweetest way to suffer: the mother’s hard Allongé
as bully and decadent shamble, and so it is, a daughter holds tight
to her Arabesque. She may end up away, away from a house
supping at her bones, one by one. A mother like that, blackbird posse
of one, creates waves of dehydrated sighs, and a daughter drifts as G-d
made her—soft-lipped and pretty, past that mother, so many pains to get over.
A mother like that becomes irrelevant except as teacher to what is driven
wild, what is narcissist, what is to be avoided. And still, the daughter ends
up as pretty bones. There are things worse than death. Across the river,
a silhouette in light returns to another world, alive in her own skin, a dancer
over-under—Sus-sous—springing onto relevé demi-pointe and holding
a bouquet of orchid orchids. Home.

Nanette Rayman winner of the Glass Woman Prize, included in Best of the Net—2007, DZANC Best of the Web—2010, has published in journals such as The Worcester Review, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Carve, Up the Staircase Quarterly, gargoyle, Sundog, Little Rose Magazine, Stirring’s Steamiest Six, Sugar House, Wilderness House Literary Review.