Cycling Scything, by Mike McLaren

Cycling Scything
by Mike McLaren

Every seed a womb
of an infinite universe
allowed to sprout and bloom
by the grace and nurture
of Mother Earth,

who avails herself
of no more than to to wait
for the scythe to harvest
all that has ripened
toward a long winter’s sleep…

… to reawaken
in the arms of spring.

Mike McLaren is a writer, cartoonist, slide blues musician, and meditation teacher who currently pays his rent by remodeling home interiors, though he works primarily to afford chocolate and flowers for his wife.

Cinders, by Jeff Burt

by Jeff Burt

They had to make something out of the coal cinders
so chose the alleys to cover like cinnamon crumbs
over rising dough, a poor man’s asphalt,
creating opportunities for the malformed nuggets
to imbed in knees and elbows when I fell from a bike.

Under snow the cinders gave traction, friction,
how one thing rubs up against another
to move on, or in the case of my brother and I,
how needs created fiction to tell our mother
of what we had done or not done
to keep on playing outside.

One wet snowfall a snowball
Jimmy Powell packed in the alley
opened the crease of my hairline
wide enough for stitches,
and everyone in our pack laughed.
It stung I told the doctor,
kept to myself the mockery I felt,
as he plied my hair with eyes closed
and muttered he’d found three cinders
below the scalp, but tweezers searched
and found only two, dismissed talk
of infection, that the apprehension
of not finding the missing cinder would pass.

In summer, as I soaked my head
in the tub, I imagined broken bits of cinder
floating to the surface with bubbles of soap,
and in morning I might sweep
one from my hair, squeezed
out of its hiding place.

Things like that embed from childhood.
Decades later I check baseballs I throw
with my kids for any fleck that mars
the stretched leather,
replay words I have spoken
to sense if any rises to speech
that could have inflected
a slap in the face, a dis or dig
that might stay hidden in their hearts.
I wake in the middle of the night
to an itch in the croft of my knee,
search the sheets for the missing cinder.

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California with his wife. He has work in Williwaw Journal, Tar River Poetry, Willows Wept, and others.

Belonging, by Jeff Burt

by Jeff Burt

I cannot abdicate
         what I’ve never
rested on,
         position, laurels,
honor, faith.

I rise in the dark
         and search for a hard chair,
tiptoe on the route
         so as not to disturb another

in the cabin made into a home
         at times a labyrinth
at times a cell without a bead
         of bread to trace

to a door that leads
         to another door
that leads to a place
         where I can sit.

Your breathing’s buoyant,
         weightless, woven
to my own in a way
         my body understands

but my thoughts cannot wrap
         around as if they were a piece
of saran cut off too short
         to cover the bowl.

Winter lengthens and summer
         I could forget
it ever happened.
         Squirrels go to the exact place

they buried an acorn
         but act surprised
when they find it

and when I retire
         and find you in bed
I feel the same.
         So too in meditation

to find the otherness
         by not searching
and that unnamable presence
         comes and bliss reigns.

As much as poor people wish
         there is royalty
in blood, an ancestor
         to pull them out

of biological insignificance,
         of the faceless throng
the mob, the unnoted mass
         left out of the ink

of history where their winter
         begins and lasts
forever if they dwell on it.
         They long for a chair

they could rise from
         and say they do not want it
anymore, they want to say
         in a royal way

they are above such royalty,
         that they’ve made their mark
and that history will record them
         and that is enough,

no need to reign
         to be further noted
perhaps worshipped

Isn’t that the whole movement
         of God loves you
just for what you are,
         you are an heir, that trifling stab

at royalty? That in your blood
         tinted by otherness
would be enough to earn
         a special chair

in a special room
         in a special house
in a special town
         in a special time?

I sometimes forget to lock
         the door to my home
wish that once some thief
         might find an interest

in something I own,
         give me an entry
on the blotter of the sheriff
         and an inch in the local paper

but no one comes.
         I get it.
I am faceless in time
         except to her

whose toes reach
         to touch my calf for warmth
and knee bends out
         to touch my thigh.

I hear a sigh
         of great relaxation
and first think it’s her breath
         but notice the full sagging

of my lungs and smile
         because it is my own
breath finally, at length,
         exhaled into time.

I am no one
         but her no one.
And suddenly I hear robins,
         winter has collapsed

and otherness enters,
         mindless bliss,
I am in the company of the faceless
         and I belong. I am happy.

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California with his wife. He has work in Williwaw Journal, Tar River Poetry, Willows Wept, and others.

Pandemic Days, by Mike Dillon

Pandemic Days
by Mike Dillon

In spring the herring came, shoals of them glittering beneath the public dock like stampeded flashes of silver. The milt they spread in eel grass turned the water a strange blue-green. “Never seen the like,” an old-timer muttered through his mask. Southeast across the water, the distant, lathe-like hum of Seattle, a city of steel and glass towers, had fallen almost silent.

More was to come.

Gluttonous sea lions with their Colonel Blimp faces showed up in unheard-of-numbers, making big waves in their pursuit of a meal, and almost capsized a hot-dog kayaker dude who got too close. They kept our town awake as they barked through the night. “Never heard the like,” muttered the old timer through his mask.

More was to come.

The sea lions attracted a pod of orcas, their black and white bodies rising and falling farther out beyond the dock in their pursuit of a meal. Masked villagers stood on the dock watching like Englanders viewing a dogfight over the White Cliffs of Dover in the dangerous summer of 1940. Days later, porpoises threaded a bottleneck opening to the long bay nearby, where they took shelter from the orcas. “Never seen porpoises in the bay before,” muttered the old-timer.

There is more.

One day in mid-summer the town shaman, nearing sixty, who disappeared five years before, came walking down the road wearing the same dirty windbreaker and blue jeans he had on when he disappeared. He still had his blond dreadlocks and half-hearted goatee. Overall, he was more rumpled than before but still intact. He wore no mask; just his Cheshire-cat grin instead. “Where you been?” I said. “I was a little worried.” “The other side,” he sort of smiled. “You mean over in Seattle?” His wet, blue eyes gazed into mine. “No, the other side.”

Summer came.

Hot. Dry. Herring, sea lions, orcas, porpoises, shaman — all departed. The public dock remained a safe zone, a mini-Switzerland of neutrality from those obvious things no one wanted to talk about. In September, the first alder leaves drifted down into the nearby spawning stream, where black-snouted Chinooks thrashed their way against the current in their dance of death while the west burned. Smoke from Oregon and California made the sun a dull gob overhead. “No one’s seen anything like it,” the old-timer muttered. All of us standing on the dock, masked-up, nodded.

“Something more is sure to come,” he said.

Mike Dillon lives in Indianola, Washington, a small town on Puget Sound northwest of Seattle. He is the author of four books of poetry and three books of haiku. Several of his haiku were included in Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, from W.W. Norton (2013). His most recent book, Departures: Poetry and Prose on the Removal of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, was published by Unsolicited Press in April 2019.

Masked, by Mike Dillon

by Mike Dillon

Masked within an invisible fog of plague,
our tongues make way for the wordless language
         of our eyes.

And sometimes I look into a quiet beauty
         I’d never seen.

Mike Dillon lives in Indianola, Washington, a small town on Puget Sound northwest of Seattle. He is the author of four books of poetry and three books of haiku. Several of his haiku were included in Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, from W.W. Norton (2013). His most recent book, Departures: Poetry and Prose on the Removal of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, was published by Unsolicited Press in April 2019.

Sam’s Last Days, by John Grey

Sam’s Last Days
by John Grey

Grotesques. My upper teeth nibble on
the lower. Soon, they’ll be nothing but white ash.
Skin sags. Cartilage wonders why it bothers.
And my eyes… at what stage do they quality
as permanently red. My mouth wants to
swallow my red nose. In one raving gulp
of course, because my bite is busted.

Snow storm outside. So the weather too is collapsing
under its own weight, Maggie is out there somewhere
refilling her pills. Soon enough, it all subsides and
the ground is left looking like this gigantic dead sheep.
But it’s the inside that smells like a carcass.
It’s the thinning hair on the head of a man,
the broken bowstrings of the heart. And the fingers
are like cars skidding on ice, left touch behind
ten years ago.

Insane. My next thought is hammering my last.
My pulse swirls like that witless dancer in the
spiked red shoes. And then it screams loud as ajay.
And then it quiets like the last flakes on the window.
Maggie knows the answer. It’s tiny blue capsules.
The reaper is smug. He scythes with fire-place flame.
Or tries to sell me eyesight on the TV. Or better
bones. Or a stupendous sex life. Since when
was bullshit all I have left to spend my money on.

Wind gives up the ghost though the ghosts are real enough.
Roof is heavy. Front porch is a wasteland.
And there’s Maggie crawling home from the pharmacy.
Needs are served if that’s what you believe.
I’d rather feel every hurt, each twinge, all the footnotes
to my own destruction. Dying ought to be like living.
For if it’s just death, what’s left to humanize.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Soundings East, Dalhousie Review and Connecticut River Review with work upcoming in West Trade Review, Willard and Maple and the MacGuffin.

Lode, by Karla Linn Merrifield


by Karla Linn Merrifield

In the pocket of stillness

below the bottom-weighted

horizon line at my body’s core

I detect a static vista of self:

sleeping volcano above windless seas where,

at the center of gravity at my center,

no longer steaming in the magma chamber of grief

but solidified in stone-strong strata of basalt,

quietly love has begun to breathe again.

Karla Linn Merrifield has had 800+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 14 books to her credit. Following her 2018 Psyche’s Scroll (Poetry Box Select) is the 2019 full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press. In early 2021, her Half a World of Kisses will be published by Truth Serum Press (Australia) under its new Lindauer Poets imprint. She is currently at work on a poetry collection, My Body the Guitar, inspired by famous guitarists and their guitars; the book is slated to be published in December 2021 by Before Your Quiet Eyes Publications Holograph Series (Rochester, NY).

Red Wolf Editions Spring 2021 Edition: The Reaper

Red Wolf Editions Spring 2021
Theme: The Reaper

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
We have come to our real work,
And that when we no longer know which way to go
We have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
–Wendell Berry

For a time during the coronavirus spread, was death not so far from your mind? It was constantly on mine, as death tolls climbed in Italy, then Spain, then the UK, and the US, the fact that death was real, your own death you know, should you be stricken too. So the title of the Spring 2021 issue should come as little surprise, I suppose, to your mind, to refer to the Grim Reaper. But the reaper I really have in mind, is the one in the fields, reaping what was sown. Jean-François Millet’s painting depicts a rich harvest in the background, which can be seen as, in a particular context, your life’s work. We have all labored, in our lives, to bring about value and sustenance, to oneself, to our families, to the world at large.

In Greek mythology, Cronos was conflated with Father Time, wielding the harvesting scythe. According to one creation myth, a cut was made between heaven and earth thus enabling the beginning of time and of human history. The “castration” of heaven, as this event was referred to, was by means of a sickle. So it is that the god of time is associated with “calendars, seasons, harvests” (Wikipedia). In time, if we labor, comes harvest season. It is the culmination of human effort, your effort no less, and metaphorically speaking, what you do with your time shapes everything that comes after. Life is about the effort you put in. In the end, it shapes your identity and carves out your name, immortalizes it. Ah well, maybe I’m romanticizing, about the immortality bit. The results are often temporal.

There’s nothing romantic about labor. The gleaners, in Jean-François Millet’s time, were the peasants who perform a back-breaking job to collect what’s left over at the end of harvest. One woman searches for stray grains on the ground, one collects the grains and the third ties them all together. They’re collecting the crumbs, which could function as metaphor for how society, then and now, works. Then, as now, the landowners enjoyed the better part of the harvest, while the peasants who undertook the hard labor collected the meagre crumbs. In this bucolic picture, the painter valorized the rural working class by making the peasant women his subject. It made a commentary about the social divide by situating the harvest of wheat in the far distance. The contrast between lack and plenty—does that move you to write a poem?

What moves you to write a poem? Poems may be viewed as small culminations of a poet’s life experiences. A seasonal harvest. They take what comes at hand, catalog particulars from real and imagined life, and somehow become radiant with meaning. In creating our poems, we’re leaving echoes of ourselves in a real or imagined way. Poems come into the awareness of another, a reader, and we become part of this eddying world of meaning that we’ve created for ourselves, a verge of knowing. Written in a fit of spiritual urgency, poems are of experience born and so may help us find our sense of bearing in the temporal world.

I’m after your harvest. The afterglow of your experience. Perhaps you want to reflect on the idea of labor, the work that mothers do, or grandparents, or doctors, or whoever had impressed you in some way. Perhaps you want to reflect on some inequalities that you’d witnessed. You’d definitely want to write about your writing life, since you’re a poet in practice. Actually, just write about anything that you know, the person you’d known and loved, and perhaps lost, the past opportunities, anything you’ve reaped in your imagination. It behooves me to say now is the time to reap the language of poetry, which in my favorite definition is to get to the “furnace of meaning in the human story” as Mary Oliver said.

Perhaps you are at a stage of life, when that old adage, reap what you sow, comes to play. I told my sons the other day that I’m now resting on my laurels. I labor no more, I’m at rest, at ease. Perhaps my work has come to a completion, and like the gleaners in Jean-François Millet’s painting, I’m just picking the leftovers, what remains for me to finish up. When you come to the end of labor, it’s harvest season. It’s an outpouring, a bounty. Then of course you wait. Will the next season come? Or will the Grim Reaper?

Which is the iconic harvest poem? To me it’s this one.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
—John Keats, “Ode to Autumn”

So what was the flowering you had, what fruit have you gathered? Is it then a looking back? What intimacies? Were they bittersweet? What were those events that had watered your soul? What is your summation? For isn’t it true that whatever happened happened for a reason, for something that is within you, your soul, what you came here for? I leave you with these lines from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”.

And as to you Corpse I think you are good manure, but that does not offend me,
I smell the white roses sweet-scented and growing,
I reach to the leafy lips, I reach to the polish’d breasts of melons.

Finally you might want to think about the work that poems do, by naming all the things you’ve named with words, but to harvest meaning beyond the words, all for your readers to glean. And are you indeed the reaper?

Read our submission guidelines here. Please check back on our site to see if your poem has been selected. We will not be sending out any acceptance or rejection letters.

Submissions period: 1 September 2020 to 26 February 2021. Selected poems will be posted on this site and compiled into a PDF release in Spring 2021.

Good writing.

Irene Toh
Spring 2021 Edition

PDF Release of Journeying, Fall 2020 Issue 17

book cover issue 17

I am pleased to announce the release of the Fall 2020 Issue.

The poets with work in the Journeying edition are:

Misky Braendeholm
Paula Bonnell
Corbett Buchly
Jeff Burt
Alan Cohen
Carolyn Clark
Barbara Daniels
Mark Danowsky
Holly Day
Edilson Ferreira
Peter Goodwin
John Grey
Diane Jackman3
Gurupreet K. Khalsa
Ron. Lavalette
Lori Levy
Marie C Lecrivain
Karla Linn Merrifield
Shelly Narang
Akshaya Pawaskar
John D Robinson
Judith Sanders
Emil Sinclair
Elizabeth Spencer Spragins
Greg Stidham
Ivor Steven
Debi Swim
Alan Toltzis
Mark Tulin
Elise Woods
Mantz York

You may download a copy of the PDF release here.

Journeying Fall 2020 Issue 17

You’re invited to submit to our new issue, titled The Reaper. Read submission guidelines here. You may also find us over at the other site at Red Wolf Editions. Happy writing!

Irene Toh
Fall 2020