Category Archives: Poetry

Faith, A Russian Wife’s Tale

She thinks it is because he hit her,
thinks the tiny hard spot grew
into a monster, a mountain, a man, his fist
buried in her breast, his fist
a mouth. She says, if only he’d hit me
anywhere else, believes he meant to leave
parts of himself inside, believes
it had to hurt because that’s how
he knew to love her, and she believes
in love though she’s forgotten what it is
to love the body. Hers is nothing
but uzli, hundreds and hundreds of them,
knots on a knit quilt, around her wrists,
inside the lymph nodes, knots
for every direction of wind.
If she unties one, she thinks
she will become illegible, a compass
always pointing east, a fisherman’s net,
the fish, loose or lost, and she doesn’t know
which is worse. She’s started drinking
to understand him, takes it cold
and in a tea cup, tells herself
the pain comes from outside her body.
And when he holds her hand
and rests his head against her
missing breast and tells her
she is soft and golden, she believes
her body is a map, it’s every ocean floor,
it is saltwater and sand.


julia head shotJulia Kolchinsky Dasbach emigrated from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine as a Jewish refugee at age six. She holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Oregon and is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Her collection, The Many Names for Mother, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from Kent State University Press in Fall 2019. Author of the chapbook The Bear Who Ate the Stars (Split Lip Press), Julia’s recent poems appear in Best New PoetsAmerican Poetry Review, and Nashville Review, among others. She is Editor of Construction Magazine (www. constructionlitmag.com) and writes a blog about motherhood (https:// otherwomendonttellyou. wordpress.com/).

High Sierra

1.

I love you Sierras because your eyes are blue
soaking up sunlight when the day is done
or casting a broad shadow over the Central Valley
while drivers going east on winter mornings
view your snowcaps from the freeway.

The skiers not exactly having a field day, although
snow levels are about normal for this time of year.
The Sierras could use a huge influx of storms
to add depth to a snowpack so desperately needed.

The hedonist in me says hide away on some exoplanet,
the realist admits to sins of the past, my psychic counsels
dip your toe in the fire. I have no intention of heeding
any of them. I’m going it alone from here on out.

2.

Going it alone doesn’t mean going without the ones
you love whose souls permeate your mind during sleep.

3.

Rumpled Humpty Trumpskin built a fifty-foot brick wall
all across the southern border from Tijuana to the Gulf.
Then the hungry season came and the workers all went
south to seek their fame and fortune in those archives
of ancient eras the famine mines, their task put to rest.

4.

Ansel Adams revered the Sierras, photographed Yosemite
from every conceivable perspective. And John Muir
extolled them as a sanctuary for the passing of eons,
perpetually invasive glaciers, violent eruptions, erosion.

Some day there may be some sensational explosion
that rivals Krakatoa. Is Mount Lassen due? Anybody
tracking quakes in that neck of the woods?

5.

Hundreds of thousands of trees dying off due to drought,
even the majestic giant redwoods in Sequoia Park
and Kings Canyon threatened with extinction.

6.

We must repel the demons from hell
who come at us, crawling out of their tower windows
and dropping like spiders into the entire atmosphere.
They wind us in their invisible threads, threatening
every breath, each precipitous thought caught up
in their wintry webs. And so snowflakes are each
to each an epiphany, graphic indications that devils
can be bottled in a synthetic hell you pay no mind to.

7.

In the opening to James Wright’s Minneapolis poem,
Minneapolis the city of my birth, my mother
and father’s births, he speaks of the hungry and frightened
homeless who died along the Mississippi shore, dreaming
of suicide. And how they fished their cadavers from
the wind-swept river. My grandfather was one of them,
he who spoke but broken English, illiterate immigrant,
drunk, whose skull was undoubtedly crushed,
his body tossed in the river. When they found him
days later washed up on the shore he was barely
identifiable, as fish had eaten most of the head
and the grotesque body bloated with muddy water.

8.

Today it’s frigid, however late spring heat will instigate
rapid snow melt, and dreams maybe flowing down streams
of disappointment. We must ration our fears and marshal
all the technology we can are we to keep the Hetch Hetchy
dam productive, supplying power and water enough
to slake the thirst and keep lights lit for millions, to spur
agriculture that supplies the nation with essential produce.

These Sierras may well become a refuge for displaced
populations driven inland once coastal cities are flooded
and the value of their real estate gone up in smoke. Then
no fair using the Second Amendment as a scapegoat.

9.

Should the carbon bubble burst we’ll be in for big changes
since the oil titans will go kaput as humanity scampers
round and round like unicorns encircling a hidden universe.

The Russian girl Nina at Goodwill rolls large plastic bins
filled with donations, embodying grace of a gazelle, while
Emanuel from Liberia walks with a heavy limp, sorting
what’s salvageable and what goes to the trash compactor.

Upon whose good will we can depend contingent, remains
to be seen, an utter mystery. Should detente ultimately win
the day, perhaps manatees will continue to exist awhile.

10.

How do we gain prescience of their presence, I mean
those ancestors whose doppelgangers dawdle in these
massive Sierras? Do we look for them in our DNA?
Maybe kneel beneath a tall sugar pine, pray for them
to appear out of nowhere? Only the stars hold indisputable
truth as to what rightly survives, what left for dead to rot.


Thomas Piekarski is a former editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly and Pushcart Prize nominee. His poetry and interviews have appeared in literary journals internationally, including Nimrod, Florida English Journal, Cream City Review, Mandala Journal, Poetry Salzburg, Poetry Quarterly, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Boston Poetry Magazine. He has published a travel book, Best Choices In Northern California, and his epic adventure Ballad of Billy the Kid is available on Amazon in both Kindle and print versions.

Romeo Thinks On Rosaline

The call came at midnight: “Hello, old friend.”
He knew the voice, calked with tar and weather,
Spoke through smoke and perdition, a split-end

In time, a flaw of memory so human.
Across their marriage bed Juliet stirs.
She knows, yet speaks: “Is that your special friend?”

Unsaid denial chokes him. Air unbends
Under her gaze. He swallows desire,
Percussive, emetic. “When will it end?”

All these years in the bliss of depression
He has slept with fear of sun and scorn for stars
Unknowing if they grow for foe or friend,

Love or lust, that pale mad hard-hearted wench
Or sad poet of sentiment. He ponders –
And catches his wife’s eyes. He presses CALL END.

He thinks again of the friar’s poison.
He thinks of Benvolio and Balthasar.
He thinks on the inconstant moon. Old friend,
In my other life, how does this story end?


Anthony Tao’s poeAnthony Tao mug shot (large) 2try has appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, Borderlands, Kartika Review, Cottonwood, Asian Cha, Naugatuck River Review, Poetry East West, etc., plus an anthology of China writing called While We’re Here. You can find more of his work on his website, anthonytao.com. He formerly coordinated the international China Bookworm Literary Festival, and is currently managing editor of the China news website SupChina.com. Follow him on Twitter @anthonytao.

Self-Portrait with Cherries

No matter how many times I drop the dried cherry onto my palm, it always ends up in the center.

 

Should I prefer the beauty of the fruit as object—sugar-sweetened and polished with oil—or the beauty of fruit as living body: the cherry at rest in the dish, or shrinking into itself in the sun?

 

Pitting wounds each fruit. Drying reveals flesh to be a fragile transparency.

 

We once made love in a friend’s shower till my skin puckered and your tongue found the cherry-red inside me, tasting my metal.

 

If the sky is lifting, all the cherries must be falling.


Asche Kate_high res COLOR head shot_credit Charlie McComish_webKate Asche’s poetry is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly and DIAGRAM and has appeared in The Missouri Review (as an Audio Prize finalist) and in Colorado Review, RHINO, Santa Clara Review, The Pinch, Canary and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Our Day in the Labyrinth, debuted in 2015 from Finishing Line Press. A graduate of the UC Davis Creative Writing program, she teaches workshops in Sacramento and runs the Sacramento Poetry Center’s Annual Spring Conference. Connect with Kate at www.kateasche.com.

Mycology — Switchback’s 2018 Contest Winner

the man creeping behind my tongue is an angry man
he sounds like me, rusted, like a busted garden gate that aches to be used, like me,
older, a Tony grown into Anthony, a Scooter grown into Scott, a regret grown into grief
I hide him in memories, like

that blind date in Fall Creek,
a wannabe punk who loved Paramount Pictures,
wore black and white fishnets, gripped
the back of my neck and reeled me into her painted face
to eat me like a pie contest, a messy kiss
so hard and a tongue so eager it vined through the back of my neck,
waved to the stoned goths on the couch watching us, watching
Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s watching us

the man creeping behind my tongue intercepts words as they are thrown, tosses
them down to gastric juices and Tebows a victory stance to the language rising
from hydrochloric acid, like a skeleton in the pit of a William Castle film,
words on an invisible wire, like confidence, battered, worthy, stripped
of meat and muscle and shaken for effect by someone out of shot

she made me her instrument,
kept one Horus eye open and her Wite-Out nails
latched onto my thigh, a tense moment of change
between lips, she, Wadjet,
the papyrus-colored one sucking ink from idea,
a cobra composing in an orifice, undulating, hypnotizing
and lulling me to do what is asked under pungi mantra

the woman creeping behind my tongue punches my uvula
when I unbox my childhood, makes laboring sounds with repetitive jabs,
a prize fighter practicing revision with one fist tucked behind her pregnant belly
I hide her in extended metaphors, like

her tongue writhed in my throat
and licked bitterness from my scruff
waved goodbye to the goths
and dove, determined, to my guts,
lapped up all vocabulary, slurped
at sinking etymologies, and grew
and grew and grew, cordyceps unilateralis
on an ant, changing identity, leaving important
organs to sustain and feed the spore

the tongue hardens to stalk and bursts alphabets over my fruiting body


Howd_Eric_MachanEric Machan Howd (Ithaca, NY) is a professor at Ithaca College where he teaches professional and technical writing. He is also an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) candidate at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Eric’s poems have appeared in “Nimrod,” “River City,” “The Healing Muse,” and “Yankee Magazine.” He writes, lives, and loves in the Fingerlakes region of central New York with his glorious spouse, Katharyn Howd Machan, and their two cats Footnote and Byron.

Photo Credit: Jim Stafford

We bathe in miles of dust

because it’s a type of hunger
that drives the small changes
in ourselves: hair of wasps,
pit-mine eyes, sapwood bones.

But what if we fill our bellies so fully
that we begin to chew the sun,
which in turn chews us
like a rough road through a rubber tire?

Will the mirror then expose
the give-and-mostly-take nature
of our bodies? There will be a time
when we no longer remember

north, south, the race to the dollop
of light at the day’s end.
It’s not that we’ve been taught
to fear nightfall, but rather

the moment when our machinery
hesitates and begins to run
in reverse. There will be a point
when the mirror tells us that,

really, we’ve been consuming
ourselves, leaving nothing except
salt-sweetened scars traced
like fragile roads across our skin.

It’s hunger that cannot be satiated
even with bright knives of open sky.
We’ll feast on gravel until we lie
scattered like fallen birds in the fields.


Dane Hamann Bio photoDane Hamann works as an editor for a textbook publisher in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University, where he also serves as the poetry editor of TriQuarterly. His work has recently been published in Calamus Journal, Half Mystic, Wildness, and Water~Stone Review, among other places. He can be found at www.danehamann.com.

From how small a split will we supernova

when a constellation
of gears spins
and gnashes within us?

We are strange factories
of heat and light.
Sometimes nothing

seems as fragile
as the motions
of our machinery.

Listen to the howl
of our engines.
Listen for the click

of two cogs
not quite meeting.
Time shears us cleanly

but not every force
is as forgiving.
There are hidden points

of failure within us.
Each memory of you,
I’ve made by burning

a wavering match
in front of my teeth.
I wanted to be a vessel

for fire. I wanted
to be held by your
gravity, aflame

and dying like the sun.


Dane Hamann Bio photoDane Hamann works as an editor for a textbook publisher in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University, where he also serves as the poetry editor of TriQuarterly. His work has recently been published in Calamus Journal, Half Mystic, Wildness, and Water~Stone Review, among other places. He can be found at www.danehamann.com.