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A Perfect Love
by Olivia Hajioff

Long ago, I had a baby cousin in another land.
She spoke—not one word did we have in common,
yet there was nothing we did not understand.
She would sit upon my lap for hours.
I can still feel her pudgy arms wrapped around my neck,
rubbery, taut like a balloon.
How safe I felt.

Maybe you know too, how little words matter
when the eyes, the tone, tell all.

My mother, a teen, cared for her mother, a baby,
many years before.
Did something pass down to us, I wonder?

And when I left, a gorge of grief came.
The gorge now just a tiny drawstring sack
open now, and spilling
but mostly tied and tucked away.

My baby cousin is thirty now.
Here and not here. How can that be?

Autumn Love
by Buck Weiss

Your hair shifts the seasons
Copper to rose gold, ginger, a dark ruby red.

My favorite taste—auburn fall
That mischievous smile under velvet locks
That promise of nights by the fire
Days in leaf piles and wandering hands.

Your scarf—a tether
Pulling me from pumpkin patch to hayride

Our autumn love poured out in mugs. Slogans on warm rims
“You're my guy and I’m your ghoul!”
“Give me a treat and I’ll show you a trick!”
“Stalk your love in the corn maze!”

Your laugh—an infectious calm
Your flame tempting my caution’s warmth.

“We are never too old for smores at a bonfire.
Never too young to see kisses as hot.”
Days reading in bed, arms brushing each turn.
Nights under blankets, nesting for warmth.

Our bond ticks in time as we snuggle through life
Copper to rose gold, ginger, a dark ruby red.

Coming Home
by Andrea Wagner

Her words are rough, but hands
That aren’t mine scrub away
Flecks of muck I made
And dried up blood that sticks
Stubborn like wine stains

“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Hypocritical, I think,
But then again, I know I’d say the same
When she comes home tired,
Unraveling her own grimy bandages

It stings at first,
But when I look at her I smile
And think of all the photographs
That catch us unaware
When we’re both here, 

Alive.

Flower Psalm
by Tim Moder

She was in the beginning of the world before
words were spoken. Runes and symbols
decorate her body. You can read them by
starlight if she wishes to be seen. She is a river,
winding through jungles of songbirds, tangled
in the ruins of seven civilizations, her temple is
unapproachable. Pyramids built on her thin lips
mark her alien ancestry. A race of universal
priestesses sacrificed themselves, cobras coiled
around their heads, digesting all intellect.

Grand pas de deux
by Monica Hart

Without waking, he
makes room for me.

I slide under his shoulder and hip as
he relaxes onto me. I
throw my leg
over his leg
wrestle with the blanket
and drape my arm across his chest,
right where it has landed
for twenty-two years.
Through all this wrestling
and rearranging
and settling in,
he does not wake.
He knows his partner.

His hand rests on my thigh
right where it has rested
for twenty-two years.

Without waking him,
I breathe him in
and out

and I can sleep again.

My son learned about voluntary and 
involuntary muscles in science class. We 
talked about how lucky we are that some 
decisions are out of our hands: our hearts beat
regardless of what we do.

For twenty-two years, this man and I have 
rearranged and wrestled and settled in.

We have always ended where we are now,
intertwined, warm hand on cool thigh,
cool hand on warm chest,
heating and chilling our shared space,
breathing each other’s air.

The dance takes two.
This particular dance takes twenty-two.

Heritage
by Bethany Conover

Grand Canyon, our background
azure in the sky,
watching,
as they danced to beats
that must have been found in their souls.
Waving feathers of eagle and hawk,
telling a story, I was never given the code to,
but my great-grandmother knew it.
She saw the journey they proclaimed in their stomps,
the romance in their clamoring voices,
the tragedy in their fervent arms—
She never taught me.
I would never understand the feathered rhythms,
why canyons were formed,
how trees touch the sky,
how oceans were once people.
But I would learn to understand 
what it means to be nomadic in an urban world
and to see the divine in nature,
while dancing to the beat I find in my soul
instead of theirs.
My body tells stories
others will never understand,
amalgamations
infuse our differences
our dances.

Imitation
by Schuyler Becker

If I could paint your portrait
and breathe life into your image,
I would.

If I could place stars in your eyes
and rosebuds upon your lips,
I would.

If I could amplify your voice
and emblazon your name,
I would.

I would only ever paint you with
the most vivid colors.
I would only hear you in
the most beautiful notes.
I would only ever see you in
the best part of every story.

If I could I would
make you more than just a portrait,
a solitary thing.
You would be a real person,
my person.
You would no longer be
only an image
with paint flakes peeling away
like forgotten memories.

Letters from Baka
by Teresa Klepac

He saved all her letters
Tied up with stiff, white string and
stained with tears.
His blue-veined hands smoothed
the vellum, traveling across
a distance no longer marked
by a street address.
He cradled them the way a man
cradles a child’s head . . . so fragile
those feelings
those thoughts
memories.
There are stains on the creased pages.
The ink-aged sepia.
A lock of chestnut hair
a polaroid trimmed in white scallops
a woman, small and delicate.
He says, my grandmother’s hands,
I can only remember their softness
as she washed my face.
Tenderly speaking Croatian,
small hands against my ivory skin.
He touched his face, closed his eyes
and sighed. 
Traveled the distance between
now and then.

Tiny Church
by Camila Cal

there's a tiny church somewhere in southern georgia;
roadside america says it's on the end of a dirt road,
kinda hidden
almost like an afterthought.

the creator calls it a storage shed,
transformed into a church.

i call those synonyms.

after all, what is a church
but a depository?
we speak our prayers into it,
sliding them into the lockers of hope,
wishing them safety after we've gone.
our bruised knees remind us
at our most earnest moments
we are fragile:
there's a cost to worship.

i peek inside.
two pews, a pulpit, a cross,
a little notebook for travelers to write
we were here, we believed.

what kind of genius does it take
to build a church out of so little?

this road trip is spontaneous.
we bump along the dusty road,
you and i, disciples.
just strangers months ago.
our fingers interlocked,
a steeple of accidental prayer.

the church is locked.
the handle won't budge,
the door sealed shut.
but it doesn't really matter.
i know the answer to my question.

i'm not a religious person but when
i turn to look at you,
brown eyes gleaming in the sunlight,
boots planted in the mud,
both of our gazes meeting at the altar,
i want nothing more than to worship.

it's not hard to build a church.
all we need is you
and me.

after all,
it doesn't take a genius to know that
i love you.
i turn back to the church:
i'm here, i believe,
amen.

Tiny Mercies
by John Muro

Like the way you caress
Your cup of coffee and
Cradle it, like a cinder,
Near your chest as if
There’s a need to warm
The heart, or your pathless
Humming when tripping
Through tasks; the
Endearing way you
Recoil from cold or
Tuck loose strands
Of hair inside your cap;
Or the noble want to
Always place the needs
Of others before your own.
How much different than
The aging misanthrope
Who watches you, heron-
Still, with eyes half-closed,
Weighing this morning’s
Endearments that nibble
Away at the dark spaces
Where hunger hides
Even as the heart expands.

Twenty Something Years On
by Marc Janssen
After “Animation” by Jon Anderson

Somewhere there is a piano playing
Low and soft;
It plays of green covered hills under a kind yellow sun.
The sound comes and goes and it passes through you.
It is a song about us, you and me;
It is about life and loss and beginnings,
And twenty years on
I can hear it as easy now as on that day.

It was something I didn’t know if I wanted to do,
An institutional room of blood and pain and fear
That housed hours as terrible as I had dreamed.

Then you were there.
Delicate kicking legs
Heart beats and clocks to her first day
Her first sound in delicate shells
And red fingers opening and closing and opening and closing and opening . . . 

The moment I looked at her face
That minute under the sun
                 With us together in space,
A moment of more than history
More than mere discovery.

I can still remember,
Holding a bundled riddle
Calmly looking up at me, “What now?”
If I hold my arms in a certain way I can still feel.

What will I do now?
Now that I have to love.
Wet skin and wispy hair—
It is the scariest thing in the smallest package;
Breathing, and after a while
With a powerful yawn
Slowly surrendered herself to sleep
And I held her in white blankets . . . 

How can I succumb so completely
Be so capably captured?

Tell me of something our forefathers tried
I’ll tell you nothing compares to the birth of a child.
Men are such amateurs
We disappear when faced with that awesome power of creation.

And I was there
Beside my loved one, my wife.
I didn’t know what to say then.
I don’t know what to say now.

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