Margaret Barbour Gilbert, Brent McCafferty, Benjamin Russell, Barry Ballard

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Margaret Barbour Gilbert has had work in Mudfish, Good Foot, and others. She is the 1999 Third Place Winner for the Mudfish Poetry Prize selected by C. K. Williams for excerpts from  Sugaring Off, her book length prose poem. Her poem “Eating Oatmeal” will be included in the upcoming anthology Conversation Pieces edited by  Kurt Brown. The following poems are also from Surgaring Off.

A few weeks later, Sir Rudolf brought his new girlfriend, Angel, to my
basement apartment.  We were still friends because we occasionally slept together, although I knew he was not in love with me, and I was jealous that I was not included in the excitement of his life. Angel was tall and blond and described herself as having studied literature at Oxford University. She wore a cotton skirt and sandals with pink nail polish on her toes. She was fifty years younger than Sir Rudolf, just released from a mental hospital, and living on the streets of New York out of a paper bag. She said she had been taking flying lessons in order to become the Pope’s pilot. She had met Sir Rudolf in the lobby of Mayfair House, where she had been sleeping in the stairwell on the 26th floor. Now, she was sleeping with Sir Rudolf, and they were dating, and he brought her to tea that evening. “She travels about the world on a credit card,” said Sir Rudolf proudly. I was envious. Sir Rudolf and Angel had tried to elope to Barbados at the airport earlier that day and had been intercepted by Mr. Tooth,  Sir Rudolf’s lawyer, who, I had read, was stealing all his money.  There had been a piece in The New Yorker about it with a picture. In the picture, Mr. Tooth was wearing a green-striped, white shirt with a white collar and a green tie and black shoes, and he looked gigantic, over six feet tall. That night a bodyguard accompanied Angel and Sir Rudolf. The bodyguard came in to tea, and we all sat around in rickety old chairs in my tiny basement drinking tea from dainty china cups.


Gypsies -- fortune tellers -- lived across the hall from me, doing a great business from the street.  I later recognized their pictures in The New York Post. They had been arrested and jailed by the police for charging a customer $3,000 to remove a curse over 18 visits. Mrs. Parker rattled the spoons nervously when she had tea in my apartment that afternoon and warned me not to fix up the landlord’s equity. My apartment was cold and dark and damp, like the dungeon of Lazarus, with a very low ceiling and two windows with bars that looked out onto a garden. I could see the snow when it fell. There was no kitchen.  Only a sink in a corner over a slab of concrete. The bathtub had occasional rats. My one room was papered in a wallpaper with gray dragons. The last tenants had been evicted and left behind a box of Sweet and Low. To me, my new apartment seemed beautiful.  I felt so lucky to have my own place in New York for only $150 a month. I was free to do as I pleased. I hung the Chagall poster of the pink and green lovers, that I had bought when I worked at the Opera, in the alcove against the wallpaper of gray dragons.

In the morning I found an artist’s desk of cherry wood in the street that someone had put out during the night.  Many of the drawers had already been snatched by passers-by, but even with the missing drawers, it was still handsome, an artist’s desk with a suede piece of olive green that covered the writing surface.  It had a top, a carapace of carved wood that came down over the desk with a lock, but the key to the lock was missing.  Only one side of the desk had a complete set of drawers.  The desk was a caramel or cherry-red color with brass handles.  I was able to get the Sunday doorman at The Lowell Hotel across the street to move it into my basement apartment without tipping him, even though the desk was made of very heavy wood.  Once inside, the desk seemed enchanted. On lifting the lid of the desk a faint fragrance escaped -- the fragrance of new cedar wood pencils or of a bottle of gum or an overripe apple which might have been left there and forgotten.

Brent McCafferty has had poems and prose poems published in both The Teacher's Selection Anthology of Poetry and The Quarry. He lives in Montana.


The Ulm Pishkun

      On the lips of the Blackfeet the word pishkun means "deep blood kettle," a reference to the jumping buffalo of buffalo-jumping days. It is a concave rock face—and it looks like a face—with two osprey aeries for eyes, wide willow habitations, and the cracked granite mouth split through a seam of shale like an old man shooting his granddaughter a wry, wrinkled countenance. There is an unshaven, sun-shielded stubble chin at the bottom, the yellow meadow grasses growing deep in the penumbras of a coulee. Scouring the high plain I see the day in late April, the medicine woman swooshing her thistle-painted skirt, the huntsmen rallying in a wide u-shaped wavelength, pawing the ground with hundreds of moccasins made from the fraternity of the iniwa, the buffalo's kindred. As the men shake their spears the paramount hunter races in with a torch pine. He lights the tall sawgrass surrounding his quarry; fires rise and vacillate like the arms of octopi, and the bison runs with his shaggy hide and his fat slapping his legs, stumbling and stuttering over the precipice.
     After, the entire party files down and surrounds the kill. The youngest boy leans in, presses his arms into the wooly brown body, and nudges the big black horn with the top of his head. He says, "Brother, brother, we are the dwellers of the backbone of the earth. Iinνν, forgive us, for we have done this thing."

Benjamin Russell teaches English at La Salle Academy in Providence, Rhode Island,  where he is the moderator of the Student Poetry Union.  He is also a student in the MFA program at New England College.  His poetry has appeared most recently in The Alembic and Pigeonfisher Magazine.  He will also be a featured reader for the award-winning Mad Poets' Cafe program at the Warwick Museum of Art in the upcoming months.

Man on a Bus

    A lone man rides a city bus in the rain.  He is wearing a suit, carries his briefcase on his lap.  He does not have a job.  He also does not know where he is going.  The bus jumps the curb and is now on the sidewalk.  He thinks the driver has fallen asleep, so he begins to pray.  But he can’t remember the name of his god, so he thinks of his wife, and remembers he is not married, so he decides to pray to his briefcase.  This doesn’t make much sense to him, but then it does because he remembers what is inside the briefcase...

Barry Ballard has had poetry most recently appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Connecticut Review, The Apalachee Review, and Puerto del Sol.   His most recent collection is Plowing To The End of the Road (Finishing Line Press, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize). 


Before the heron ever winked through the last
shimmering fragments of afternoon light,
before he flinched, lifted and tucked his right
leg (as a warning of the thunder he half-
concealed under his garment of feathers),
I already knew you had preceded
me and left footprints where the water had fled
the sand, careful to leave the sacred undisturbed.

And I knew father why this final sliver
of light should cut through the husk of sorrow,
why the deep tide-like rush of the heron’s
wings should stir no more from silence than our
countless journeys over the same reeds.  Our words,
like oars, piercing the sky’s highlights and shadows.