Murmuration                                                                             by Tyler Robert Sheldon

for Mary Oliver
 
To fly, each bird steps 
into the paling sky
knowing itself as a piece 
of the world. Its place 
in the vortex turning like 
clock hands over some field 
is vital as breath to the flock 
of the body. Starlings flow 
this way to show what might come
if everyone tried together. Here,
they say. We will help you.
 
And below, drivers halt their cars
on the road. Others look up
from their homes. They all gaze
into the spiral, where each bird
makes room for its neighbor,
patient and fluid, waiting
for all of us to understand.

Tyler Robert Sheldon is the author of five poetry collections including Driving Together (Meadowlark Books, 2018). He edits MockingHeart Review, and his work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Pleiades, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and other places. A Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of the Charles E. Walton Essay Award, he earned his MFA at McNeese State University. He lives in Baton Rouge.

Guest Editor Katelyn Roth graduated from Pittsburg State University with her Master’s in poetry. Her work has previously appeared online at Silver Birch Press and at Heartland: Poems of Love, Resistance, and Solidarity. Currently, she lives, works, and writes in Kansas City.

Shelter Her                                                                       by Kayla McCollough

Have you heard death
in the divine strike of bird
and glass? The clash
of time and vision.  

If a robin—sign of spring
and good luck—should come to you,
listen. Its song will disturb
the sound of rain pounding
dead leaves.

Now you are the curious person
risen from the couch, called
by nature’s strike. You find
a robin looking up
at you through the mystic glass,
awestruck, beak agape,

while on the porch another robin
lies on her back on the wet
cement. It was she who dove
head-first into the drizzling
forever world. 

You arrive witness to her
legs jerking in air, like a sad,
asynchronous swimmer, in her final
dance of death pain. Her stunned
sister meets your eyes and flies away.

You will retrieve gloves from
the closet, go into the cool rain
and scoop her up, hands cupped
as if to hold holy water.
You will put her in a proper place,
under the pine tree, shelter her
still body with leaf litter. 

Kayla McCollough graduated from PSU in May 2020 with an MA in English. She often writes introspective poems that explore emotions and the daily struggles with anxiety. Sometimes these poems turn into songs. In her spare time, Kayla cares for plants and creates macrame and embroidery projects. When it’s warm, she’s outside soaking up the sun and enjoying birds or other creatures. 

LORI MARTIN is associate professor of English at Pittsburg State University. She’s had both poetry and fiction published in magazines like Prick of the Spindle, The MacGuffin, (parenthetical), Room Magazine, Grass Limb, The Knicknackery, The Maine Review and upcoming in The Tampa Review.  Martin is poetry editor for The Midwest Quarterly.

Matters of Blood                                                               by Antonio Vallone

For cheating death twice,
Sisyphus was punished
by Zeus, king of Greek gods,
with the arduous, inhuman task
of rolling a boulder
up a steep hillside in Hades.
 
At the hill’s crest, the boulder 
slipped and rolled down
all the way back to the bottom
for Sisyphus to begin again--
eternally.  We may believe
this story’s only a myth,
 
but we all have our own Sisyphean tasks
never to be completed.
I have dialysis: four hours a session,
three sessions a week, 52 weeks a year,
every year for the rest of my life.
 
At dialysis, angelic beings wear translucent gowns
over multi-colored scrubs, paper masks 
over noses and mouths, clear face shields,
to fly around this earthly afterlife, summoned 
by machines’ beeps, human groans, 
attending to matters of blood.

Antonio Vallone, associate professor of English at Penn State DuBois, founder of MAMMOTH books,  poetry editor of Pennsylvania English, co-founding editor of The Watershed Journal Literary Group. Published collections: The Blackbird’s Applause, Grass Saxophones, Golden Carp, and Chinese Bats. Forthcoming: American Zen, Blackberry Alleys: Collected Poems and Prose. In progress: The Death of Nostalgia.

Guest Editor Lori Martin is associate professor of English at Pittsburg State University. She’s had both poetry and fiction published in magazines like Prick of the Spindle, The MacGuffin, (parenthetical), Room Magazine, Grass Limb, The Knicknackery, The Maine Review and upcoming in The Tampa Review.  Martin is poetry editor for The Midwest Quarterly.

6’4’’ 300 lb Male Walks Home at Night                       by Cody Shrum

The moon hangs low in the sky,
dropping light through tree limbs
on my walk home from campus.
October, black Batman hoodie,
backpack hanging from shoulders.

Kylee might have dinner ready—
she does that sometimes 
when I’ll get home late.
The dogs will jump on me, go crazy.

The shortcut from Grubbs Hall
to my duplex, a loose path
of scattered gravel, winds between
a house and the campus ministry.

Sudden footsteps in front of me
jerk my head up, choke away
breath caught in my diaphragm.
Nobody else around to yell for.

A woman, jeans, purple jacket,
walks my direction, sees me, stops,
phone screen showing wide eyes,
lips splitting apart like a fault,
turns back the way she came, fast.

I reach the mouth of the path
where the buildings stop. She’s gone.
Her shadow has slipped, spilled
around the building, sprinted away from me.

I lean against a tree, take a breath,
feel the grainy bark.
I think to apologize, yell out
into the darkness, soften her fear,
but she’s gone, a held breath dispersed.
My heart still beats fast, hard, 
panicked against my ribcage.

Cody Shrum is a teacher, writer, and gym manager based in Kansas City, and he has earned an MFA in fiction from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Cody’s fiction and poetry have appeared in such journals as Prime Number Magazine, Rust + Moth, and Harbor Review, as well as the anthology, Kansas Time + Place: An Anthology of Heartland Poetry.

Guest Editor Lori Martin is associate professor of English at Pittsburg State University. She’s had both poetry and fiction published in magazines like Prick of the Spindle, The MacGuffin, (parenthetical), Room Magazine, Grass Limb, The Knicknackery, The Maine Review and upcoming in The Tampa Review.  Martin is poetry editor for The Midwest Quarterly

Night Swimming at Tuttle Creek                                 by Anne Graue

I remember that night. I couldn’t grasp my thoughts quickly enough to stop things from happening. You acted as if being with me were a sideline to the real work of blues guitar licks and buddies you were focused on like someone with a work ethic that wouldn’t let you stop, be with me only, see yourself from inside, not through the eyes of other guys. Giving in to me was giving up. In the water, the brother of your friend, kisses in water, the flash of a foot on a thigh, an arm brushing an arm in weightless water so it didn’t feel like touching—in water nothing matters. Later on the warm car’s hood—no touching, only talk—I didn’t know where you were, where you’d gone, or where you’d been.  
 

Anne Graue’s work has appeared in literary journals and anthologies both online and in print. The author of Full and Plum-Colored Velvet, (Woodley Press, 2020) and Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), she lives in the lower Hudson Valley of New York with her husband and two daughters.

Guest Editor Lori Martin is associate professor of English at Pittsburg State University. She’s had both poetry and fiction published in magazines like Prick of the Spindle, The MacGuffin, (parenthetical), Room Magazine, Grass Limb, The Knicknackery, The Maine Review and upcoming in The Tampa Review.  Martin is poetry editor for The Midwest Quarterly.

Mourning                                                                         by Shuly Xóchitl Cawood

While standing at the kitchen sink, I peel an orange, its thick 
skin slick on one side, soft on the other. Pieces tear off in my hands, 
 
hands I pull weeds with, use to clap for other people, press numbers, tap 
on black keyboard, smooth the back of my husband when he’s hurting, 
 
when life wears thin. The orange breaks off in tiny sections that burst with joy. 
Through the window above the sink, out in the yard with its white shed 
 
and split-rail fence is a darkness I know. Soon, I will leave this house
and walk the street I’ve lived on now for more than a decade. The whole world 
 
goes with me if I rise early enough, the light still easy and loose. The birds 
will call good morning the only way they know how—through song, and I long
 
to sing, too, but I am still finding my voice. The birds will busy themselves 
with their own findings—worm and seed, grain and grub—and all of us
 
will be eating the sky with our eyes, feeding on the clouds. Trees will swish their leaves
in their waking, too. And I will walk until I am back home again, and my hands
 
will twist the brass knob, and I will call out my husband’s name, and it won’t be song
but he will hear it, and he will rise like the light of any new and better day.

Shuly Xóchitl Cawood is the author of The Going and Goodbye: A Memoir, and the story collection, A Small Thing to Want. Her poetry collection, Trouble Can Be So Beautiful at the Beginning, won the Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry. Learn more: www.shulycawood.com.

Guest Editor Lori Martin is associate professor of English at Pittsburg State University. She’s had both poetry and fiction published in magazines like Prick of the Spindle, The MacGuffin, (parenthetical), Room Magazine, Grass Limb, The Knicknackery, The Maine Review and upcoming in The Tampa Review.  Martin is poetry editor for The Midwest Quarterly.

Bird-Honest                                                                       by Tyler Robert Sheldon

The birds have begun their sweeps over the neighborhood
today before half its residents have stirred themselves
from sleep. Before the mowers and roosters, 
beating the paperboy to the punch. Significantly 
it’s not just the blue jays, whom you and I would think of 
as the most likely suspects. No, even the mockingbirds 
have taken up this unknown cause, streaming down 
from up on high and screaming like firetrucks. This is not, 
they insist, to entertain the occasional wayward cat, 
so many of whom howl and paw up the trees at them. 
More than this they refuse to specify, but 
about one thing they’ve been honest: Look out,
they say. Be sure of what you’re fighting for,
because all the birds are preparing for war.

Poet Tyler Robert Sheldon is the author of five poetry collections including Driving Together (Meadowlark Books, 2018). He edits MockingHeart Review, and his work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Pleiades, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and other places. A Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of the Charles E. Walton Essay Award, he earned his MFA at McNeese State University. He lives in Baton Rouge. www.TylerRobertSheldon.com. Tyler’s newest book is When to Ask for Rain (Spartan, 2021), a Birdy Poetry Prize Finalist. He edits the journal MockingHeart Review, and his work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Quiddity, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and other places. He earned his MFA at McNeese State University, and is working on his PhD at LSU.

Guest Editor Lori Martin is associate professor of English at Pittsburg State University. She’s had both poetry and fiction published in magazines like Prick of the Spindle, The MacGuffin, (parenthetical), Room Magazine, Grass Limb, The Knicknackery, The Maine Review and upcoming in The Tampa Review.  Martin is poetry editor for The Midwest Quarterly.

Ode to a Sea Turtle                                                         by Grace Hendrickson

Ocean’s grandpa, you shuffle 
with the current, dappled cardigan 
flippers and cracked walnut shell 
home. You travel with your multi-
generational family, spry as the young 
babes. Navigation and knowledge shared 
like sticky hard candy from your pocket. 
Upwards, eyes to God, hollow shell, an 
open casket.  

Grace Hendrickson graduated with her B.A. in English from Pittsburg State University in 2018. She is currently pursuing her M.A. in English. She is a current staff member at Emerald City and editor of the Cow Creek Chapbook Contest. Her poems, stories, and reviews have appeared in Cow Creek Review and Harbor Review. She has won the Charles Cagle Fiction Award, Jo McDougall Poetry Award, Karen Stolz Prize in Fiction, and runner-up for Karen Stolz Prize in Poetry.

Guest Editor Lori Martin is an associate professor of English at Pittsburg State University. She’s had both poetry and fiction published in magazines like Prick of the SpindleThe MacGuffin(parenthetical)The Little Balkans ReviewRoom MagazineGrass LimbThe KnicknackeryThe Tampa Review (forthcoming), and The Maine Review. Martin is poetry editor for The Midwest Quarterly.

Hysterika is uterus                                                           by Jess Macy

in Ancient Greek
Hippocrates calls her a 
sentient beast.

She wanders her host,
blocks passages,
obstructs breathing,
induces disease.

Others say she floats,
a cork 
down
internal rivers.

The womb, a female viscus,
a little beast, 
moves herself
hither and thither 
along the
woman-flanks. 

She brushes 
past the liver, 
runs her fingertips
over the spleen, 
rubs her haunches
across thorax cartilage, tickles
the diaphragm. 

	She’s 
erratic. She delights in 
pitcher sage,
runs the skin of snakes
down her cheek, 
basks in the translucent
blue of the moon. But she is
cold, cold, so very
cold. 

To warm her up, 
they say, 
she needs doctor-fingers, or
your penis, midwife-hands,
or the scoop, the grip, 
or the spatula
some kitchen utensil, 
repurposed.

They call it “The Widow’s Disease”
this animal 
within an animal,
because her semen is 
venomous unreleased.

They call it “The Suffocation of the Mother,”
because maybe 
she’ll be driven
into witchery, 
into cannibalizing her
own children, 
rotating them on spits
over the coals of her hearth, 
driven
into slurping her men, sizzling,
down her throat. She’ll 
smack her lips,
suck her fingers clean, 

and then she will
use her 
own hands to
warm her body 
back up 
again.

Jess Macy was born and raised in the suburbs of Kansas City and received her BA and MA at Pittsburg State University. Following a particularly nomadic decade, she has finally settled down (for now) in Chicago to pursue her MFA at DePaul University.

Guest Editor Lori Martin is an associate professor of English at Pittsburg State University. She’s had both poetry and fiction published in magazines like Prick of the SpindleThe MacGuffin(parenthetical)The Little Balkans ReviewRoom MagazineGrass LimbThe Knicknackery, The Tampa Review (forthcoming), and The Maine Review. Martin is poetry editor for The Midwest Quarterly.

I point to the leaves’ motion in a tall and muted wind; by Allison Blevins

I tell my new baby to watch their flutter. I list all the things I know that flap—mostly in flight. We can’t feel the breeze from the porch. Her neck is sour. Her nails sharp. As it should be. I’d like to tell you the moment ends, nothing painful waits beneath the skin. I’d like to be someone who sees mostly joy—some are. Even the wasp and paralyzed hopper belong—watch yourself, not everything an omen, but here you’re right—even in the morning, even on the silent wind, heavy with honeysuckle, refracting sweetness off every pore on our bodies:  If I leave in the night, what will she remember of my mouth and hands?  What of my body or blood lingers inside hers?

Allison Blevins is the author of the chapbooks Susurration (Blue Lyra Press, 2019), Letters to Joan (Lithic Press, 2019), and A Season for Speaking (Seven Kitchens Press, 2019). Her books Slowly/Suddenly (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2021) and Cataloging Pain (YesYes Books, 2023) are forthcoming. Chorus for the Kill (Seven Kitchens Press 2021), her collaborative chapbook, is forthcoming. She is the Director of Small Harbor Publishing and a Poetry Editor at Literary Mama. She lives in Missouri with her spouse and three children where she co-organizes the Downtown Poetry reading series. For more information visit http://www.allisonblevins.com

Guest editor, Morgan O.H. McCune, currently works at Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas. She is a native Kansan, and holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from Washington University in St. Louis (1991) and an M.L.S. from Emporia State University (2002). Her poems have been published previously in River Styx and Flint Hills Review.