Issue #7

Co-Conspiracy of Dunces by Jack Varnell

Jack Varnell is an often incarcerated, hardcore karma repairing veteran of change. His premiere collection will be finalized as his final act… Social yet Distanced, emotionalorphan, cirrhotic and doer of what he perceives as good… never drunk.

The theme of this issue’s wicked cover art is “a co-conspiracy of dunces.” This is not at all meant to imply the poets contained herein are the dunces, but I can tell you that if I were to choose creative minds to co-conspire with, these people would most certainly appear near the top of my list. As proof I will admit that all the poets in this issue (including the cover artist, who is also a top-notch poet) were invited to contribute. It brought me so much joy to peruse the pieces they offered up to me and delve into the worlds of some of my favorite members of my poetry family.

As someone who hardly leaves his apartment, I somehow manage to be all over the place in the poetry and open mic scene, and I have encountered more uber-talented voices in the local and virtual community than I could possibly contain in a single issue. So, if I missed you, I will very likely do a curated issue like this again sometime and hopefully include you on the next go around… or maybe the one after that!

I could expound 
upon the the nature of books
and how precious 
their value can be.
But really, any writer
or reader
can tell you that. 

So instead, 
I could impart 
the wisdom
of knowing someone
by the books
on their bookshelf
and how the gift of a book
with that knowing
builds untold 
emotional connections. 

When someone gifts 
a book to you
it embodies the way in which
they understand you. 
How they saw your heart
in that title
or blurb. 

The giver becomes 
a matchmaker,
hoping to pair you 
for life with a specific
tome of syllables. 

And it is for life 
because books are collected,
jealously hoarded
like treasure.  
The ones you love 
are hard to let go of. 

Which leads to my point, 
if I had a point, that is,
about gifts and books
and the things 
I could expound upon.

When someone gifts
you a special book
—one from their own shelf—
it is truly mystical.

When someone 
loves something
so much 
that they are compelled
to give it away
and they choose 
to give it to you, 
as if to say, 
“Take this thing 
that I care about 
so deeply,
so that it might bring you
as much joy 
as it has bought me,”

that is the deepest,
rarest magic
that books can conjure. 

I could expound upon all of this
but I won’t 
unless I do
which I did,

which explains a lot about me.

And if you saw
the disarray on my bookshelf 
you would understand.

An enthusiastic proponent of open mics, indie presses and indie bookstores, Darrell Parry has haunted the Pennsylvania reading scene for decades. His book, Twists: Gathered Ephemera was released from Parisian Phoenix Publishing January 2022. He currently cohosts the Lehigh Valley Poetry Virtual Salon with E. Lynn Alexander on zoom the first Monday of every month. He also edits the Quarterly.

I can’t say which was worse

the seventh grade
health teacher pulling one
down     around a banana

or the franks pizza bathroom where
from a dirty stall’s dispensary
I watched a condom fall to my feet

To think twenty-five cent
could hold back
these twenty-seven years

worse     being twenty-five
cents short buying you first pack
from the corner store.

when it’s just you the clerk
and your sweaty palms
pray ​pray he doesn’t say
you know what you doin kid

cause you don’t
and you’d be better off
with a bag of flaming hot Cheetos
or a handful of slim jims

but that can’t gain your brothers acceptance
or appease your father’s suspicion
at fifteen excuses cost more
than saying your first date went the distance

The clerk asks
Are you sure this is what you want
and you nod
knowing there is no other choice

you are just boy on the line
of growing up too fast
and being left behind

Wayne Benson is a poet, writer, and editor from Easton, Pennsylvania. He earned his MFA with the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University. Wayne runs his own podcast, Basement Poetry Podcast, where he, quite literally, talks about poetry in his basement. Wayne currently has poems published in Crêpe & Penn Magazine, Mineral Lit Magazine, perhappened magazine, and The Elevation Review.

Self-doubt is like a cataract 
creeping across the retina of mind  
a hazy film dimming the light of reason
a bramble of cobwebs clouding sight
no longer able to see 
around the corners of questions 
or hear the bark and growl 
of dogged answers

You plunge into a dread 
or dream of knowing 
that dark beyond light approaches 
sleep beyond waking encroaches
though more like reluctant friend 
than foe 
now that fear has gotten behind you 
like the Lucifer it favors
that Beelzebub it resembles 

Temptation slithers 
just beyond reach 
a niggling shimmer 
that fails to solidify in loins…
There will never be
aching orbs of blue again

Perhaps most alarming 
is the lack of alarm 
at this state of almost wistful 
this longing for longing 
that forlorns you 
the desire for desire 
that escapes you

The time is nigh when you spy
the back of the familiar
call Memory’s name and 
it turns to reveal Imagination’s face 
You turn away in embarrassed confusion 
the sidewalk of your being shudders…
Maybe it’s time to sit at the curb

On the curb it doesn’t matter 
if your windshield is cracked 
if the rear-view mirror 
is a tad too foggy…
you sit there 
on the curb
knowing that the time is long gone 
when you’d say to a threat that leapt…
or should that be leaped…
if you’re feeling froggy jump…
or was that leaped? 

There are so many simple things 
that stump me nowadays
that probably wouldn’t be troubling 
at all 
if that sharpened edge 
of yesteryear-contrast 
didn’t cut so…

Now Memory and Imagination 
have given up the disguise 
I’ve imposed upon them 
and they’ve started dressing like identicals 
rather than fraternals… 
I’m looking for clues to distinguish

The closest I can come 
is that sentiment isn’t certain 
with Imagination 
but Memory brings the blues 
and, of course, some greens 
and yellows and purples 
and pretty off-color hues 
a kaleidoscope of life lived 
in fullness

Can that be enough
the fullness of history 
for a laurel rest
now that zest 
has fled?

T. A. Niles hails from the land of Steel Drums, Calypso (now Soca), and sugar cane: Trinidad & Tobago. His nomadic destiny has led to extended dalliances in Brooklyn, New York; Hartford, Connecticut; Beaufort, South Carolina; Okinawa Japan; Daeseong-dong, Korea; Miami, Miami Beach, and Fort Myers, Florida; and now Mimbres New Mexico. His poetic expressions erupt from his experiences in and observations of the fascinating, bamboozling world he inhabits.

More mysterious than twilight or dusk
and its windows are always open.
It waits on old scratchy records
and in poetry volumes unopened for years.
You think it sounds Celtic
and you’ll only remember the word when you need fairy dust.
It’s more longing and listening, pondering what can be harvested,
what falls before winter
and wafts before distracting stars appear.
In breath that rifts and reminisces, you can seek intuition
or roses in their best-scented hour or leaves that cling to October trees
or fashion for different weather and always a better call to prayer.

Nancy Scott’s over 925 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. Her latest chapbook appears on Amazon, The Almost Abecedarian. She won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Recent work appears in *82 Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Braille Forum, Chrysanthemum, Kaleidoscope, One Sentence Poems, Shark Reef, Wordgathering, and The Mighty, which regularly publishes to Yahoo News.

no native tongue
to say that i
have loved
or lost.

i am nothing but a
silken thread
of a thing that you
once knew.

i am edible
and you were but
a thirsty set of lips.

i was a feast
and you were only hungry
for a spell.

Mela Blust is a Pushcart Prize and three time Best of the Net nominee, and has appeared or is forthcoming in The Bitter Oleander, Rust+Moth, The Nassau Review, The Sierra Nevada Review, Coffin Bell, Collective Unrest, and many more. Her debut poetry collection, Skeleton Parade, is available with Apep Publications, and her full length poetry collection, They Found A Woman’s Body, is available with Vegetarian Alcoholic Press.
Mela is a contributing editor for Barren Magazine and can be followed at

The grocer, with his frozen produce hands, does not know I am an orphan now
The butcher was slicing the Virginia Baked Ham when the call came in
I was on the phone for 30 seconds, my grip still on the family sized box of Life
Time is deader than a five-day avocado, deader than a razorback hog

The butcher was slicing ham thinner than the air in this claustrophobic building
The stock boy’s knees are bent in an endless brown box serenity prayer
Time is deader than a seven-day avocado, deader than my intubated mother 
It feels like the cashier has been making change since February 2021

I like watching you when you write your poetry.

When I hear your pen scratch against paper 
as I watch from the other room.

When your emotions are transformed into ink.

I hope the thoughts encompassed
in the ink are about me.

About how I like to lay my head on your pillow
when you wake and rise before me.

How those moments you are absent from our bed
leads me to your scent.

How I taste your tangerine lip balm
whenever you enter a room.

How my mirror is more honest
when you look me in the eyes.

How I am no longer afraid
to cry in front of others.

How knowing you exist in my life
tells my tears it’s okay to fall.

How the sound of your voice
lets me know hugs still exist.

I hope the thoughts that become your poetry
are laced with the love I feel for you:
the love you infused into my heart with your love.

Bryan Franco is a gay, Jewish poet from Brunswick, Maine. He has been published in the US, Australia, England, Ireland, India, and Scotland and has featured for poetry events in the US, England, Ireland, and Scotland. He hosts Café Generalissimo Open Mic, is a member of the Beardo Bards of the Bardo poetry troupe, painter, sculptor, gardener, and culinary genius. His book Everything I Think Is All in My Mind was published in 2021.

Taunting traffic light trapped
Monday morning misery, work-weary drivers
along less than stellar stretch of Route 114;
conglomerate of old Chevys, Honda Civics,
Ford SUVs and an odd Lexus or two:
brilliant black chassis beckons,
unfolded gull-wing doors
soar above showroom window clouds
and fly full tilt into
monochrome faces of
we underpaid motorists
who dream of abandoning our jobs to
drive away in a flaming blaze of
hot asphalt festivity:
zooming, zooming free flight forever.

Lee Eric Freedman is the 3rd Poet Laureate of Swampscott, Massachusetts (2016-2018).
Since 2011 he’s been affectionately entitled as the Renegade Poet Laureate of Swampscott (2011-FOREVER)
(This honorarium bestowed upon him by his friend and storyteller Tony Toledo). He is truly honored and humbled to be both.​
When Lee isn’t busy being any type of Laureate he leads the Tin Box Poets of Swampscott Workshop Group, hosts the monthly First Friday Open Mic @ ReachArts Swampscott and regularly performs at open-mics all over the place. He’s a three time winner of the Naomi Cherkofsky Memorial Poetry Contest.
Recent publications: Reimagine America, a Poetry Anthology for the Future (2022, Vagabond Books); Burn Before Reading Arts & Lit Journal (Winter 2021/2022); Out Loud, An LGBTQ Literary Anthology (2022, Read or Green Books) as well as several recent 2022 Cooch Behar Books anthologies (India).

you have two mutual friends
I watch your mother
grieve you
on a Facebook account
with your name
that is not you

she says
death will be a relief

I tell my mother
it’s so sad
to see her like this

I do not ask my mother
would you feel the same
about me?

Han Raschka (they/them), is a bipolar, bicoastal, non-binary poet currently residing in Boston, MA. Born in the Midwest and forged by both the arts and an unhealthy dose of Catholic fear, Han spends their time drinking coffee at an unacceptable time, begging their mother for pictures of their three dogs, and writing poetry like it hasn’t gone out of fashion. You can find Han on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites.

We spend the first half of our lives accumulating.
It is a season for gathering, a time to pack the pantry.
In the second half we must reconcile accounts.  
What has been gathered will be returned.
The debt will be repaid.  
I will pay my debt with words.

Joy must be manufactured.  
It is a cottage industry.
We mold happiness like a new clay pot,
fashioned within the circle of our arms.

There is strength in acceptance.
Sometimes we must swallow without question.

We are survivors in this forest.
Like a fern living amongst the tree roots,
we make our peace with any soil.

I tell myself to be as grateful as the circumstances of my life deserve.
That I have the voice I have been given.
That it is important for me to sing.

But it is easier to just be clever.
To build a stackable life.
To reside in a Universe of almost.

But, I do not want to be left like the biblical Job.
Rending his garments in the ashes and asking…why?
I encourage myself to fold the ash into the earth and plant again.

So each morning when I am fresh and still in my robe,
with my dog and my coffee beside me. I will write what I know.

Then, I will read aloud what I have written
and throw punctuation at it
like darts in a carnival midway game.

Rick Christiansen is a former corporate executive, stand-up comedian, actor and director. His work is published or forthcoming in Oddball Magazine, Muddy River Poetry Review, Stone Poetry Journal, The Raven’s Perch, The Rye Whiskey Review, As It Ought to Be Magazine, WINK Magazine and other journals and magazines.  He lives in Missouri near his eight grandchildren.

I am a pencil.
My voice is graphite
needle jazz,
my body concussed by teeth,
asemic array of divots
eraser worn level
to the metal ferrule.
I am a pencil. There is
only so much I can undo.

Cleveland Wall is a poet, teaching artist, and sole librarian at tiny Books on the Hill, a mighty twig of the Bethlehem Area Public Library. She performs with interactive poetry troupe No River Twice and with musical combo The Starry Eyes. She is the author of Let X=X and many small, hand-made chapbooks. Read all about it at