Issue No. 1, Vol. 2, Spring 2020

Image courtesy of the artist: Sylvia Sassen. Some rights reserved.

The spring issue of fws has been an experiment in “evolutionary-lit,” a term I coined. It was written in a form known as the Renga, with poets collaborating, as

each poet writes a new [poem] that leaps from the [poem or] stanza preceding it. This leap advances both the thematic movement as well as maintaining the linking component.

For this issue, the theme was “tenderness/loving/care/& hope.”

Unlike a formal Renga, however, in which poets write only a few lines to add to previous lines/stanzas, which then, all together, become the whole poem, poets worked in this way to create the entire Renga issue!

This issue represents the work of twenty-five poets from seven countries: Pakistan, Viet Nam, Ghana, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. You can view an alphabetical listing of all fws contributor bios here.

In this issue, poets have celebrated and remembered ancestors, taking us into the hours that are theirs. They have spoken of mother’s, of grandchildren and of unbreakable bond[s]. Together we have dipped into the well of intense, human connection and desire: for redemption, for release, for new worlds, new eternities. Poets have called us to Look to the sky/And see/A chariot winged/A chariot/ winged/Soaring. They have spoken of the incomprehensible extracted from parched/scraps of reality & they have prayed for peace.

Now. Let us hear this prayer, let us hear the unforgotten song, the sound of the ephemeral, the eternal mothers singing, the Holy echo of who we humans truly are: one pure undivided stream of conscious being.

I pray this writing opens and warms your heart, and somehow sustains and invites you into the universal domain of conscious compassion and deep listening.


d. ellis phelps, editor

~frame after frame~

Corey Ruzicano

what words there weren’t
a buzzing
every word
every whisper
a world i had not chosen
a life gone by
and it frightened me
it heavied me like lead
the spinning
of a beached bicycle
a whirring reminder
of how soon things are lost
                        this is what i have of yours
                        of you
                        everything i can remember
                        it’s funny what it adds up to
                        the paper doll you
                        instead of the you that breathes and laughs and grinds your teeth while you sleep
                        what i do and do not know
                        this is what i have left
warm wood underfoot
an old sad song
roofs and rain falling on them
lightning bugs
the smell of the air in your home town
magic pieces of the world that
no matter how many times they’re named
can never
need never
fully be explained
                        i realize
                        as i try to describe my mother
                        that i would never have enough words for it
                        that every writer
                        since the first
                        had been trying to put into something that would stand
                        how it feels to love someone so much
                        there will never be enough words for it
                        that this life
                                    so infinitely filled with two sided coins
                        would never have enough stories or pictures or music enough to make someone                             understand how terribly, how entirely, how much bigger and truer and more real                           than any binding law or physical compound, i loved my mother.
                        and the tears of that love,
                        the salt of all of it would dry
                        unseen on this paper and the only sliver of silver in all this is the thought that                                 someday someone might read this and know that they too love their mother
                        in some implacable way
                        different and the same
                        no more or less true than the way i love mine.

south orange to penn station
the sky burning persimmon
over a grey jersey goodbye
flying kites against the world turning
faster than we could see it
i had made myself a liar again
and try to catch The Truth in my shaking hands
never able to hold the solid stone i imagine it to be
you cannot convince someone to love you
i trace the letters over my palm
i know it
have known it and somehow still need the reminding
i have only ever wanted to, once before
have only ever ached like this once
            but it lasted eleven years
            so you do the math
                        and here i was lying again
                        all this just once in my life nonsense
                        i had never wanted anything ever just once in my life
                        i had wanted over and over
                        overlapping wanting and
                             and recoiling
                    and wanting more
            and again
    and anyway
so long as i didn’t have to admit it
you cannot fix anything for anyone
but how could that be when it was all i’d ever done
                        aside from the wanting
and was that what my love meant
when i tried it on as a verb
he was a hurt i still couldn’t solve
a puzzle still jagged and scattered over the table
splintered across the floor
in the shards of light that shuddered
through the bare branches above
he was everywhere
the space around everything
but he himself
never there
it’s too late for that he says
because why i fall open laughing
                        that sort of safe mocking masquerade laughter we’d gone pro at
because you already hate me?
                        giggling against that grey december and all my choking fear
because i could never hate you, now
the first decade
of the new millennia is closing
and i am up
with the ghosts
in the hours that are theirs
my head in my grandfather’s hands
holding them
frame after frame
as he sleeps into nothing
slipping quietly from life into death
the hand i know well now
the hand whose severed fingers
i have twice picked from the sawdust of our garage
and watched the doctor sew back on
the hand
with a split down one thumb
from that same saw
the same sew
the same seam
the same hand
with a workman’s grasp caked in
every crease worn down
every scar finally soft
at the end
i was surprised
to find his hands
still holding onto mine
or rather
holding still onto mine
mine which were
for once
seam to seam
in the eye of the storm
at ease
in the heart of chaos
he was not a man i had spent much of this life loving
quiet and distant
but even now
i can’t help but feel
that his life
however small
and creased
and not known
deserved some redemption
            or perhaps just hope
            in vain
            that all lives do
i watch the boys around me
trying on every day what it is to be a man
trying to be both Good and Man at once
trying to become
which so often felt punctuated and propelled by
the legacy of leaving
when any of us will understand what strong really is
or rather
what really is strong
what the measure of metal is
what metal miracles take
[all] i[’ve ever] want[ed was] to close the wound
my arms are open
but that means they are also empty
and so i am taking up with ghosts
and liars
this great grief
the one we all had
just from living
that felt so personal
and specific
and awake
and was
in fact
the most universal
and mundane,
the most every day
we were all all bad
and all all good
and all all innocent of what was to come
we were all still packing our backpacks
and running away from home
we were all afraid of who we really were
we were all staring at the sun
            blinding ourselves over and over
            just to survive
            just to keep beginning in this world of endings
we were all peaches
               all dying as we ripened
we were all
we were all
and there was nothing for it.
just the hands
and creased
and empty
and open
and there.
Donna Faulkner nee Miller
And in his final moments
He drifts back to
happier days of summers past .
Of sandcastles and top heavy ice creams dripping with melting momentum
and undies itchy with hitchhiking sand .
The laughter and squeals
Of us all frolicking and splashing one another
in the shallows and jumping rolling waves together .
Those same old hands
hardened from
And crafting away a lifetime .
Sculpting himself into
the image of the man expected.
Those hands holding
onto his little kin today instead .
Gifted the briefest respite
by a breeze heavy with the promise
of vinegar and chips teasing our appetites.
A liberating summer's breeze
stealing away the weight of his worries. .
( those unspoken burdens that strangle a man's spirit and  bend his back crooked  by the time of old age )
He forgets himself and the relentless roles he plays
And his deep frown lifts
making space for a rare and toothy smile .
And we saw him -
Really saw him .
For the very first time .
He shone brightly with us that day.
His hands work rough were used instead
for swinging squealing children
Jumping waves .
Holding dripping ice cream
with sticky fingers he licked clean -
and laughed .
He knew on that brief summers day buried deep within his memories
The joy of being a human -unencumbered .
It’s recollection
Encouraging his transition.
Contented .
He slipped away .
leaving his weathered body
His smile sealed upon his face
Kissed by the timely departure of his
final breath.
d. ellis phelps
& she made space
unencumbered by recollection
what once was sticky      licked
clean--     life-giving tongue
she was      open
nothing small
nothing distant
but close
close as breathing
how long she hovered
at this opening
how many times
she turned back
but now
her lungs filled
her body overflowed
& she knew
this is how
the tracks are laid:
unbending will
& wanting
Sandi Stromberg
[blood of her blood]
& she knew
when she went 
into the heart
of chaos   
This is how
the tracks are laid

blood of her blood
a buzzing       spinning
how it feels to love him so much
his laughter   
a knock-knock world
of words       there are never
when love is a verb
he wrote a poem     in her tracks
multiple phrases
 yes, butyes, but… 
innocently caught
in Decartes’s universe
he thinks
therefore      he is
he is her giggling peach    
at seven
loving life’s absurdities
she     planting memories     
to blossom      some future day
Chella Courington
Shrouded in Mist
the father
tall & tan
in drawstring trunks
her rise
from the waves
two pieces of blue
cinched waist
span of his hands
the daughter
furiously free
looks to see
if he sees        
her striding
toward him
washing away
m. f. nagel
In the morning
When the stars gather to sing
Look to the sky
And see
A chariot winged
A chariot
Soaring star walkers
Star walkers
Fire spitting
3.        2.      1.
Beyond the edge of dreams
The edge of dreams
Where we have lived
So long
So long
In the morning when the stars
Gather to sing
Look to the sky and see
Our place
Our place
In new worlds
And new eternities
Charlotte Hamrick
I look to the sky
See the thumbnail ghost
Of a day moon cushioned in  azure
A tiny thing cradled in the expanse
Of the sky, the way I imagine you
Cradled me, although I don’t remember,
For all the years we were separated
There was still a pull, as the moon
Pulls the tides, the unbreakable bond
Merril Smith
New eternities--
the stars sing, folding harmonies
into folded worlds,
and we slip into the creases,
in the in-between
where dreams
of what was
of what might be merge.
And from there, your ghost voice calls—
an anchor or a balloon?
The moon hums in the night,
warning of perils,
soothing with hope.
Our souls join--
daughter becomes mother becomes daughter,
reborn with the sun.
Ken Gierke
Clouds part to reveal that same orb
viewed years and miles away, 

                                                             its shape
crisp in the cool October night air,
as we sat beside a fire talking about his youth,
mine, and that in store for my children,
knowing its light as the one true constant

                                      as it is now, the miles no less,
for my grandchildren as they look to the night sky.
Donna Faulkner nee Miller
Listening intently
to campfire tales .
               families present ,
               families past 
hands on shoulders .
stories fuel the fire
keep bright the light
that holds
each alive
for us
we become     them
they     step back
—shadow boundaries
of the peripheral
Allowing the next
—moon bathing
Campfire dances
Moonlight dew drops
Ice tonight’s first frost
—crushed diamonds
Grass blades glint
Stories intertwine
Leslie Ferguson
I wish for more
crackling spark            branch snap
outside my window,
eerie dark gloom, wish
for fog to blanket this floor, hide my
as I step
knowingly into witches’
crystals glimmering,
reflecting midnight tales.
Wishes take wonder.
I used to know them
like                  halted breath
an eyelash
precariously perched on a finger
            a fine slick bone
between                       us. If wishes
were now and not only then,
could we suck it all in
reverse the scope
and fallout, return
to stories
with curiosity in our expectant
faces, huddle together in that
shriek and squeal
next to the chirping fire bursting from shadow lines
while the sky builds above us
a fortress of light.
Dotty LeMieux
The Howling
starts at sundown
plaintive lament
call to the pack
Yip owooooo
across the canyon
walls lined with oak and bay
holding the sound, buffering,
then release, ringing from reservoir  
to mountain flank
to canyon bowl
up brushy walls
coyote bush, acacia, poison oak,
wild iris
here and there
a tended lawn
dandelions separating the grass
moles, voles and wily
gopher burrow beneath
the call of the wild
on early April wind
ringing through canyons
cry of thanks, and gratitude, a lowing
of community                         
 I’m here, and yes I’m here too
and me and me and you
for tonight and as long as it takes
here on earth we honor
coyote brothers
owl sisters
acknowledge oak and madrone
mountain abiding
a ring of joyful noise  
to anchor us as ancestors
with stories to tell
tonight the sun slipping down
before the hunt begins
the call to come home, be safe,
the howling begins, from nooks
notched in the side of the mountain
echoing all around,  
from the flatland
from houses with lawns
from the ones
with jacked up trucks
and the ones with Beamers
the ones with no cars at all
all join
the joyful howling
the call    
(anyone listening?)
to painful human
Darlene Logan
In the holiness
of our heart’s affection
we uncover the pain of loving.
Whoever thought it would be easy
had no clue, no clue, no clue.
We surrender to this catastrophe
of grace.
Jason O’Toole
Rabbits below
in gardens fatten
beyond the talon’s
weight bearing capabilities.
Yet none of us
can escape the grace
of god.
So, I remain still
as the constellations shift
across a sky
ruled by owls.

~beyond the talons~

Charles Darnell
Those void kings of silent death,
winged darkness against a
star- lit black,
swooping down on
No noise heard unless
and then the hoo-hoo
of raptor gossip
into the early morning hours.
Renoir Gaither
Such hours bring rain,
chocolate mint lilting over
glazed pots, the sound
of centavos hitting sidewalks.
Still, children carry songs
that seize a growing absence,
cornflakes heavy in the bowl,
a cat sniffing at the clouds’ retreat.
The morning’s exquisite yurt
allows parking meters to yell
Ukrainian fight songs, coffee
to brew a dozen crooked synonyms.
Who can stay the marchers?
Who’s asemic alphabet endures?
Francesca Moroney
Marching the beach at sunset
alone my only sign
the world is changing
is this Great Lake—wide
flat and still—such
an enviable stillness
someday my meditations
will find. The lake
glows as though lit
from within and not purely
reflecting the cerise and topaz
of the sky above,
writing asemic sonnets
to the sun that I must believe
still blazes even as I
am pulled away. For days,
someone’s campfire
will not die, logs of eastern
hemlock, spruce, and balsam
denuded and charred
glowing red and hot
long after I blanket
the sticks with sand and
resume my human
preparations for rest.
Michele Mekel
As I prepare to rest, I beseech the standing talls for
their strength, their rootedness
:: to navigate with upturned arms ::
the nameless days,
trudging across a calendar devoid of meaning,
and the sleepless hours,
passing uneasily under the sky crone’s phasic gaze.
As I rise once more, I entreat the nereids’ realm for
its cadence, its flow 
:: to skim with starfish fingers ::
the surface of nettled emotion,
unperturbed by fickle currents,
and the undertow of exhaustion,
buoyed by hungry ghosts’ desperation.
As I come to court slumber once more, I compose prayers to the rents in Cronos’ lineage for
its reinvention, its reformation
:: to shred with sharpened senses ::
the unmourned annihilation,
suppurating the psyche’s loamy soils,
and the viral fear,
colonizing this friable existence.
Joyce Kung
in my preparation
for rest      i am hopeless

my mother tells me
a story        hopeful
strokes my hair

she is:
how a mother’s voice
can soothe us
how a song
can save
Melissa Rendlen
I listen
to the sound
of emptiness
the clanging absence
of your voice
music not written
what rest is there
without you?
David Davies
in rest i am hopeless
without your body beside me
on the bed
though you turn and pull without stop
and that should disturb me
it doesn't
only the opposite
all sounds i can explain away when you are there
but when you're gone every crack of an expanding door or cooling frame
jolts me back to a room that remains empty
the tension tracks into my dreams
of course
until i believe staying awake
to be more restful
it isn't and i drift until awake again
sometimes hours later
though all time feels like minutes
but then nights later you are back
and your heavy breath and fidgeting
soothe me again to sleep
Simone Maffescioni
Saved, in a moment
of desolation,
of extinguishing
the pulsing,
rhythmic blessing
of life, love and light.
The voice of
rang through to
my listless ears
with a sweet tune
gloriously entangled harmonies.
Familiar notes of
despair, yearning
breaking through my
seclusion to latch
a life-saving
of solidarity and hope.
Jacob Kobina
many days have gone by
the stolen well                    since I left
and between us
is always the warmth
though I am back in my village
and I still hear your voice
a small gift
for my village, Równianki,
a small gift of grass
for the compound between my hands
I keep it from Vilna
and until I bring you back home
let some fields
that have made the newspapers remain
like shadows crawling back into the womb,
that all the respectable bombs must become
what we need
a bag of ammonia-based fertilizer
a farmer carries in his truck
I wait to plant my first fruit
Caroline Knickmeier
she      planting memories
to blossom     some future day
but to notice   orange light 
early morning   drops on cloves
bent blades of grass
song of baby birds         fireflies at dusk
loving your children is loving yourself
heaviness of warmth       your hand in mine
touching my face
to love more    he asked what was next
growth transformation      love and freedom 
but to be in process     vs    destination
to be here
not to rush past nests      to share song
my body and his        our souls held apart only by soft skin
wetness and water connecting us
osmosis love
not to please    not to live for others to feel 
to create my own
not to let love and happiness be determined by reinforcement
life force love
like water              filling myself
to share
and to ask for what I want
belief is proof enough
and trust is love
to be open to the rain when planned a sunny day
and feel the thunder drops on your palm         use the rain to grow
overflowing love and water
reconnecting us           me back to you
Belynda Jones
Let me tell you how a song can save
if spoken or dreamed or whispered
the moment is fine
dry and raw
you are bound  flamboyant
A mother’s garden knows all the notes
bathing in cold sorrow and fierce longing
a winding force submits and pampers
she watches the dance
and craves
the melody is 
never forgotten
never bland 
never wrong 
never over
Zara Shams
Into the early morning hours
you pinch your eyelids shut,
praying for sleep.
you roll out of bed off-kilter
like a dodecahedron.
Some mornings easier than others.
I don’t like the parts of me 
      I see in you.
The cat stretches onto the bed like
an alphabet––
new letters every morning.
I left a fork in the Vitamix
again; scrambled the
kitchen ceiling.
teach me how to shift the planets by hand.
How to tie my shoelaces;
how to stomach broccoli and catcalls.
Bloodshot eyes over the bathroom sink,
toothpaste dripping down your chin like ice cream––
Let us compare convictions:
I will trade you my silence for an accord.
Our family is a nation unto itself;
a language in and of itself.
We vote as a bloc and argue over dinner.
these are old dynamisms;
you draw the trajectory
and I pull you along.
Mashaal Sajid
I have not forgotten
I follow the song she sings
The one that soothes
& saves me
Takes away the stingy v
Vengeance out of poverty
I believe I'll find her
House-arrested in a crater
Or chasing feather stars
Splashing in a moon-glade north
I seek earlobe softness
in voice and hand
A concrete calling for poetry
Kush calm will envelope me
& she’ll bid farewell
to my coffers full of
ornate elf-dream figments
extracted from parched
scraps of reality
She remedies
Removes the influence
of whatever shadow
was thrust upon you
She will sing
of candelabrum light
Prairies in Kashmir
Peace in Palestine
& rest in your soul
rest your soul


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