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Volume 14 • Number 1 • Spring-Summer 2022

John Palen

Tikkun Olam

Two asphalt patchers from the city came today
in work boots and yellow safety vests.
The man drove a slow-rolling truck
that trailed bitumen’s sharp smell,
the woman tai chi’d behind with a hose,
spraying cracks in the heaved, beat-up street.
It was the first warm day of spring;
we were out walking under dark branches, bare
except for the small red flowers of maples.
The woman’s art, her
black calligraphy, bold strokes and swirls,
drew our eyes to the layered street’s
brokenness, and its repair.

So Much Depends...

William Carlos Williams

upon the young
woman on the bus
who sees a wasp

crawl the window
above my gray head
leans across

picks it off
between thumb

and forefinger
and reaching up
to the open transom

lets it go

The Eisenhower Expressway in Winter

We drive alone in our cars in the dark,
sweeping west together in a stream
of headlights and brake lights
toward Forest Park and Oak Park,

Maywood and Elmhurst;
and because the treads of our tires
drag a weight of sound from pavement
the way bow hair pulls sound

from an orchestra of strings, I think
of Barber’s Adagio: the soundtrack
of Platoon through big cinema speakers,
the soundtrack of the end in Vietnam.

It begins to snow. Together in this hour,
we make a music of wordless longing
that carries us to our separate homes.

Grief in August

Grief in August is like winter up north,
when clouds roll in from Lake Michigan
with the first November snow and stay for months.
I find little things more difficult: pulling on socks,
cooking meals, keeping track of days.

Today shouldn’t be sunny, but it is. Hummingbirds
plunder the scarlet zinnias, zooming in and out
and around. Squirrels chirr in the oaks,
drop broken acorn caps on roofs and sidewalks.
A few leaves tend red or yellow. But grief

has shrunk summer to a Nature episode.
I sit on the couch waiting for it to be over,
so I can watch whatever’s next. If you
want to help, you don’t have to say anything.
Just sit with me and watch the show.

John Palen's manuscript Riding With the Diaspora won the Sheila-Na-Gig poetry chapbook contest and will come out in 2022. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in Delmarva Review, The MacGuffin, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Cider Press Review.