A Journal of Contemporary Arts 






History is a nightmare…
                                 James Joyce

If Shelley’s grave contained a set of fangs,
Would memory hunters steal them from those jaws?
And would they find a stake in the poet’s chest,

A proof he’d been unable once to best
A virtuous Quincey and his moral laws?
Would fiction prove to be the real’s deep pangs,

The author’s soothing words the boomerangs
To knock us back to death’s sharp needled claws?
“Inevitability again, no rest,”

A cranky prophet shouts outside the house
Where even bugs are running from a mouse.

The sight of the stars makes me dream.
                                 Vincent Van Gogh

My radio was blaring – nothing new.
A postage stamp of glow across the street
Suggested eyes without attendant ears.
I only had to reach across the bed
To touch a button and reduce the noise

To one less hard intrusion from the boys
Who occupied the night. More like the dead
In some dark mission to unleash our fears,
The RF ghosts that offered us the treat
Of using our imagination, few

Remained from what had been a raucous crew
When I first tuned. Art Bell suffered defeat
At last by dying. Truckers mourned for years,
Their cabs still echoing from what he’d said.
I hunted frantically for other joys.

Somewhere, I knew, hunting across the nation,
I still could find some mystery-solving station.

             When I look at my old pictures, all I can see is
                 what I used to be
                                    Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project

A rose, diminished by an iron fence,
Made no attempt (and was no pioneer)
To slip between fresh-painted bars and flee
To someone else’s haunted prison yard.
To my old eyes, it had the look of fate

(Already wilting at a rapid rate,
Its petals browning and no faithful guard
To bring it water). I could only see
Its future as a loan now in arrears,
And bankrupt properties collect no rents.

Plant or animal, we’re left with tents
Along a road that’s paved with winter fears.
This fading rose (I think some might agree),
While distant analysts might well discard
Its message, represents for us a late,

And so far uncollected, bill of sale
For what we’re driving toward – a fatal trail.

       A reactionary is a somnambulist walking backward.

The pastor was a throwback. He made threats
If we did not obey his quotes of blather
Extracted from a long forgotten text.
The rumor was he’d cited Calvinists
Who raged against such hapless, guilty fools

Whose only value was to play the tools
For Satan’s march against we optimists.
I sat below him in a pew, quite vexed
To be addressed by this new Cotton Mather
Who treated us like misbehaving pets.

This blessed teller wouldn’t forgive our debts,
Nor even indicate which form. Rather,
He dressed us down, and shouted out “who’s next?”
He seemed to be a gruesome copyist
Of scriptures left behind by hateful ghouls.

At the end I wondered who was safer,
The ones who sat, or those who took the wafer.

             A strange thing is memory...memory is a painter
                                     Grandma Moses

A level grade paved straight across the plain
Of west Nebraska suffocated talk,
And flattened our singing to regretful hums.
The kids’ back seat fracas ended. They
Ignored my pleas to keep their seatbelts on

And stood behind me, silent chins upon
The headrests, seeing then, though far away,
The rising, jagged Rockies. Who keeps sums
Of moments such as these? Behind the block
Of things more current, not to mention pain

Inflicted by too many years of strain,
Why do we reach so far to just unlock
An image lost in time? What finger strums
That chord that we might sing of yesterday?
Or are we merely history’s hapless pawns?


Imperative’s a word I wouldn’t use,”
My young interrogator said aloud.
Her previous remarks had been asides
She’d whispered in a sleeve, not meant to hear.
No matter how I tried to read that hiss

(Which sounded more like someone’s silent kiss
Than words of an assessment I should fear)
And might show more than her loud bona fides,
She gave me nothing till that statement. Proud,
Enounced with mild fury – not a ruse,

It bordered on a questioner’s abuse.
A single witness would have been a crowd
To change her tone (as prejudice subsides
In cocktail parties mixed with practiced cheer).
I felt that, next, there might be an abyss

Into which I’d plunge, forever lost.
But no! She smiled. For I had borne the cost.



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Now showing buds, the rose bush bore new wounds
From pruning. Flowers would erase all traces
Of melted winter. Soil about lay bare,
Still much deprived of future plants and grass.
Six well-shod footprints and a rake’s deep lines
Gave proof of human interest in the season
But had been dotted dull by recent rain.
The gardener, though bald and gray as clouds,
Had lived to see another working year.
I nodded slightly to broadcast my cheer.


The old forsythia, a sloppy dresser,
Its bloom-filled branches sprawled across a fence,
Flowers already forming yellow splashes
To paint the dirty brick of a neighbor’s house,
Had let us know for years that spring had come.
In celebration of this change of season,
Arriving birds were going at it now.
And I could not prevent a robin’s beak
From snatching worms I’d better used for bait.
But – truth! I’ve not gone fishing now for decades.
The robin’s stomach and its hungry chicks
Were better served. That red breasted bird
Showed little interest in our flowering plants,
Brushing aside what petals had been lost
In last night’s late March wind. That howling blast
Had stripped magnolias across the street
Of half their swelling buds (become pink sparks
To light reluctant kindling – rising grass).
Now, if I had a rocker, I might nap,
Well-sated by the rising season’s sap.


After feigning death through winter months
The trees are now unmasked by swelling buds.
Soon canopies of pink and white will spread
To bring new light to shadowed skeletons
And push the park’s old denizens toward spring.
There had been casualties of winter’s acts.
That fatal run convinced some innocents,
Converting what had been their natural joy
To artificial sorrow. They will learn,
Regardless of an errant sense or teacher.
New lessons will be showing flowers soon,
A panoply arising from what soil
Some had imagined held but browning bones.
But give them room and breath. We’ll cast no stones.



A crocus presses up to leverage
A brown veneer of long since fallen leaves.
That sodden mass, already part-dissolved,
Slides greasily aside but will be holed
By rising tulip shoots. They’ll show no care
For preservation of what artifacts
Remain from last year’s now forgotten fall.
It is that way with history. Beyond
The heavy pulse of nature’s industry,
The casual skeletons of plants and people
Are only found beneath a crumbled steeple.


The kids have their enhanced reality;
I like to draft new stories as I walk.
Today’s was similar to many others –
Events uncovered somewhere in the past,
Then forwarded in consequence till now.
These side trips can be dangerously distracting
(As, when driving, watching out for beauty
Can lead to dreamers wrapped around a tree).
Avoiding a car with squealing brakes, I stopped
And realized with a start that I’d reached home.
Then Mrs. Costello waved as I walked by.
Her dog, a setter, growled and whined at me.
Then Marty Smith held up a fist to pump.
And Joe, the critic down the street, looked out
From what he had been thinking as he walked.
No one acted any differently
For all my drafted story had achieved
In character, plot and witty dialogue.
No one familiar with me saw a thing
Of how some might have changed those morning hours.
I felt a trace of sorrow from this fact.
My moment’s fiction passed without a spike
Of interest from the local audience,
Their attention seized, as by the throat,
By lurid moments of reality
(Described as such in someone’s daily blog).
I felt wounded – foolishly of course,
For no one in the street had any notion
That I had lived a second life that morning.
I guess that I should put aside regrets
Recalling what the best some days forget:
These days, the inner life requires adorning.



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                                 short sequence from the new collection Margie's Tavern





The old man had gone missing since the day
We’d just resolved a fight by giving up,
Both white-flagging arguments we’d posed.
A fellow drinker nodded, thanked us both,
And signaled all the others at the bar.
Complainers too, they had raised up one voice
From time to time requesting us to stop
Our old dispute, or go outside and fight.
Can you imagine such a spectacle,
An old man and one middle-aged to box?
More likely wrestle until one had dropped…
Weary of war the two of us stood down.
He sacrificed convictions held for years
Through tears and chaser beers, while I stepped back
From a system of protected trenches where,
Whatever shot I tried to make, I missed.
We each gave up superiority,
Our airy, sober arguments set down
Upon a field where only drunks prevailed.
In short, we both surrendered, bringing peace.
The barkeep said she might renew her lease.


The two of us were regulars for years,
And usually together at the bar.
The old man was consistent – never missed
Until just after peace had been declared
Between the two of us and other drinkers.
The evening that I noticed he’d gone missing
The rumor mill was oddly quiet, but
The crowd at Margie’s stared at me all night.
Their looks seemed sympathetic but suspicious
As though I was about to do real time
For some deep crime they nonetheless approved –
The murder of an enemy perhaps,
A targeted assassination done
To save their necks or mine. The barkeep, though,
Refused to talk. My tab was up to date,
My conversation casual and sane.
She wasn’t satisfied; she’d found a stain.


“I don’t believe our Adam will be back.”
Hearing the old man’s name from Margie’s mouth
Reached low beneath the surface of my mood
To stir up bottom sand and chase what fish
Of thought were cruising near my quiet beach.
“What’s wrong?” I blurted after drawing breath.
(I’d been submerged, it seems, for several days.)
The barkeep/owner shook her head and turned
To serve another customer, my Liz,
Who’d just arrived to keep her love from drowning.
“He doesn’t want to hear the news.” Liz nodded
And reached to hold my shaking hand. I smiled
But closed my eyes until she bent to whisper:
“You know he can’t come back this time, not ever” –
A task she had no need to undertake
For we had both had attended Adam’s wake.
Delays caused by one’s death can last forever.


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Arthur Mortensen EPO Poems Published Prior to 2023