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Shelby Graham

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David Sullivan

Real Nice Ghost

—for Peter McLaughlin

I can still hear him reading his poem
in the voice of that angry Prius packing heat
in his glove compartment, then following it up
with that devastating, no-wussies allowed
invitation to an eight-year-old’s birthday party—
how much of it was what he wished he’d said?
He was like a new Pied Piper of Hamelin,
so pissed at being tricked by the villagers
he performed ditties that compelled children
to follow his sound to the sea and drown.

I bet Pete would have remembered the gimp
who couldn’t keep up with the crew,
that left-behind child who rapped on
closed doors with his wooden crutch.
I hadn’t even found the door to Pete’s life
when he took it, but still see the jittery
leather-bound book shaking on his knees
as he glanced around the circle of writers
at the Wellstone Center where he was always
welcomed, despite his hobbling self-doubts.

The night I showed up they cajoled him
into reading, wanted me to hear the real deal.
Pete first read his poem about how he wished
he was Billy Collins, and near the end of it
he had Billy wishing he was anyone but
Pete McLaughlin. Pete’s Billy imagined
his dull flat, the next-door neighbor’s
sledgehammer sex, the mewling cats,
and then returned—even happier—to Billy’s
ever-so-much-more-than-comfortable life.

Afterwards I handed him my first book, signed it,
then wrote in my email. Never had a computer.
Never will. I added my phone number
but feared he’d be too shy to call. I asked,
but not a single local poet friend had heard
his deadpan self-woundings. Last, I tried
to track him through the facebook page
of the friend who’d invited me. Found a Pete,
but he said he was the wrong Pete, one who
had never written a peep of poetry.

Down, Not Out

Eden White imagines her hospital room
silver, a space ship taking her away.

Says that’s the sheen that layers
everything she’s leaving. Her wife

sneaks in mocha lattés which she pours
into the water jug, then rinses it clean

so nurses can’t detect a hint of scent.
Says cancer cells are just a friendly

invasion, a takeover that will displace
this old rag so she can get something

lighter. Says she’s almost completed
the rainbow of bracelets that track

her various tests. They chime
her name, date of birth stamped

on each one—what she’s waving
goodbye to. One’s magnetized

to set off alarms should she flee
the premises. Says the new

doc’s a hunk, too bad he’s a guy,
but still, her eyes hunger for beauty

and thrill awake. Says she doesn’t want
to discover what color they paint

the hospital’s morgue, and gets released
under her own recognizance.

She waves, sending off the doctoring
team as her wheelchair careens curb-

wards. Home again with puppy slurps
and a mess of friends to celebrate this birth-

day with full-throttled Black Forest Cake.
She insists everyone share corny jokes,

indulge in a little wine. She’s going
down laughing, taking us with her.

When her wife cries out fuck you,
fuck you, fuck you, fuck You!

Eden removes the nose tube
to permit a kiss. Love you too.

Slipping On the Past Tense

An old friend who knew Tilly
Washburn Shaw from their Boston days
emailed me. She praised Tilly’s
quiet attentiveness, the way her few words
always struck home, closed with:
“She was a dear friend.”

When I read it to Tilly she tutted:
“So hard not to fall into that trap.”
I think she . . .  She didn’t mean—
“Oh no, on no. Still…”
I almost edited that out. “Not
necessary. It betrays the way

we all work.” Tilly turned her head
towards light that thinned her.
I missed her then, who hadn’t left yet,
missed the way she chewed on words
and the spaces between, parsed them
for us, who remain here, for now.


  I’m drawn    by Death,
a minor    
     sketch artist.

  warm ups,
twenty-second   poses
rendered in quick

  Then Death moves on
to longer,  

so I must make
of my body    
        a still   life.

  Last, I position myself
for the longest pose,
       thinking now
about cramps—

where they will occur—
how to best
  circumvent them

For an hour
that seems to bend back
  the eyelids     of time,
I stay stock still,
even out    

Blinking    slows,
  pulse rate    drops,   as Death
    puts in the finer details.

  Every color    
of charcoal
comes out   of the box
     to bring me into    
       and out of
render me    


David Allen Sullivan’s books include: Strong-Armed Angels, Every Seed of the Pomegranate, a book of translation from the Arabic of Iraqi Adnan Al-Sayegh, Bombs Have Not Breakfasted Yet, and Black Ice. Most recently, he won the Mary Ballard Chapbook poetry prize for Take Wing. He teaches at Cabrillo College, where he edits the Porter Gulch Review with his students (submissions due Dec. 1st. S
end to, and lives in Santa Cruz with his family. Websites: and (a call for poetry submissions for possible inclusion in an anthology about Bruegel and Bosch he is editing with his art historian mom).

Charles Atkinson
Wilma Marcus Chandler
Diana Hartog
Rosie King
David Sullivan
Ken Weisner


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