PN&E Magazine, the magazine for Poets Network & Exchange is honored to announce our Pushcart Prize nominees. Our nominees voices are each unique and passionate. Their work powerful, sound, well crafted and beautifully written. Our nominees are widely anthologized, published, accomplished poets and writers and respected by the literary community. Congratulations to our nominees and to all Pushcart Prize 2016 nominees! We wish all nominees the best and continued success.
E.J. Antonio – Geography of the Changing Body – Tresses
Edward Currelley – Silver
Gary Johnston – The Border of the Other America
Christopha Moreland – Foreign Yet Familiar
Kate Rushin – Watch Night: December 31
Fay Chiang – What I Have Learned
Edward Currelley – Fractured Soul
Geography of the changing body – Tresses
by E.J. Antonio
In the crisp clear air of winter nipping at autumn’s backside, the neighbor’s persimmon tree stands two and a half stories tall. Its canopy naked of leaves, reshaped by the drag of its fruit: tear- and globe-shaped shocks of waxen orange gloss tethered to white branches, frescoed on a blue sky, refusing to fall to the ground as easily as my silver-gray hair cascades into the brush. A shocking sight the thin mat entwined in the dark bristles. Curious about these thin roadmaps of everything I was; I pull; finger a strand; feel the waffling of it; crinkly kink of it; knotted follicle of it; easy snap of it, my aging mane brittle as fallen leaves. It is a struggle to accept this revision from indestructible rich dark-brown widow’s peaks to a slowly fading steel-gray, its fragile texture quickly receding into time. Can I ask god to give me back my 40s mane? Will he deem me ungrateful and lop off a future year? I brave the unknown; boldly speak it to the universe only to hear the wind’s resistance to accept such questions as the words re-root in my mouth; pull me back to the immediate past before I spoke them. Disgruntled, I reluctantly accept this visible badge of survival. Still, in the crisp morning air of autumn’s breeze undoing my carefully combed wind-swept do, I stand transfixed on my lawn gazing up at the blood-orange moon-shaped orbs wishing my hair could inherit the fruit’s stubbornness. At least…stop falling as my seasons change. Let me be like the tree: an elegant fresco on the blue sky.
E.J. Antonio is a recipient of fellowships from the Hurston/Wright Foundation, the Cave Canem Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She is the author of two chapbooks, Every Child Knows, (Premier Poets Chapbook Series 2007) and Solstice, (Red Glass Books, 2013), and a CD, Rituals in the marrow: Recipe for a jam session.
What I Have Learned 12-08-2015
by Fay Chiang
Mrs. Yip the funeral director called. “Your father must have loved you children so much, because when I touched his body the skin disintegrated in my hands.”
My father’s will to live through his two years of terminal colon cancer never left me. He was fifty years old and I was twenty two when I made the funeral arrangements at Wah Wing Sang on Mulberry Street in New York’s Chinatown. My friend Arlan— whose grandmother had passed away in the recent past knew what to do having made her arrangements– had brought me there and instructed me on what to expect. Through the office window I saw him waiting for me across the street.
I had taken care of my father through biweekly blood tests and weekly visits to his surgeon; changed bandages and daily administered a chemo block by attaching a syringe and administered a daily dose of chemo to a medic-port on his stomach.
Twenty years later I came down with breast cancer and through the twenty-two years of living with it, my demise was constantly predicted especially after the removal of the lower lobe of the right lung with a fist-sized tumor in 2004. Within a year tumors reappeared in both lungs and liver. At the time my daughter Xian was fifteen.
I was told I had six months to a year to live and I thought of my father: his will to live, his love for my mother and his four children.
Xian had lived with the presence of this breast cancer and its ensuing seven surgeries since she was four years old. I had vowed watching her sleeping soundly in her trundle bed, “I will see her graduate elementary, junior high, high schools and college.”
Now at sixty-three years old—two weeks after my eighth surgery, a thoracic laproscopy— looking at my lovely twenty six year old daughter, I see many journeys together yet to come.
Fay Chiang is a poet and visual artist who believes culture is a spiritual and psychological weapon used for the empowerment of people and communities. Working at Project Reach, a youth center for young people at risk in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, she is also a member of Zero Capital, an artists collective; the Orchard Street Advocacy and Wellness Center, which supports people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other chronic illnesses. Battling her 8th bout of breast cancer, she is working on her memoir. Seven Continents Nine Lives (Bowery Books) is her most recent collection of poetry. And she is the mother of the inimitable Xian.
by Edward Currelley
I lay awake
Thoughts of times past
The sound of your footsteps pacing
The sanctuary of hot coffee
Silver of your hair glistening under a single kitchen bulb
Silver the age of restless
Awakened long before dawn
Silver doesn’t need much sleep
I ponder your thoughts, away in the unfamiliar
Surrounded by darkness, praying for sunshine
Fear of the unknown, confused, frustration
My wide eyed doe
In the middle of traffic, stumbling in the rain
Seeking peace, comfort, freedom
Hoping, praying that the next set of headlights belong to the familiar
and comes to a screeching halt.
by Edward D. Currelley
Have you ever been to an actual prayer meeting? I’m not talking about just any prayer meeting. Don’t get me wrong. All meetings where the lord’s name is lifted, is a wonderful thing. I’m talking about an old fashioned Southern Episcopal prayer meeting, a gathering of family, for the sake of spiritual rejoicing, in a place where hospitality and love overflows, a safe haven.
I remember growing up in Harlem, a predominately black community. Wednesday evenings usually around seven or seven-thirty. A group of about twelve to fifteen neighborhood folk would gather in the undercroft level of Saint Philip’s Episcopal church for prayer. These meetings were open to anyone who felt a need.
As a child we used to call this space our REC room, short for recreation room. During the week, before five o’clock Pastor Harrison and the custodian Mr. Sonny would set up game tables and a reading section. Some of us boys would run in and offer to assist. The answer was always the same. “Thanks boys, but you all will just hurt yourselves” I’d reply.” Ok Father, I mean Reverend, sorry sir”.” It’s alright son”, he’d say.” You call me whatever you’re comfortable with. Just don’t call me late for dinner.”He would burst into laughter, Mr. Sonny, with his Southern drawl had a speech impediment which caused him to repeat everything twice. He’d chuckle and laugh at the same time, “He got you good boy, he got you good boy”. I’d smile and say “Yep, he sure did”, and walk out. Over the years, I must have heard that same joke a thousand times. The fun was in hearing it told and the reaction it got.
This was our after school session, we would gather to complete our home work and play for a couple of hours before going home. Mrs. Gilbert, a tall elderly round woman would start by banging on the piano, or as she called it, the piana. The woman couldn’t play a note. Her heart was in it and that’s what mattered. One or two adult church members, volunteers, would always be available to watch us. Truth be told, their real purpose was to make sure we didn’t burn the building down. We were a rough bunch, raised right. Respectful, of adults and elders. Why am I telling you this story? Because, in the wake of the recent South Carolina tragedy, I want you to get a sense of the people that we lost. What they represented to their community and family, the void that now exist in their absence.
At most prayer meetings folks start off at the refreshment table. Hot coffee, homemade muffins, finger sandwiches, you know the drill. Unapologetic goodie grabbing. After snacking, greeting and a little chit-chat everyone sits around in a large circle. The pastor opens by acknowledging all the new faces. Once introductions are made, what follows is a welcoming in unison by the members. After an hour or so of bible study, prayer and rejoicing the group is asked, by the pastor, if anyone has a loved one or knows of anyone who is in need of prayer. Everyone stands hold hands and individual names are spoken around the circle. The pastor then leads everyone once again, in prayer. Eyes are closed, hands are joined and heads are bowed. Now I’ll ask of you to please, keep that image in mind.
We looked up in shock and disbelief at what was about to happen. I couldn’t help but to wonder, why? A faint smile that no one would notice appeared on my face, a nervous reaction perhaps. It was accompanied by thoughts of family members, their faces. It wasn’t more than a few seconds before we realized there was nothing to be done. In a moment we would all be gone. The words being spoken were inaudible. For me there was only silence, my attention was on the boy. A young man not any different than any other young man I’d held hands with while praying, except of course, he was white. A young fractured soul in need of prayer, welcomed into the house of our lord. I like the others didn’t fear death, the reality being we were in the presence of our lord. We were after all in his house. He would look after us, there was not to be any physical pain. The real pain, knowing that once again a member of the flock had slipped through the cracks of humanity. Another of our brethren, a lamb out of the gate, lost to wolves that would bend his mind. Raise him in hatred and release him to prey on its own. It happens all too frequently, especially to those of color. The racial divide, that fundamental and proverbial crack in this nation’s society, potentially, without mend. All people, no matter the race or cultural heritage who believe in the possibility of coexistence, equal in nature. Has to stand, live by example, short of revolution, and shout “No More! Enough Is Enough!”
As the shots rang out, we fell one by one. Our bodies lay heaped in a pile, blood spilling so much that there was no way of knowing which of us it was coming from. The smell of gunfire filled the air, before leaving he paused to survey the carnage. The door opened, he exited as calmly as he entered, this time there were no open arms. My eyes closed and I like the others was gone.
Downtown Charleston South Carolina, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, June 17th, 2015.
Suzy Jackson Grant, Ethel Lance, Rev.Dr. DePayne Middleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, and the Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckeny Un-fractured souls.
Edward D. Currelley is an author and artist. He was awarded honorable status by Writer’s Digest for Stage Playwriting in 2008. His children’s book “I’m not lost, I’m with you” and young adult novel “That Krasbaum Kid” will be published this year. His poems can be found in numerous anthologies and periodicals such as Eber & Wein’s Across the Way-Mountain (2014), Mom Egg Review, Volume # 13 (2015), Dove Tales-Nature (Writing for Peace International Journal) (2015) and Sling Magazine, Online Publication, Sling Magazine (2015). He is the president of Pen To Mind Books & Child Development Concepts, Inc. and resides in New York City.
The Border of the Other America
by Gary Johnston
At the border of the other America
There are no coincidences
For Mr. Lester Middle
He lives at 19 Apple Lane
With his snow blower, wife
Two and a half kids
Minivan and big screen TV
He does not think or want to think
Or see the need to think
But he cares about the fence
They are building across the border
He hopes they build it high
To keep out what he calls the others
He has forgotten the journey
Over that his father made
Without papers or a pot to piss in
He cares ever so much about equality
And has voted every year for the
Party that will bury him
He wants to take back America
But he has no clue who took it
Or if it ever really existed
He says TV has never lied to him
& the news is as good as gospel
He loves his mother
But hates the dark skinned neighbor next door
He wants those who don’t
Speak good English to go away
But he calls all his friends youse
He tells all who will listen
That the foundering fathers
Were good old guys
& the big war over the coloreds
Was really about states rights
& big government
He would love to turn the clock back
But he cannot tell time
He is Middletown America
Sum total of the thumbing down
A beacon to the tempest tossed
Who require lessons in western mystique?
Like a dog chained to an empty bowl
He hungers after nothing
He does not understand
He lives a backward state of mind
Moves an inch every five years
Makes the best of his daily bread
& where he ends up is not really
Where he wants to be
But he is a true American
Mayflower & jingoism
Last refuge of a scoundrel
The eternal conflict in the American soul
Raised on half thought politics of fear
He lives the lie made truth
Two hundred plus years
Blind faith, sins of the fathers
He does not know or care to know
Or see the need to know
The ignorance he feeds like a blessing
He passes it to his children
He tells them to keep the torch burning
& remember the other always the other
Gary Johnston is a published, performing poet and literary editor. He is a co-founder of Blind Beggar Press and a graduate of Bronx Community and Lehman Colleges of CUNY.
Foreign Yet Familiar
by Christopha Moreland
I do not recognize the hand that grasps mine…
Strong, but no flesh-cushion smooths its bony contours.
Brown, but bluish conduits of life bulge and writhe,
While newly freckled skin sinks ’round visible cords of thick sinew.
It seems I do not recognize…
That as my Mother before,
And my hands have aged.
Christopha Moreland is a retired Pediatric Occupational Therapist. Her long-standing avocational interests include modern dance, music and the performing arts, as well as adventure sports. Creative writing is a relatively new venture and she is very much enjoying the journey to find her voice.
Watch Night: December 31
by Kate Rushin
I leave the hard liquor and the loud talk,
that special pot of New Year’s souse.
I seek the quiet my elders taught:
As the night turned, as the year turned,
bad leg or not, my grandfather knelt before
his sagging armchair, prayed the way a man prays;
down on one knee, leaning on one elbow,
bent forefinger and thumb pressing the bridge
of his nose. My grandmother, in her plain,
white apron over a flowered shirt-waist dress,
knelt leaned on the worn leather of a wooden
side chair, head bowed, hands clasped.
As the night turned, as the year turned
they performed their solemn duty.
They prayed us through, they prayed us over.
This night, I slip into a small bathroom,
kneel before the unrenovated sink,
pray the next ones through and over.
Kate Rushin is the author of The Black Back-Ups and “The Bridge Poem.” She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Brown University and has received fellowships from The Fine Arts Center In Provincetown and The Cave Canem Foundation. She teaches poetry and African-American literature. Her work appears in Poetry From Sojourner, Sister/Citizen and Raising Lily Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy The Workspace. She is a regular panelist on “The Nose/The Colin McEnroe Show,” on WNPR.
©Lorraine Currelley 2016. All Rights Reserved.