Issue 6: Cosmology—Summary, Contents & Editor’s Note

by on Feb 18, 2016


Issue 6: Cosmology (Jan-Feb 2016) is an unthemed issue featuring poetry, prose, videos, and artwork from writers and artists around the world.

Read online | Read the PDF (click to read online, right-click & save-as to download)


On New Year’s Day — Christopher Woods

Frost Flowers — Sandy Coomer

Ghosts of Home — Kim Mannix

Cosmology — Laura M. Kaminski

Time Capsule — Bill Waters

Memories — Angelee Deodhar

Chesapeake Beach in October — Andrea Wyatt

Three Crows and a Storm — Joan Leotta

Black Sun Rising — Darrell Urban Black

Wyvern — Holly Day

The Lesson — Natalie d’Arbeloff

Somnolence — Yesha Shah

the heart’s trails — Herb Kauderer

untide— David Kelly

Herring — Elizabeth McMunn-Tatangco

Ripples — Olivier Schopfer

Resting — Mary McCarthy

Rush-hour — Shrikaanth Krishnamurthy

Closed Sign at Bill’s Bait & Beer — Trish Saunders

Discovered/Uncovered — Fabrice Poussin

Reading Whitman on Roque Island — Dervishspin

found poems — Duncan Richardson

Mural with Matching Sky — Jean Morris

Pinned — George Yatchisin

Transmission — Marie Craven

Sister Speed Racer and the Silent Brides of Christ
 — Michael Whiteman-Jones

End of the Road — Debbie Strange

Editor’s Note

When I was very young, living in Virginia, my dad woke me up in the middle of the night to go outside and look through the telescope. He had it pointing at Saturn, and for the first time, I saw the rings. This was back when the Voyager probes were sending images back from the gas giants, the days of Skylab and the Viking missions. Back then, it was easy to imagine that someday I would travel to the planets.

Those starry nights along with thrilling days spent at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum ignited one of the longest running passions of my life: astronomy.

Eventually, Skylab fell, the Moon got farther away, NASA went from exploring to transporting, the speed of light remained inviolable, and I gave up on thinking I would ever travel the stars. But I kept reading. I kept peering out through the telescope, every winter staring for hours on end at the Pleiades and the star nursery of Orion.

In college I took a bunch of astronomy courses. I’m no astrophysicist, and these were the kinds of courses geared for non-science majors so the classes were filled with an interesting mix of people trying to satisfy science credit requirements without having to do math, potheads looking to have their minds blown, and people like me who grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek, Pioneer, Viking, and Voyager. Looking up in wonder at the universe.

My love of observational astronomy developed into a fascination with the bizarre nature of theoretical and quantum physics that always led me back to astronomical weirdness: neutron stars, quasars, magnetars, black holes, radio galaxies. Thinking about this stuff is to ponder the very nature of existence, and it always made me feel like I was studying metaphors as much as the physical universe.

That sense of wonder has never left me. When I look at Hubble images, sunsets and mountains on Mars photographed by rovers, or the moon hanging in the bare elm branches on winter nights, I can’t help but be amazed and filled with curiosity and wonder. Needless to say, Laura M. Kaminski’s wonderful poem “Cosmology” captures that perfectly and spoke to me very deeply and not just about what’s up there, but what’s in here (picture me tapping on my heart).

So it seems literature and art are part of cosmology too in some sense, I think. Not in the physical way, of course, but on the human scale where we attempt to know and understand the universe and our tiny corner of it as we whirl around on this “pale blue dot” as Carl Sagan so aptly described it.

We look out the window and there’s that world out there. And we try so hard to make sense of it. That’s how this issue felt to me… a cosmology made of twenty-seven ways of knowing. Parts of a grand theory, maybe.

Thank you for being a part of this, and as always…

With gratitude and thanks,

James Brush, editor
February 2016


Confession: I realized as I was writing this that about half of it had already been written and posted to my blog ten years ago, so I repurposed some of what I’d written then. Here’s the old post: The Universe in a Nutshell


Gnarled Oak — Issue 6: Cosmology: Read online | Read the PDF (right-click/save-as to download)

Sister Speed Racer and the Silent Brides of Christ

by on Feb 16, 2016

It’s midday, and there aren’t many other cars on the road. It’s also cloudless and sunny—if you can call Indiana’s low-altitude, watery haze sunny—and so sticky hot that I’m cursing my battered Ford’s broken air conditioning. The edge of the earth is visible in all directions, a shimmering indistinct line that barely separates land from sky. Everything looks pale and flat, even the occasional cow or tree. It’s all weathered cardboard and faded paint. A poorly done stage backdrop.

A small black dot appears on the horizon in my rearview mirror.

I glance at the dashboard. The speed limit is 75 mph, but I’ve set the cruise control to 79 because I’ve heard state troopers will overlook an extra 4 mph. Cruise control was invented in Indiana by a blind man. I think I know what inspired him. He sensed the unwavering monotony of this place in his inner ear and it frightened him. He needed to flee to a place with texture. I don’t want to be here, either. Nobody wants to be here. They want to be anywhere else, and quickly. No wonder more interstate highways connect in Indianapolis than in any other U.S. city.

The dot gets bigger, and I can see it’s a car, pale blue like the sky above me but with an unmistakable man-made metallic sheen. A Chrysler sedan. It’s gaining on me. Whoever’s behind the wheel is driving like he’s late for an appointment in hell with the rebel actor James Dean, who was born in Indiana but got out before the boredom killed him, only to die in a fiery car wreck a few years later.

I shut off the cruise control and let my speed drop to 75 without braking. Cops don’t usually drive Chryslers, but I don’t know what they do here. If it’s a trooper, I don’t want him to see my taillights blink. I don’t want a speeding ticket. Another ticket. Now I’m sweating and paying more attention to the car in the rear view mirror than the road ahead of me. That’s stupid, but I’m mesmerized by this approaching missile.

In an instant, it’s behind me, veering into the passing lane like it’s surging toward the checkered flag at the Indianapolis 500. I figure it’s going 120, more if that’s possible. As it pulls beside me, a turbulent gust of air shakes my Ford. I turn my head to see the wild man who’s not afraid to drive a boxy sedan at suicidal speeds.

But it’s not a man.

It’s a nun.

Sister Speed Racer is blowing by me with split-second ferocity, but time drips like cold honey and I see everything with stop-frame accuracy. Her tunic is blue, a shade darker than the car. She’s wearing a white scapular over her shoulders and a white coif with stiff white wings similar to the ones worn by certain orders of French nuns, except shorter, and less aerodynamic looking. She’s sitting ramrod straight, eyes fixed on the road, both hands clenched on the wheel, one at 10 o’clock, the other at 2 o’clock, like they teach you in driving school. There’s another nun next to her, and two more in the back seat. They’re young. Staring straight ahead. Not talking. Looking grim.

As they pass, the nun in the passenger seat swivels her head like a mechanical doll to glare at me. Her eyes shine black, and she scowls. Scowls. I look away self-consciously. Seconds later, the car is a dot again, this time ahead of me.

I slump into my seat, confused. Why are four nuns tearing through the countryside like they’re being chased by demons? Where are they going? Why?

The highway stretches in a straight line toward an unseen abyss.

My stomach pitches and my mouth goes dry.

I don’t want to be here. I desperately want to stop the car and turn around. Yet I’m following Sister Speed Racer and the Silent Brides of Christ directly into the white-hot heart of this place.

The thought is chilling. I shiver, and suddenly notice that the stripes dotting the pavement are whipping by like bullets. I’ve absentmindedly pressed the accelerator to the floor, and I’m going 95, 96, 97. I blink and swallow hard, setting my cruise control back to 79.

The wind outside my open window growls like a hungry wolf.


Michael Whiteman-Jones is a longtime journalist and editor who has won a few press awards that he keeps hidden in a box in the basement. He believes there is more truth in fiction than in facts, and in recent years, has written several hundred thousand words of short stories and essays on an iPad with his thumbs—a feat that probably truly deserves an award, or at least a visit to the chiropractor. He lives with his wife and family in Denver, Colo.


by on Feb 15, 2016

(Watch Marie Craven’s video of “Transmission” on Vimeo)


Editor’s note: the text of the Ashleigh Lambert poem “Transmission” and her bio can be read at The Poetry Storehouse.

Marie Craven is a media maker and musician from the Gold Coast, Australia. She has been engaged in online collaboration since 2007 and has contributed to works with artists in many different parts of the world. Website:


by on Feb 12, 2016

To pierce, to find peace,
it’s all we ever care for.
One solid wire coiled
and carefully caught
brought Walter Hunt
a patent in 1849 as if
no one before had hoped
to pin hard and hold
and leave nothing barbed.
At least till the punk
with a pin through his flesh
snarled a no like a gun
with its safety off, like love.


George Yatchisin is the Communications Coordinator for the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at UC Santa Barbara. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals including Antioch Review, Askew, Quarterly West, and Zocalo Public Square. He is co-editor of the anthology Rare Feathers: Poems on Birds & Art (Gunpowder Press 2015).

Mural with Matching Sky

by on Feb 11, 2016

Mural with Matching Sky


Mural with Matching Sky

On the corner by the pub car park is a new mural
after van Dyck’s Venetia Lady Digby on her Deathbed.
Let me count the ways this work inspired by a portrait
of a dead woman paradoxically fills me with happiness.

Huge and bright and apart from the rose mostly blue,
it’s by the German artist Claudia Walde, aka MadC,
a woman of  bold vision and talent and about the age
Venetia Digby was when she died in her sleep in 1633.

What Claudia did here is such a surprise: a nifty project,
these “old master murals” by street artists talking back
to their chosen works in the gallery have flashed up
on blank walls and gable ends all over Dulwich, but

none has taken my breath, none makes me stop and
smile and ponder each time I see it the way this does –
a mistressful meeting of past and present, private and
public art, death and unrestrained but not unthinking life.



Links: Venetia Lady Digby on her Deathbed by Anthony van Dyck | MadC | Dulwich Picture Gallery

Jean Morris lives in Dulwich, south-east London, UK, where she writes, edits, translates from French and Spanish and takes photos. For the past six months she’s been contributing to the Via Negativa group poetry blog.

found poems

by on Feb 10, 2016

i found a poem
by a copy machine
about a bruised boy
and a mother sleeping
through his pain

i found a poem
in a classroom
about a doctor opening
a file of cold results
and whispering the warm name

i found a poem
at a railway station
etched into chrome
i chiselled it out
and carried it with me
on the train


Duncan Richardson is a writer of fiction, poetry, radio drama and educational texts. He teaches English as a Second Language part time in Brisbane, Australia. Find him on Facebook.

Reading Whitman on Roque Island

by on Feb 9, 2016

It is unfashionable to honor those who came before us,
and yet I sit in the house
of George Augustus Gardner,
of Isabella Stewart, reading the only book of poetry I can find.
It’s like he speaks to me, here in the drawing room,
to a life lived on the edge of privilege,
on the edge of belonging,
on the edge of a great good fortune.

There are no stevedores now, few butcher boys or drovers
but I hear their song and I remember their voices as my own.
Unlock my soul.
Give me the voice of farmers,
of the unpaid intern trying to grow wiser than her birthright.
Give me the voice of the lobstermen, of the housewife
making jellies in her kitchen, of the ambulance driver
picking up drunks and meth addicts one more time.
Give me the whistling song of the carpenter keeping time with his hammer.

Uncle Walt, your grass is under my feet, your words are in my head.
I know I am an uneasy guest
on this green and holy island.


Dervishspin lives with her husband and 3 cats in a cohousing community in Berlin Massachusetts. Under her mundane name, Dervishspin studied poetry at Mount Holyoke College with Christopher Benfy and Mary Jo Salter. She has not quit her day job.


by on Feb 8, 2016





Fabrice Poussin is assistant professor of French and English at Shorter University, Rome, Georgia.  Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in France at La Pensee Universelle, and in the United States in Kestrel and Symposium.  His photographic work has also been published in Kestrel, and is scheduled for upcoming publications as well.

Closed Sign at Bill’s Bait & Beer

by on Feb 5, 2016

Bill’s family came to Hawai’i from China in 1921. They settled on the worst farmland on O’ahu. Bill remembers running through parched sugar cane fields as a boy.

Saturday mornings, Bill drove the family’s Model-T to Honolulu. The back seat was loaded with papayas, coconuts, and sugar beets to sell at Waikiki hotels. Kitchen managers weighed and thumped the fruit, then counted four or five dollars into Bill’s hand. Sometimes 25 cents was added to pay for gas for the trip home.

Bill remembers Mother, Father, and Uncle drinking tea by candlelight late into the evening; talking quietly or, more often, sitting in silence.

“Go to bed, son,” Mother chided gently when Bill padded into the kitchen.

Ten years passed. Bill’s family sold the farm and opened Lock’s Bait & Beer on the North Shore. Hawaii was a territory then. Nobody cared about fishing licenses.

At sunrise, locals lined up to buy bait and beer on credit. Bill recalls seeing men and women standing by the shoreline, straw-hatted, throwing nets in the ocean.

If opah refused to bite, fishermen couldn’t pay. Nobody minded. Locals settled up when fish cooperated.

“We did things differently then,” he says.


Trish Saunders writes poems from Honolulu, Hawaii.