Photo by Sandra S. McRae
Maria Berardi, Patricia Dubrava, Donald Levering,
© 2022 Bristlecone
Bristlecone welcomes poems from writers of the Mountain West region. The editors are especially eager to read poems that reflect the region’s various cultures and landscapes, although we have no restrictions in mind regarding subject matter. Our main concerns are with the quality of the work and the cultivation of a regional community of poets and poetry lovers.
Submissions are accepted year-round. Please adhere to all of the following guidelines:
- Submit 3 to 5 unpublished poems in a single Word attachment (no poems in the body of an email) to: email@example.com. Submissions with more than 5 poems will not be considered.
- Poems posted on blogs and social media are considered published. Simultaneous submissions are fine as long as you let us know right away if the work is accepted elsewhere.
- Use a header on at least the first page of your submission that includes your:
- Name as you wish it to appear in the journal
- Mailing address
- Email address
- Phone number
- Website address (if you have one)
- Phone number
- Submission should be in .doc or .docx file format (no .rtf or .pdf)
- Times New Roman 12 pt. font—titles in bold and not all caps
- Flush left alignment except for drop-lines, internal spaces within lines, and any other special formatting your poem requires
- 100-word maximum bio at the end of the submission; same guideline for translator bio(s). Feel free to provide live links to your website.
After publication, all rights revert to the individual Bristlecone authors. We consider simultaneous submissions but please let us know immediately if something you’ve submitted to us has been accepted elsewhere.
The Editors: Joseph Hutchison, Jim Keller, Sandra S. McRae, and Murray Moulding
—Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth
Ghost world, saint realm
won't steer this rickety boat I helm.
It is in the verb of it.
The matter that is the same thing as energy
at a certain moment at a certain speed,
a moment that leaves time, ceases.
It is in the oxymoron, constant change,
the only sure thing we know,
right back to those first amino acids combining,
self-replicating, a first miracle.
And it is in the awareness of being aware
and the strangeness of this,
what bug in the programming is that,
what gift, what difficulty,
we animals that know and know that we know,
benediction, a jest.
Our north star. A mess.
we the guest.
A sidelong glance.
“Eternity is in love
with the productions of time,”
said great Blake. Yes.
But eternity is right now
and heaven is not a place.
And judgment is continuous
and never entirely unkind.
Remember to remember.
that is it.
What we search for
is with us all the time.
What we look for, we cannot see,
as we cannot see the seeing.
And that which
is not separate,
and is unanswerable.
I am savoring my second cup
in the sunny breakfast room
when the magpies create a cacophony.
Magpies are raucous by nature,
but this clamor is beyond the pale.
Suspecting they have again cornered
the neighbor’s cat, I go to the backyard,
find three birds fluttering from branch
to branch, peering down, screeching,
but no cat. A full-grown magpie
stiffens beneath the tree, abuzz with flies.
The mourners raise their raspy din a notch.
Peering into leaves quivering with noise,
I say: “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Fetching a sack and shovel,
I carry the carcass to the alley
for dumpster burial in plastic,
shut the lid,
listen to sudden silence, turn to see
not a black and white bird in sight.
for Albert Siebe Keuning 1954 - 1986
In this dream, which wakes me
when he’s been dead thirty years,
a trash can slumps by the sandy lane,
nestled against junipers.
Sand, Floridian as our childhood,
and junipers hugging Colorado hills,
conflated by fancy.
It is dark when I arrive, passing
scattered trash I should clean up.
Debris edges the narrow drive:
tin cans, orange peel, eggshells.
Guilt blots the ground beneath
Rocky Mountain blue spruce,
Floridian night blooming jasmine.
Mom’s asleep, so I enter in darkness
through the oil-scented garage, hear my brother,
grope through shadowed rooms
toward his panicky cry,
shuffle past crumpled paper, pity,
crushed soda cans,
fold this little boy in my arms.
“Didn’t Mom wake up?”
“No,” he whimpers, sobs subsiding to sniffs,
clinging to me as he does whenever I return.
Out the long, low windows
the white sand of the lane glimmers
through blackened hickory trees,
beyond them, the Front Range gleams blue.
In ghostly light, spilled garbage
litters the lawn, always the same garbage.
Backyard cherry trees lack professional care,
grow as many of us do, like weeds,
lucky to find nourishment.
Late frost kills besides: two years
have passed since the last crop
twinkled candy apple red in the sun.
As I pluck fruit the know-how returns to me,
the efficacy that only surfaces when we’ve put
our hands to the work—the way carmine
deceives, the shadow side still pale yellow;
how to tell red from red, how to recognize
in the fingers the feel of ripeness.
At first my rate is slow: it takes practice
to resurrect skill. By day three I pick swiftly,
rarely let the ripest and best fall,
small perfections lost.
In the kitchen I cull those pecked or bitten,
leaves and stems, a tiny bug or two—this is nature after all.
Facing the pitting sends a ripple of despair through me.
They are many. I picked so many, unable to stop myself,
as often happens with words. Just this branch,
this bunch more, denying the labor
I was piling up, the finishing that matters most.
With a cold glass beside me, a rhythm
sets in as it sometimes does on the keyboard:
gentle squeeze at the stem hole pops the pit and done.
Assembly line work, but all work has its repetitions.
We learn to love some, hate others, make peace with most.
Spread onto cookie sheets and into the freezer,
they are as bright as a pinup’s lipstick.
Rolling the hard candy marbles into freezer bags,
I reserve four cups for the pie I’ll make next winter
to rekindle the joy of labor done long ago,
its taste a burst of the best of summer.
In immaculate black and white tuxedos
with iridescent blue lapels,
a magpie mafia flaps from branch
to railing to birdbath
with as little poise as toddlers,
scolding each other:
this water dish is mine, mine!
Darting and stock-still, darting and still
on the moist lawn moments ago,
the silent pair of robins has been bullied away.
Atop the light-gilded fence,
one magpie perches in profile, revealing
between the precise scissors of its black beak
the sunlit jewel of a cherry.