Monday, October 3, 2022

BRISTLECONE | September 2022

Photo of Bristlecone Pine on Mount Blue Sky

         Photo by Sandra S. McRae

Poems by

Maria Berardi, Patricia Dubrava, Donald Levering,

John Levy, Sandra McGarry, C. J. Rakay, and Christine Weeber 

© 2022 Bristlecone

Click here to download this issue as a PDF


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  • Submit 3 to 5 unpublished poems in a single Word attachment (no poems in the body of an email) to: Submissions with more than 5 poems will not be considered.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

Bristlecone Icon


Maria Berardi

“Spirit is What Matter Does”

—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,
tortuous, abundance, 

benediction, a jest.
Our north star. A mess.

Our home,
we the guest.




A Sideways Wisdom

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.
and freedom-to,
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 
we beseech 
is not separate,
and is unanswerable.


Maria Berardi's poems have appeared online, in print, in university literary journals, meditation magazines, newspapers, and art galleries. Her first book, Cassandra Gifts, was published in 2013 by Turkey Buzzard Press, and she is working on her second, Pagan. She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Her process is one of listening for transmissions and trying to catch them on paper before they dissipate: the glimpse, the complicated knowledge. She can be reached at

Bristlecone Icon

Patricia Dubrava

Under the Peach Tree

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.




An Old Story

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.




The Lessons of Picking Cherries

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.




How I Knew It Was Picking Time

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.


Patricia Dubrava has two books of poems and one of stories translated from Spanish. She teaches creative writing and translation at the University of Denver and practices short creative nonfiction on her blog “Holding the Light” at  Her longer essays have been published in Hippocampus, Talking Writing and other journals. Her translations of Mexican short fiction have appeared in over 25 journals, including The Massachusetts Review.

Bristlecone Icon

Donald Levering


How thoroughly we’ve ruined 
the value of our home
to stake our dueling claims,
knocking out its pillars
and walls with wrecking balls.

What a team we’ve become,
having cut the estate to stumps, 
scorched the earth between us, 
auctioned keepsakes, 
split the children. 

At long last our lawyers 
have ceased hostilities, 
each having large pieces
of the opposing party’s liver
to gnaw by their bonfire of pleadings.

Henceforth the knives kept sharp for ambush
can whittle ornaments and dolls.
Instead of targeted arguments,
we can poke holes in our respective plots
to plant beans and corn and squash.

Finally you are free
to scrap your flame thrower
and unpack your cello.
I can almost hear you stroking it
the way you used to do.

We’ve witnessed the removal
of my armored suit, signed away
your interest in my old mandolin.
It needs to be re-strung before I can
pick a song of romance once again.



The Papal Broom

Havana, 1998

John Paul II has brought his broom
to sweep the atheists of Cuba
into the Holy See.
It’s the same broom he used to brush
Pope Urban the 10th’s tomb
clean of the rumors of lechery.

Socialism, he intones to a thicket
of microphones, is the methadone
of the masses
. And in his masses
he prays for world peace, for shoeless
Cubans that they be fruitful,
and for the dictator's deliverance.

Close-ups show his TV rouge and how 
he winces from the gout that keeps him 
seated to consecrate the Bunny float.
He scrunches his nose, whispers to an aide
who translates, The Easter Egg smells vaguely 
female, and is best hollowed out and painted.

He wants to sweep the island free
of hypocrisy, and for starters
enumerates the times he desired
women priests. Beside him the infirm
despot confesses he’d ordered saltpeter 
sprinkled in his soldiers’ cigars.

The Holy Father’s homily, sweet as sugar
cane, forgives imprisoned dissidents.
He lifts his broom to sanctify
voodoo charms and rumbas, he blesses
sightings of the Queen of Heaven
in murals saluting the Revolution.

As the Yankee anchorman confuses
John Paul’s catacomb connections,
the Pontiff dons his stiff miter to beatify
the first Cuban Catholic midwife.
From the balcony he waves at the masses,
leaning on the papal broom.


Donald Levering’s 16th poetry book, Breaking Down Familiar, will be released in May of 2022. A previous book, Coltrane’s God, was Runner-Up in the 2016 New England Book Festival contest in poetry. Before that, The Water Leveling with Us placed 2nd in the 2015 National Federation of Press Women Book Award in Creative Verse. I am a former NEA Fellow and won the 2018 Carve magazine contest, the 2017 Tor House Robinson Jeffers Prize, and the 2014 Literal Latté prize. My work has been featured in Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac podcast.

Bristlecone Icon

John Levy                  


When I see you in your armor, grasshopper, with your oblong

protruding from your shell of a face, your shield

all the barbs on your legs, your delicate

I could be you I know
and even more the you I don’t.




Mule Deer

Named after a mule because these deer’s

are bigger than those of
white-tailed deer, say,

but not all
that much, I think, maybe

incorrectly. I think maybe incorrectly most
of my time, mulish

yet walking on two legs
so as not to be rebarbative

in company, even when alone. But I don’t think
I got even “mulish”

right, because when I “used” it
up there, in the eighth line, I thought it meant something

different than obstinate. Unfairly, I
thought it was derisive in a different

but bigger way, the way I often feel
I fucked up in some manner I know full well

I’m exaggerating yet I ruminate upon, which
reminds me that the five mule deer I surprised in our

backyard on the outskirts of Tucson three evenings ago
were nibbling on tall sharp-spined cactus. Quite

they didn’t hurt their lips.

John Levy lives in Tucson. His most recent book is Silence Like Another Name (otata's bookshelf, 2019), which is available online as a PDF at

Bristlecone Icon

Sandra McGarry

I Watch Them Disappear

In the pond five ducks swim.
They write on the water with webbed-feet pens
circles-in-circles = watermarks.

I want to be a translator of those geometries.

There is paper with watermarks and
cursive lines of love opened on the desk.
How once in Paris or was it Colorado?

You wrote how color changes
when the rain tints the buildings— 
How it deepens everything.

And how missing magnifies an intensity of desire. 
Or that old woman at The Brown Palace who
steadied the hand of the old man.

Fire was there—you wrote, the sureness of it,
after she’d settled the napkin at his chin.
Is there not room for kindness everywhere?

How this question follows me for years.
Is it true with age there 
comes a deeper understanding of that fire? 

It is time and light that takes the words
to lighten—the circles, too. 
The ducks are gone.

I read the letters now remembering:

A sure hand.
A fine pen.
An ink thought indelible.

When I can hold no more,
I fold the words
along the well-worn creases.

Outside the window—rain
drop by heavy drop writes
its own story.





It is late evening the purple plums are eaten.
The concord grapes are in the bag in the car’s trunk,      
stored alongside two suitcases full     of dreams. 
And an uncountable number of grains of sand
to remember   packed into a Mason jar—
that long hot summer that startled 
the corn in every field passed.
We were moving west with fire in the heart.
We watched the dawns breaking.
And took in the dying fields— 
Unimaginable.  The colors of sorrows.

Sandra McGarry grew up in the east near the ocean. She taught elementary school for 28 years. She moved to Colorado in 2009 to be near her children. She enjoys hiking and biking. She’s published in Pilgrimage, Paterson Review, Encore, and DoveTales.

Bristlecone Icon

C. J. Rakay

Everywhere and Now

You always told me that you could feel them, those that had died, 
the ones you so loved, so young, so many for you. That you felt them 
as though they were sitting with you at the kitchen table
over a cup of green tea or a bowl of berries, 
each one chatting away, you gladly listening. 

They’re gone. 
Strange, you said, how you knew that but somehow 
didn’t believe it—couldn’t believe it. How could you, you said, 
when you see them in the soft light of every new moon,
in the bright eyes and sweet breath of our children,
even in that shiver you felt in your limbs for what you thought was no good reason. 

They’re not gone, you said. 
They’re here. They’re everywhere. 
And I thought it was so nice—so very sweet—that you believed that. 
But I never did. Until now, until today, when that lone stream 
of morning sun blazed through our bedroom window, and there you were.

C. J. Rakay is a two- time First Place prize winner and two-time runner-up of the Poetry Society of Colorado contests. She was a finalist for the most recent Daisie E. Robinson award.

Bristlecone Icon

Christine Weeber

A Home, A Trap

I am inside the full moon 
     as it skins, skins rainbow trout
  she looks up- 
       plies the pool

Caddisflies hatch, 
        from pupal shucks
     their own slow dawn 
clouds as runoff heats 

   We are inside that rupture 
  pupal skins floating
     water pulls us
   against shuck 

Our emergence 
    an ephemeral 
    we carry 
with us
    wings ablaze
       scooping air,
early home now death trap





Which six are mine?
  I can’t tell

from the conspiracy
    shooting across the sky

I try to spot them, eye the eyes—
   but like falling stars rising 
they split the atmosphere

   all wing and tail and beak

a body of one
  a body of a hundred

circling, creasing, torpedoing.

The turn a wave crashing sunset’s brow.

    They curl along the western ridgeline,
   frozen trees muscular and blank.
The body coalesces, disappears.  

   I am left in the wake, as is the fading light.

 My circle of oily, glinting feathers
     anchored in sand shifts, shifts.


Christine Weeber is the author of two poetry chapbooks, In the Understory of Her Being (in English and Spanish) and Sastrugi. Her poetry and prose have appeared in the Wild Roof JournalWild Gods: The Ecstatic in Contemporary Poetry and Prose, the Kyoto Journal,Solo: On Her Own Adventure, and other publications. Christine is the poetry editor at SAPIENS, an online magazine that illuminates the world of anthropology for a general audience. Keep up with Christine at