We chased each other in the alley
when the work day was done, and
marveled at the purple sky bleeding
behind church steeples.
We checked our horoscopes for
suggestions, checked our bank accounts
seldom. We wrote lists of
places to see,
things to do,
people to be.
We drank red wine to feel old pain,
pledged silently to stop picking at heartscabs.
We tucked dreams away into coat pockets,
for another time,
In 19A on a 6:40 flight,
I reach out of airplane windows,
map runway lights
hungry for answers.
I halt the blood-orange sun
as it dips behind clouds, dark and wispy,
and melts over the James.
We are dying
to be younger
C.B. Walshak is a Virginia-born writer, whose work has been published on Leopardskin & Limes, Q/A Poetry, and in Pamplemousse. She lives with her husband in Charlottesville, VA where she is currently working on her debut novel and pursuing a Masters in English.
A ring of chocolate milk
at the bottom of a glass draws a crowd
of ants from the next county.
I pour a confection of sugar water
and Borax into a bottlecap,
makeshift watering hole. The death-sweat
returns to the boy you fell in love with,
Augustine, but your wretched life
is only dear because you loved
the boy. When the ants meet on the mantle
in my study, they touch together
antennae as if shaking hands the way
you shook his perhaps, testing
the grip for callouses or tenderness.
Funny how first meetings make
a permanent impression. I once saw
a pair of houseflies mating
on the windowsill, their connection
slow as a data transfer from USB
to the port it’s docked in,
and thought about my parents. Outside,
the rock salt I sprinkled eats away
at the ice the snowmelt hardened into.
Cameron Morse was diagnosed with a glioblastoma in 2014. With a 14.6 month life expectancy, he entered the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missouri—Kansas City and, in 2018, graduated with an M.F.A. His poems have been published in numerous magazines, including New Letters, Bridge Eight, Portland Review and South Dakota Review. His first poetry collection, Fall Risk, won Glass Lyre Press's 2018 Best Book Award. His latest is Baldy (Spartan Press, 2020). He lives with his wife Lili and two children in Blue Springs, Missouri, where he serves as poetry editor for Harbor Review. For more information, check out his Facebook page or website.
The sky comes down
To the edge of bare rock
And all around
Filled with weather:
Clouds, cool breezes,
At the edge of a U-shaped canyon,
A stone amphitheater;
Sheer, sculpted cliffs
From a curved ridge of debris,
Towering over a broad lumbered valley
And miscellany of boulders.
In the magic of bracken, grass and water,
Hidden in woods dense and dark,
Ponderosa, Lodgepole pines, Douglas fir,
Dead-wood and downed-timber,
Tree-hanging lichen flourishes.
Tangled masses of green threads,
Long drapes--yellow to ochre
Wrought from coyote hair.
The burial ground of the first people
A sanctuary of bones.
Whirlwinds follow gusty squalls
Funnel in thunderstorms
And fire from lightning strikes.
The resulting conflagration
Burns until the mourning ends
so the dead may sleep undisturbed
As winter storms
And summer droughts
Wash over the forest like a sea.
Stephen Barile, a Fresno, California native, was educated in public schools, and attended Fresno City College, Fresno Pacific University, and California State University, Fresno. He is the former chairman of the William Saroyan Society, and a long-time member of the Fresno Poet’s Association. Mr. Barile taught writing at Madera Center Community College, lives and writes in Fresno. His poems have been published extensively, including Metafore Magazine, New Plains Review, The Heartland Review, Rio Grande Review, The Packinghouse Review, Undercurrents, The Broad River Review, The San Joaquin Review, Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Beginnings, Pharos, and Flies, Cockroaches, and Poets.
Stamford poets rent one-bedroom apartments and host occasional gatherings on Friday evenings for drinks and crackers. The apartments are filled with knick-knacks—organized hoards like Time’s filing cabinet—which they must squeeze around without getting crumbs on the carpet. One can see the decades in an afghan rug with golden tassels pinned down by a mosaic coffee table and a shag-wrapped ottoman stacked with dusty Playboys resting on top or a sofa with curved oak legs and plastic-sheened cushions splotched with stains. They sip their wine and taper off from the subjects of enjambment and dying traditional forms and find footing in the immediate themes of rude cashiers and the stigma of exact change. When the third glass kicks in, they lay back and look at the ceiling, recounting when they went to a motel on Hope Street where they walked into the room and saw a pile of white towels, boiling water, and a man in a tattered apron holding an ether mask, commanding them not to make a sound—the walls of the Seabound Motel were thin. They then, doze off themselves, not knowing a poem poured out of them like a request for just one more glass of Cabernet. Sore from awkward sleeping angles, they rise from their sunken cushions in the early mornings with vague recollections of ideas they’d forgotten to write down.
Matt Gillick is from Northern Virginia and is pursuing an MFA.
A NIGHT IN BUCHAREST
In the third floor apartmentof a fortress-like building,
from before the fall of Communist Romania,
hers were the last first-hand stories
I heard of pre-industrial Transylvania,
through cracked dry lips
a voice as staticky
as the console radio
in the middle of the room.
Great-great-grandmother of a friend,
slunk down in her favorite armchair,
surrounded by fading photographs
of smiling village faces,
her escape from evil’s clutches
could have happened yesterday
for all the feeling in her narrative.
Her tale moved apace
from a stroll through a moonlit forest
to an encounter with the piercing eyes
of a black-robed creature,
the strange compelling feeling
that drew her closer to him
to the sudden glint
of the crucifix around her throat,
and the other’s stumble backward
that gave her the one chance
to turn on her heels
and run back to the safety
of the well-lit tavern.
"Of course, this must just sound like
an old woman’s fantasies
to you young people,"
But when she was finished
recounting the grisly fate
of her friend, Gabriela,
who, to this day,
floats by her bedroom window
they were our fantasies too.
UP FROM THE OCEAN
The ones splashing in the ocean are no longer us.
No need to even bother looking.
That's sand in the folds of your skin.
That's a rock pressed hard against your back.
It's something called an issue
that rides the breakers into shore,
that rolls about in the waves,
giggling and flailing,
that looks like us but is not us.
You won't hear them
lauding the aesthetics of the perfect tan.
Their dreams don't bother with
five hours in this natural salon,
lazily eying the pages of something
from the New York Times bestseller list.
The lotion on their faces
is dabbed on skimpily,
in those excited few seconds
when their feet can barely stand still
and their bodies lurch
toward the magnet of the sea.
It doesn't take the leisurely approach,
a rub here, a massage there,
into aging back and shoulder-blades.
For them, a giddy topple
and a mouthful of brine.
For us, the nudge of a familiar thigh,
an occasional warm kiss.
As always there's a generation gap,
twenty feet or so of golden sand.
Hand in hand, a teenage couple cross it,
plant footprints deep to them,
but shallow to the tides.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in
That, Dalhousie Review and Qwerty, with work upcoming in Blueline,
Chronogram and Clade Song.
With this new decade, we are changing things up here at FROM SAC with the addition of a new monthly publication we call FROM SAC Monthly. This is where you'll find all of the monthly published authors and artists. We're excited to have more words to share, while allowing more authors the joy of sharing their work with readers who care.
Stay tuned for February and the first month of publications!
In honor of our theme, Voices, here are some poems being read by their authors. First, find a copy of the poem and read it to yourself. Then click on the links to hear the writers read. Pay attention to the differences in how the writer reads compared to your reading. What differences do you hear? How do those differences change the meaning of the poem for you?
William Carlos Williams: This Is Just To Say
Elizabeth Bishop: The Fish
Welcome to 2018
I’m so excited for this year! Our last issue marked five years of this wild project—and to be honest, I never expected From Sac to last this long. Life is at the very least unpredictable, and often time-consuming in areas you’d rather not devote your time. But a man’s gotta eat. And apparently so do his kids. Who knew?
My point: I am grateful for the opportunity to work on From Sac and to be on this wild adventure.
Elison and Tess would agree with me when I say that the INSANITY issue last year was by far our best issue yet. Now that we’ve figured out how to make this all work within the confines of our hectic schedules, the process is much smoother. Plus, it turns out that people are starting to notice From Sac, even if just a little, so that we now get hundreds of submissions a year—I don’t mind the extra work, this is exactly what I hoped would eventually happen.
If you haven’t read INSANITY yet, be sure to order a copy on Amazon. It’s a fantastic read, and it helps the three of us continue funding From Sac. Seriously, the sales pay for hosting the site and allowing us to provide contributor copies to our wonderful authors and artists.
But most importantly, I could not be more excited about this year’s theme. We are trying something a little different than what we’ve done and we’ve seen others journal do. The theme for 2018 is
Sound like our others themes? There’s a catch: this theme has two layers (like a cake or something):
Like I said, it’s going to be a great year! I’m excited for all that we are doing here and From Sac, to see how authors interpret the theme, and to just see what the rest of the world is going to do and be.
I’d seen the Facebook event reminder for Dr. Cornel West’s lecture at Sacramento State University for weeks. Keith Lamont Scott had just been killed over a week before the talk, and afterwards, the typical social media activism populated my news feed. People changed their Facebook photos to show support. People posted memes meant to capture the complexity of racism with a clever quote on top of a photo. And though there were pockets of deeper discourse – people actively looking for solutions – I was ready to unplug and hear Dr. West talk about “Race, Democracy, Justice & Love.”
The talk started at 7:30, so my wife, a friend, and I stepped onto campus at 6:15 to get good seats. But when we arrived, we found a line from the door of the student union winding past four classroom buildings. My companions waited in line as I entered the union from the back entrance, hoping to see someone I knew near the front of the line. The lobby outside the union ballroom was packed wall to wall and it was clear that even had I found someone, there would be no way to get to them.
“Can you believe this?” I said to a police officer monitoring the crowd.
She looked at me and shook her head.
“How many people does the ballroom hold?” I asked her.
“1,500, I think. But there’s probably 3,000 people out there.”
I took a spot on the grass on the quad outside just in case my wife and friend couldn’t get a seat. A screen had been setup outside where they’d stream Dr. West’s talk. By 7:15, my companions had joined me and a teeming crowd with one of the most diverse groups of people I’d ever seen. Black, white, brown, old, young, abled, disabled. Still, the majority of the crowd were college students, some with their laptops and notebooks out, and then it struck me. This large group of people I was sitting in the middle of hadn’t come to Sac State for a singer or band or actor or other kind of entertainer, they’d come here for an intellectual.
The crowd, the moment, felt crucial.
When Dr. West appeared on the screen in his usual black “funeral” suit he said he wore because he was always prepared to die, the crowd cheered as though some heartthrob had emerged on stage. Beside me, a young black man held his girlfriend and said, “There he is.” Under the trees to my left, two women dressed in Native American garb hollered. A man in a wheelchair near the front clapped slowly. Many had their phones out, recording, wanting to capture every word.
The first thing Dr. West did was thank his mom, who, along with some of his other family, sat in the first row. For a talk about love, it was an important beginning. Dr. West, who had been raised in the Glen Elder neighborhood of South Sacramento, stated that he is who he is because his mom loved him. From there, using his rich voice and verbal mastery, Dr. West led the crowd on a trip meant to challenge the preconceptions we receive upon our American births. For black and other marginalized groups, one of these birthrights is that of despair. But he reminded us that he wasn’t asking us to participate in “sentimental perceptions of the world” that make us want to “evade disillusionment and despair,” but to actually live with despair, to embrace it, because through that we are led to moral awakening.
He continued to touch on the need for moral awakening throughout his hour-long speech. The main way to reach this awakening, he said, is through love. “You have to muster the courage to love truth and love beauty and love goodness,” he reminded us. “We have a profound love deficit,” he continued. “It’s the only way we can account for the fact that we are the richest nation in the history of the world and yet 22% of our precious children no matter what color” and “44% of black children under six live in poverty.” This is a problem we can solve with love, he said.
But how? First, by understanding that justice = love. If Wall Street execs can embezzle billions of dollars and not go to prison, but “let Jamaal get caught with a crack pipe or Juanita get caught with marijuana and off to jail” they go, then that’s not justice, and therefore, it’s also not love. If you consider yourself an American but refuse to engage honestly in public discourse about race, then you are not participating in justice and therefore, not participating in love. Second, by being prepared to die because of love. Not a literal death, of course, but if we love all other human beings, we must be willing to kill off those preconceptions we receive as Americans, preconceptions that say whites are better, that males are better, that straight people are better.
Dr. West acknowledges that these deaths take a lot of work. He says that in order to kill these parts of us, we need to develop a “catastrophic consciousness” that he correlates to the blues, where people are on “intimate terms with terror, trauma, stigma, catastrophe, calamity, and monstrosity” because these are “part and parcel of what I am.” In other words, we need to develop a consciousness that isn’t afraid to love.
As the speech ended, though the sky had darkened, through the streetlamp lights and parking lot lights and cell phone lights, I could see people of all genders and all races and all ages nodding and clapping and yelling that yes, we agree, these are problems that love can solve. We stood and looked at each other as though we’d all learned something about ourselves, as though we were committed to killing off the parts of ourselves that prevented us from loving truly, especially those different from us. My wife, our friend, and I walked back slowly to our car, and around us college students spoke vigorously about the talk, and I smiled because their voices sounded like hope, because their voices sounded like love.
The month of February was filled with a few speaking engagements and I have to admit, speaking to people about writing (especially other writers) is a wonderful feeling. I started out with the Sacramento Suburban Writers Club. I spoke about publishing and the perspective of an editor. The group was filled with a variety of experience levels, so I touched base on a few things that I thought would pertain to everyone.
I discussed the importance of editing and reading the submission guidelines. Nothing turns my inner editor off like receiving a submission with spelling and punctuation errors or seeing that the author didn’t pay attention to the submission guidelines. These are simple things that will make or break whether we initially even look at your submission.
Another big topic that sparked a discussion was whether or not to submit for free. Here are my thoughts: You have to start someone where. If you want to be a writer because you want to be rich, good luck. Let’s be real, the odds are not in your favor. Sure, it is nice to get paid for your work. You spend endless hours looking over each sentence. You want to get recognized for your effort and time, but you have to have readers first. And the way to get readers is to get your stuff out there for people to read. In the beginning, I suggest submitting wherever, whenever you can. Don’t worry about getting paid, worry about getting published. Also, I would advise trying to find places to submit that do not have submission fees. It can get a little pricey if you are submitting often. Pick and choose wisely. Remember, you will be rejected. Hang those rejections like badges of honor. Even if you don’t get published the first or twentieth time around, you did it. You sat down and wrote something and sent it off for other eyes to see. That is a feat in itself.
The last thing I’d like to highlight from this meeting is creating a media presence. As we know, the internet is a powerful tool. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. reach out to more people than we can imagine. If you want to be read, want to be known, this is a powerful tool. Create a blog or Facebook page or an Instagram or all three and tie them together. The more people you can reach, the bigger the following you will have. Even if this doesn’t generate a following in the beginning, it gives you a space to share your writing with others. Start small. Invite your family and friends to join you and ask them to share with others. It’s easy and it’s free.
Check out the Sacramento Suburban Writers Club at:
A few weeks later, I found myself at West Sac’s River City High School and spoke with a Creative Writing class.
I spoke with high school students about my book, Pieces, the creative writing process and answered their questions. They asked me some of the following questions:
1. What is your writing philosophy?
2. Where/how do you research for a story?
3. What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
4. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Who knew I would be stumped by high school students? It was difficult to find a concise answer for these questions, but I did my best. Here are my answers:
1. Keep writing. And reading. A good writer continues the practice of writing always and forever. You keep working your craft, reading other writers, learning new structures, taking away from others that are doing what you love and even learning from the things you don’t necessarily love. No one lies when they say practice makes perfect. And when I say perfect, I mean perfect in your own way (not some kind of standard set by someone else).
2. If the topic is something technical, I read about it. Go to the library. Research online. But most of what I write comes from living life. People watching. Interacting with others. Thinking deeply about things and discussing them with friends. My whole life is research for my writing.
3. The same answer as number one. Keep writing. Practice, practice, practice. And read as much as you can from all genres. Find your own voice.
4. Usually life experiences or my other interests. For instance: fairytales. I am fascinated by the narratives of fairytales and how they have lasted for so many years. How they shape art and life. This comes to play in my writing. And nature. I love being out and in nature. A lot of my stories happen outside. I don’t think about much. It just happens as I write. Everything I consume becomes a part of me and leaches out into my writing.
Those are my answers, what are your answers?
Of course, after I answered all of their questions, I gave them fliers for From Sac. What better way to get their feet wet than to submit with us for the first time?