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Joseph Stanton

Contributor Biography

Joseph Stanton has published six books of poems: Moving PicturesThings SeenImaginary MuseumA Field Guide to the Wildlife of Suburban OahuCardinal Points, and What the Kite Thinks. His other sorts of books include Looking for Edward GoreyThe Important BooksStan Musial: A Biography, and A Hawaii Anthology. His poems have appeared in PoetryNew LettersAntioch Review, Harvard ReviewNew York Quarterly, and many other journals.  

White Terns

Outside the hospital window at dawn
I watch in pain a pair of white terns
weave their intricate ballet over, in,

and around the huge monkey pods and banyans.
They sail exquisitely echoing lines,
the second bird playing tune and variation

on the path of the first, again and again,
until finally they settle into leaves,
but, no, there they go again, soaring.

Later in the morning when I hobble
back to my window they are long gone,
off to the sea for dangerous divings

for the small fish that are their living.
Birds of the sea and of the city,
their lines of flight explain how one thing

can follow another in a lovely way,
with a turn behind a twist,
a rise after a decline.

“Warning: Door Is Alarmed”

In the post-op days of my hospital stay
they help me shuffle down the corridors
to restore some of what has gone away—
my natural knacks, my bodily mechanics.
I seem an absurdly hobbled version of myself,
exuding more tubing than a VCR.

To be fully alive again seems unlikely—
a goal elusive, mocking, ever out of reach,
like a door at the far end of a hall
that I creep towards for what seems like decades,
as it recedes, taking with it its anxious message:
that it is alarmed, that it is ready to scream.

“Yeah,” I tell the door when I finally get there,
“me, too.”

Author's Note:

"White Terns" was previously published in the book, A Field Guide to the Wildlife of

Suburban Oahu, in 2006.

“Warning: Door Is Alarmed” appeared in the journal Bamboo Ridge.

Verena Tay

Contributor Biography

A writer, storyteller and theatre practitioner, Verena Tay ( has published two collections of short stories (Spaces, 2016; Spectre, 2012) and four volumes of plays. She has also edited twelve story anthologies, including the bestselling Balik Kampung series published by Math Paper Press. Currently, she is writing her first novel as part of her PhD studies in Creative Writing with Swansea University.

The simplest questions are the hardest to answer. [Northrop Frye]

sun-summoned, cicada tap-dances his siren song, crazed-whining for her.
blood-borne, mozzie hunts, sucks, braving life-ending slaps.
dung-drawn, beetle rolls home, nesting a brood.
sister-subpoenaed, ant trudges for others, not herself.
they do. so they are. if? what ‘if’? there only ‘is’.
tiny, limited neurons—living life as programmed,
no space for more, i imagine. blessed simplicity.

at birth, i was nothing, just a sack, heaving air in, out. then, tunnelled light— 
me peering from depths of mary poppin’s pram—my first memory. 
i blinked, held my breath—too much, too much—until i was three.
john and connie taught me their words. my growing brain distressed, 
i wailed out full sentences. childhood was a game of guessing right answers. 
i failed, often. for wrongdoings, daddy drove me into darkness undeserved.
blind fury, i thrashed, bled, howled, fell, sank, sulked.

swish. flutter. patter. brush. creep. stroke. cuddle.
unknowns sought me, rubbed against, seeped within,
merging skin-to-skin, flesh-to-flesh, bone-to-bone,
worming into blood, brain, lungs,
powering cords, tongue, palate, lips,
coughing out experimental syllables.
finally, misery was named and uttered away.

vocabularies embodied, i emerged, spot-lit by the moon. 
imagining cosmic proportions, i was no longer a mere insect. 
i yelled—so long, mary, john, connie, daddy! 
hello, my world!—ready to play like never before, 
i inhaled, then exhaled story after story on night stages, 
over white pages, delighting willing ears and eyes,
sidestepping those who would swat me into dung heaps.

years later, cacophony still storms around me—i think, therefore i am?—
too many thoughts tire, too many words shove.
i long for insect life, single-minded action.
time now for another metamorphosis.
returning to first principles, i focus on breath’s metronome, 
in-out, in-out, in-out, and the pauses in-between—
amidst silence, what new self will i find?

liberal failing

we rubbers love to think
we are true to our core.
we stretch gather bind
small-all dark-light fat-thin
weak-strong soft-loud cold-warm
until today meeting
you tests bandwidth limits.
you smile, eyes full of teeth,
not biting our cringes.
you hog space-time, blithely
elbowing others out.
you screech, not speak, deaf to 
quiet replies. you laugh
off-beat, killing all talk.
because you do not know
what you do, our heads say
forgive, our hearts refuse.
elasticity snaps.
broken, shrivelled, we lie
we are the same, whereas
you fly beyond our shame.

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