July 22-28, 2019: Poetry from Alexandra Umlas, Angele Ellis and Debbie Hall

Alexandra Umlas, Angele Ellis, and Debbie Hall

(the judges of the 2019 Poetry Super Highway Poetry Contest)

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Alexandra Umlas

Bio (auto)

Alexandra Umlas is author of At the Table of the Unknown (Moon Tide Press). She won first place in the 2018 Poetry Super Highway Poetry Contest, and serves as a reader for Palette Poetry. She holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from California State University, Long Beach and an M.Ed. in Cross-cultural Education. Born in Long Beach, CA she currently lives in Huntington Beach, CA with her husband and two daughters. Visit her on the web at www.alexandraumlas.com

The following work is Copyright © 2019, and owned by Alexandra Umlas and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.

Mummies of the World Exhibit
with my Young Children

Girls slink into dimming,
………..enthralled by the play of light and cold

of each case, glass quiet and straight.
………..How long is 1,000 years—

Sheath of material frayed and fringing
………..on the edges, speaking in threads,

knees tucked, tether of bone and linen,
………..our noninvasive looking.

For the forgetting
………..there are signs: “These were humans.”

What is a named thing here?
………..What wrap makes arm into wing?

What happens to the brain? They ask
………..if they can be made into mummies,

suggesting that if I were one
………..I would be giving two thumbs up.

Do you close your eyes
………..when you die? wonders the youngest

who says she hopes her own will
………..stay wide open—

scrunches her forehead, amplifies
………..their earthen-brown.

At home I need to run,
………..pushing into pavement, flesh

vibrating on concrete and lung heave,
………..my brain still shivering in its skull.

I imagine my calf muscles pulling away,
………..undone from their sinews like rolls

of deli meat meant for slicing, like fabric
………..unraveled for the cut.

Later, I pull covers tight around their chins,
………..these girls, so light with life, even when eyes

are shut, quiet, preserved if for a moment,
………..wrapped warm in the stillness of sheets.

Touring the B-17 Bomber at the
Palm Springs Air Museum

(A Golden Shovel after Randall Jarrell)

They climb a slender ladder. From 
stitched-together metal, my 
daughters disappear into the plane, a mother’s 
intuition wanting them to sleep 
longer in their not knowing. I 
want to conceal how people fell 
from the sky, how bombs glided into 
their targets, how it happened in the 
daylight, so everything hit.  This State,

the state of being and of war. And 
when they go further into the fortress, I 
can no longer hear their hunched 
tunneling. No oxygen masks needed in 
this controlled air museum, its 
planes are still. We are in the belly 
of the third hanger, learning till 
we are sick with statistics, my 
eyes want to look away, wet 
with sadness, with the soft fur 
of faces that burned or froze.

My girls sit in the jump seats. Six 
feet from ground, not miles 
like the eight to ten men from 
the past who flew this earth 
in these planes, men loosed 
into war, one man who crawled from 
somewhere in this turret, from its 
curved surface, with the dream 
of getting home, with the want of 
oxygen, and warmth and life,

someone’s son, someone’s, I 
know this from Jarrell, how a man woke 
into death. How am I to 
explain these images of black 
smoke trailing, or the definition of flak
or anti-anything? My girls and 
their enthusiastic guide pause at the 
plane’s plexiglass womb, its nightmare 
nested only the smallest fighters.

A single man curled knee to chin. When 
my children emerge intact, I 
hear the guide state how many died
but later, the girls tell me they 
loved the plane, over washed 
hair and brushed teeth, tell me 
how some men were thrown out 
because of their wounds, of 
how their friends deployed the 
parachutes, about the turret 
and its smallness, tell me with 
smiles, still unaware of what remains, a 
poem, a person, a mess, a hose..

Ordinary Ends

Mine is an ordinary life for sure—
most would concur.
Small sorrows, only ones that I can bear,
no rare disease, no sharp grief to endure
or not endure, no stifling lack of air

or freedom, no untethered need to drink,
no leaden breath,
no suicidal thoughts when by the sink
washing the dishes, no feet on the brink
of slipping to an early, soapy death.

Just small annoyances: knees that stay sore,
a twinging wrist,
remembering that I’ve read this book before
when half-way through, the never ending chore
of crossing things out on my growing list

of things to do, small holes in well-worn clothes,
(I cannot sew)
a fierce desire to swim against the flow,
two willful kids, a husband that I chose—
all ordinary things, and yet I know

disaster sits, a winged thing waiting to
whir suddenly. I hear its patient sigh
in every ordinary moment. You
know, so do I—
that ordinary ends; all good things do.




Angele Ellis

Bio (auto)

Angele Ellis won third place in the 2018 Poetry Super Highway Contest with her poem "Bloodchild". She is author of Arab on Radar (Six Gallery Press), whose poems earned a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; Spared, (A Main Street Rag Editors’ Choice Chapbook), and Under the Kaufmann’s Clock (Six Gallery), a hybrid poetry-fiction tribute to her adopted city of Pittsburgh, with photographs by Rebecca Clever.

The following work is Copyright © 2019, and owned by Angele Ellis and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.

We Had No Name for It

just stories / whispered woman to woman
numbers scrawled on napkins / initials scratched on bar tables.
just warnings / don’t walk down that street / park in this lot / be alone with him.
but we needed this job / that raise / his recommendation.

i think of the world’s disbelief / the rape kits unread
Anita Hill running the gauntlet / trapped under a huge white dome.
capped leers above bespoke suits / hanging neckties
while her abusers called her truth / lies / outrage / lynching.

it rumbles like a night train / across the years / you’re so young
cashmere arm claiming a banquette / pinning my shoulders.
i turned my head / my boss’s boss / thrust his tongue inside my ear
just another orifice / for his solitary pleasure.

A Disaster (But It Could Have Been Worse)

Sometimes we burn our own lives down,
but it could have been worse—even if the staircase
to the intact bridal suite ascends only in memory.
Sometimes we need help to complete the arsons
that start by a jimmied door. Maybe you went
for a smoke break in a helluva universe, dropped
a match of secret passion into the gasoline
kept for emergency: synonym for disaster.

It could have been worse. It could have ended in bed,
like spontaneous combustion—but the real deal,
not some worn simile for sexual chemistry
or the little death executed in a courtroom.
Our contract canceled, our fine print dust and ashes.
It could have worse. We could have been too scorched
by the metaphorical flames of divorce to flee
when the literal fire started. Don’t extinguish this minute…

you said you loved me in that restaurant just torched
for insurance money, and wasn’t it romantic, like when
I sold my wedding ring for five bucks (thinking I could
have gotten more for a filling), and the huckster with weak
eyes shedding permanent tears, another disaster survivor,
told me I could come back and buy any hocked ring
in his shop, half price, just remind him if he forgot
(like you, like me) that it could have been worse.

In Pittsburgh: March 22, 2019

……….……….……….……….……….For Antwon Rose, 2001-2018

These helicopters aren’t rescuers,
wings bearing the wounded.
They beat like Valkyries
above an outraged crowd,

split the skin of Penn Avenue.
Black and blue, the people swell
to chant for justice, say his name—
Antwon Rose, Antwon Rose—

cut down in the bloom of youth,
petals of blood staining his memory.
Antwon, who ran into history.
Tonight, the once-fired cop who kept

on firing is free on all counts, except
the double jeopardy of conscience.
People are stopping traffic on the avenue,
putting pressure on this artery like a fatal

wound beneath the blades that tear
the cold spring air of law and order,
to honor one they could not save,
their beautiful, unresuscitated dead.



Debbie Hall

Bio (auto)

Debbie Hall is a psychologist and writer whose poetry has appeared in a number of literary journals and anthologies, including the San Diego Poetry Annual, Serving House Journal, Sixfold, Poets Reading the News, Poetry24, Bird’s Thumb, Califragile, Gyroscope Review and Hawaii Pacific Review. She received an honorable mention in the 2016 Steve Kowit Poetry Prize and won second place in the 2018 Poetry Super Highway contest. Debbie is the author of the poetry collection, What Light I Have (2018, Main Street Rag Books). Her chapbook, Falling Into The River, won third place in The 2019 Poetry Box Chapbook Prize and will be published this upcoming winter.

The following work is Copyright © 2019, and owned by Debbie Hall and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.

The Baby Rattler Coiled Between the Bookcases

Why didn’t you strike
when you had the chance, little one?
You could have stabbed the cat hunched over you
with your tiny fangs, sent a toxic bolus of fear
into her heart and us running
to save her. Is it because she was my mother’s cat,
my mother who died just yesterday? No,
there I go humanizing you,
believing you capable of sentiment
and selflessness. And yet, when my lover reached out
to run her finger over your slick young skin,
thinking you only a gopher snake,
you just nipped a warning—more like a kiss,
really, but enough to alert her
to the tiny button on your tail, the sharp wedge
of your head. Another reprieve. Who wouldn’t call that a gift?
We tried to respond in kind,
secured you in a box with air holes,
called the wildlife rescue team. We imagined
they’d take you somewhere with large warm boulders,
plenty of lizards and small mice to sustain you,
shelter from circling hawks.
The wildlife rescuer said they had to kill you,
because snakes are territorial—
you’d only return to our neighborhood.
Oh, why didn’t you strike when you had the chance?
This story could have ended differently.

San Diego Poetry Annual, 2016-2017,
Honorable Mention in the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize
(also included in What Light I Have, Debbie Hall, 2018)

Sculpture Under A Bridge

Buenos Aires, at a memorial for the “disappeared”
during the military dictatorship, 1976-1983

Each figure climbs atop the other
up from the dust and dark.

They reach through cracks in the road
to pull travelers out of their cars.

Here a muscled figure pulls a ghost
from an earthen grave.

Wooden boards form the outline
of a reclining human, five meters long.

No weeds grow in this small plot.
The soil sprouts small signs:

Eva Esther Nunez, someone’s daughter.

Luis Angel Veron, someone’s son.

Rosa Dalia Herrera, someone’s mother.

The travelers stand still, feeling
the voices of the Abuelas resound.

The signs shudder in a sudden breeze.

What Light I Have, Debbie Hall, 2018
(also accepted by AROHO for inclusion in
their upcoming WAVES anthology)

Missing Jayden

He is talking with great intensity
about vacuum cleaners.

Here in front of me—in my memory—
stands a small boy,
his nose almost touching mine.

Hoover is his favorite brand.
He wants to know mine
and how many do I own right now.

His grandmother cares for him
while his mother marks time with heroin
and his father does time upstate.

She loves him, but is plumb out of ideas
and bone-tired. Jayden enjoys our testing
sessions, especially before and after,

when we extend our dialogue
about vacuum cleaners. He would like
a new one, but cannot afford it.

When I tell his grandmother
that Jayden is a bright boy with autism,
her eyes fill up with liquid relief.

Jayden’s school does not take as kindly
to this news, certain that he is
a smart boy behaving badly

and has us conned. It took two weeks
to spring Jayden from the special school
for behavior problems, two months

to finish talking about his time-outs
in the isolation room. At our last session
together, Jayden held a photo in front

of my face, almost touching my nose.
In it, he stood next to his new blue Hoover,
its extra-long hose wrapped around his waist.

“Missing Jayden” was first published in Sixfold in 2016 and
is also included in What Light I Have, Debbie Hall, 2018



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