Since 1996 Volume XXI

Eric Bliman

Eric Bliman's chapbook, Travel & Leisure, won the Poetry Society of America's National Chapbook Fellowship in 2012. His poems and reviews have appeared in Birmingham Poetry Review, HEArt Journal Online, Quarterly West, The Southern Review, Subtropics, The Times Literary Supplement, and other journals. He holds a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Cincinnati, where he volunteered at the Cincinnati Review, and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Florida. He teaches composition, technical writing, and creative writing at Pennsylvania State University - Harrisburg. He is currently seeking a publisher for his first full-length collection of poems.

Prometheus in Pittsburgh

1. Dance of the Flaming Coke

Atop the furnace dotted with blazing lids,
a lean man crooks an arm to shield his face
from the burning wind, weighed down by robes of lead.

Flares dance and sing up through the coke-holes:
dialed-up, dialed-in jets of light and heat 
belch and cavort. No one can control
the beast beneath, whose exhalations shoot 
through the vents in each charnel cover, 
as coal-dust purrs softly down the chute. 

In his left hand, a pike—half-shovel, half-lance—
mounted with a shoulder buckler, fends off 
arrows of heat and incandescence.

In Pompeii’s hot mud, hollow pietas were trapped.
Poured plaster revealed their human forms. 
Here, a coal car’s wheels polish the track. 

2. Workers, Steel Mill

Holy men wear one-piece dresses of asbestos, 
floppy hats, great moon-boots, and goggles 
that recall mustard-gas-filled trenches.

Whistling like miners’ short-lived canaries,
they totter among sparks and firefalls that cool 
into razorblades, shoveling shards, Antares-
ribbons. Their morality plays contain scenes
of endless suffering and abrupt demise.
Pots of molten metal pour out their dreams. 

My father remembers driving past the slag-hills 
at night, their peaks streaked with orange streams.
Mills crouched by the river like extinct animals.

Each furnace held a ruby element, that pyre 
stolen from the stars to give us life: such a crime 
the jealous gods could not forbear.

--Previously appeared in Quarterly West
Note: after photographs in Smith’s posthumously-published, 
epic photo-essay of Pittsburgh, Dream Street.


for Weldon Kees

Half a California lifetime has passed
since he last daydreamed of getting lost,

parked his Plymouth Savoy by the north end
of the Golden Gate bridge, and abandoned

his life, the records show, for the embrace of ocean.
No body, no clue. Just the keys in the ignition.

Would his friends, old warriors, recognize him
in the beard and posture of decades on the lam?

Some say he picked up Ambrose Bierce’s trail,
said “Hell with this,” and walked to Mexico—

I’d like to think so—glancing back from time
to time, not like Orpheus, who knew he’d failed

the moment he looked back, but just to thumb 
a ride, with someplace new and calm to go.

--appears in the book by the author, Travel and Leisure.


Past the island wreck and its spray of diamond-dust, 
that fine, green-edged glitter my tires crunched, 
I found you sitting on the Wendy's curb, fishing 
in your purse, in the shade of an unblemished SUV. 
That stalled rhinoceros, which struck you, jarred me.

What were you searching for? A key, a picture ID, 
or a name—knocked into chaos like so much loose change—
to hand the calm policeman standing over you? Glimpsing
your passenger door curled in on itself, I knew what had filled 
my usual view: A wall of sound and steel and flying stars.

Did time slow for you in that imploding fishbowl,
as you gripped the wheel tighter, fragments glinting in your hair
like fireflies? The world blinked. Moonlight on a lake of oil. 
When I tried to rub your shoulders, you said, “I’m really sore.”
So we waited for the wrecker, then waited some more. 

A week or so later, on our slow way home from dinner, 
you picked a crystal out of your purse to show me: 
“Our lucky star!” you laughed. I wanted to keep it, but before 
I could say so, you'd already tossed it out the window
onto a street studded with infinitely divisible sparks.

Previously appeared in The Southern Review

Why I’m Not a Golfer

for Dexter W. Haven

Grandpa's ashes are scattered in a sand trap
somewhere on a West Texas golf course.

A plume of sand and grandpa geysering:
“A geezer geyser,” he'd chime in, if he could. 

All his jokes held a grain of the ridiculous,
yet I can't help wondering what he meant

by his last, gentleman-widower's request. 
Maybe he wished to bequeath his cupful of dust,

his few remaining teeth to the game he loved:
a game which lent to those crazy years 

with Alzheimer's—“Old-timer's," he'd croak –
a semblance of peace. Still, in every divot, 

for me at least, a chromium baldness gleams. 
I can't help cringing at the thought of cleats,

and wedges sharp as prows, and old men's legs 
like Bermuda-wearing cottage cheeses

traipsing through what's left: his gritty end.
No redemption here but to drift and settle in, 

forever, over these rolling green expanses
designed by retired sportsmen, built on sand.

Taking the Shortcut

Beyond the Road Closed sign spray-painted “hi,”
I used to hear the gated beer truck coming,
empty kegs clanging as it rounded the bend,
crossed the tire-worn, skid-marked center line
to shave a second off their hectic errands.

Today, when I hike these curves, I take my time.
I know the dented, filled, and re-filled kegs 
will greet me when I arrive, late as usual,
for another beer-and-ibuprofen afternoon. 
All morning, in the loading dock, Zack and I 

will take turns smoking cigarettes and lounging,  
while the other dollies squat, steel barrels
two at a time, from Rent-A-Center’s back door
to our walk-in cooler, hunching-room-only.
Kegs block the ice machine, out of service.

Inside, our heads steam. We stack full barrels 
on the uncollected domes of wall-to-wall empties,
and if the hose reaches, we tap them there.
Our last resort's the pine shelves that complain.
And when a plank breaks—from the loading dock

I hear the crash—dropping a full Blue Moon
onto Zack’s neck, he will work until closing
with two cracked vertebrae. (At 3:00 am,
if he's thinking he'll quit, his x-ray clinches it.)
Hiking home, I step around the roadblock, 

which offers meek protection to fender-
nibbled curbs that crumble like feta, pause 
to watch a train moving mountains of coal 
through the viaduct’s bottomless pothole,

and keep going when the world stops trembling. 

--appears in the book by the author, Travel and Leisure.

Alan Soldofsky       Kathleen McClung    Eric Bliman       John Guzlowski     

Mary Barnet


Grace Cavalieri

Joan Gelfand

Janet Brennan