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Dustin Brookshire

Upon Receiving A Copy Of My Book Mariska Hargitay Writes Me A Letter

 In this dream,
Mariska tells me

that she and Detective Stabler
are on the case,

even though I never reported it.
They have leads.

The email he sent a year after the rape
gives her a starting point.

She & Stabler are experts
at tracking these sorts of things—

hubris always leaves a trail.
Georgia to North Carolina

back to Georgia and to Florida,
his childhood state, she writes,

We’ll get him, Dustin.
We’ll bring to trial
I find myself wanting comfort
in her words but there is none

when you think of DNA
long since flushed like my dream

of my first being the one I love.
Detective Bensen’s leads aren’t news.

I want to tell her to help someone else.
It’s been a long six years.

Memories aren’t the only things I’ve buried.
If she goes to Florida digging,

she’ll need to dig deep.
He isn’t moving again,

isn’t emailing me again,
isn’t touching me again.

The dead don’t stand trial.



The Encounter

In bed, he slips his hand under my butt,
tries to slide a finger inside–
I clench.
He tells me he wants to be in me,
finger then cock.  I tell him he’ll wait.

His face says he doesn’t often hear no.
“Geez. Were you raped?” he smirks.

Without hesitation I reply, “I was, actually.”
He apologizes. Kisses my forehead.

He pulls my naked body into his
in such a way I feel beautiful.

© Dustin Brookshire


Read the interview with Dustin here.


published by Finishing Line Press, 2011
more info here and here
visit her site and watch her read from the book

I’m not a fan of the long poem.  My mind’s eyes tend to glaze over after a fourth page or so, whether it’s by Whitman, Eliot (Waste Land excluded), William Carlos Williams, Browning or Byron.  However, like a comet, a gripping equator-length work comes along every once in a generation and sucks me in for the long haul.  Rena Lee’s Captive of Jerusalem: Song of Shulamite is such a work: because I’m a fan of Israel and Jewish culture, because I easily fall into the arms of sonority and because I dig perfect (and quotable) lines rather than whole pieces.

The best and most efficient way for me to describe Captive of Jerusalem?  It’s Rena’s Song of Songs.  This is no deep insight, of course, for “Shulamite” is the feminine form of “Solomon.”  Also, the second part of “Jerusalem” is derived from “shalom” (peace), from which “Solomon” comes.  The fruits of my scriptural exploration rang like bells, the Tanakh vibrated beneath my reading, making many passages seem compellingly familiar even in their ingenuity.  Finally it sunk through my thick skull that most of the italicized lines and stanzas are direct quotes from the Song of Songs, as well as Isaiah, Psalms, Ezekiel and Habakkuk.

There are different interpretations of who is speaking in the biblical Song: an intimate man and woman, God and Israel.  Chinese Christian martyr Watchman Nee interpreted the Song as the relationship between God and each (bride-like) human under courted by the future Christ via the Holy Spirit.  Rena wittingly or unwittingly plays on such perspectives by appropriating actual lines from scripture for personal poetic purposes.  The narration is decidedly feminine, inverting the main sensibility of the masculine “Solomon” and making the song belong to the receptive “Shulamite” rather than the courting king: “I am the rose plucked of the Sharon, the lily picked/of the valley.”

As in Solomon’s Song, literal and figurative lover-to-lover language is strong in Captive, and, just as in the Song, its love object fluctuates.  Rena, who was raised in Tel Aviv, exclaims love for her birth country as well as a longed-for deceased man (soldier) who is indelibly associated with memories of and from Israel.  Sometimes the land and the person blur, and it almost doesn’t matter which is which.  The narrator is compelled to revisit Jerusalem similarly to how the attraction of a past romance pulls and pulls at the heart until one’s dying breath. “Back and forth I go to Jerusalem, to look once again/for traces of a youth buried in the hills,” she writes in the Prologue.  Then the focus shifts on the unnamed human lover: “I carry you with me wherever I may be/as one carries soil from the Holy Land.”  At first glance the closing line refers to her land of origin: “I come from a country that never lets you go.”  But it also can be taken as “I come from a [lover who] never lets [me] go” or “I come from a country that never lets you [the lover] go” (notice my emphasis on “you”).  Sometimes the city and the narrator are interchangeable metaphors:

Like Jerusalem I’m sealed with stones,
full of unanswered questions.

Stones that cling together to cover any gap,
Always conspiring to have the spirit committed.

And (in “Song of Myself” fashion):

In the shape of my country, I am made of streams and deserts,
Cities and open fields, and many different people.

Her soil is my flesh.
Like her Jordan river, controversy runs me

through and through.

I’m her split image.

Like my country, I too practice the art of living
without peace.

Of course, the not-so-subtle irony of a city with “peace” in its name is the unrest associated with the areas in and around Israel.  Though the general tragedy of the ancient and blood-soaked Middle East disheartens me, I’m pleased that this poem is not yet another voice in the vast chorus against Israel’s interests and survival.  (“I cry “J’accuse!” with Zola indefinitely.)  When I read this line I cheered inside: “[T]his isn’t just a borderline case/but a question of life and death.”

Overall, the book is about recurring loss and constant rediscovery.  “I keep looking for/the passage to a lost Eden./How does one get round the Cherubim/and the flaming sword?” go two lines in part eight of the poem.  Likening herself to the Jerusalem women mourning Tammuz and riffing on the traditional sense of disintegration and forlorn wandering in Jewish history, the narrator mourns the loss of the lover, using the “my beloved is gone down into his garden” line from the Song of Songs to place him in a hidden, forbidden Eden perhaps, underscoring the finality by omitting the last four words of the line so that it becomes “My beloved is gone.”  Or is he?  As it goes in part eight: “Death is the only surety,” you said, yet yours remains/shrouded in doubt.”

I also said that Captive is a constant rediscovery, made possible by Rena’s revisits to Israel, which prevent her from dying spiritually in Manhattan, so far removed from the “summer country,” the “country of countless revelations/where each soul’s nakedness is brought to light,” the “country pregnant with hope, and dreams.”  An oil painting of Jerusalem and a framed photo of the forever-young dead soldier decorate the Manhattan apartment, but they are essentially relics, not lifethings.  It’s as if the returns to the beloved city (“where old grief is forever renewed”) rekindle the smothered fire and deter death-like closure, creating a makeshift micro-eternity.  The following favorite stanzas from part two and the Epilogue put it best.

Summer after summer in Jerusalem, I attempt to collect
And recollect remnants of memories,

Enact and reenact instances of our love,
And sometimes, as I become alive again through reliving,

I succeed to kill your death.


Alas.  On the way…In an infinite U turn.
Bumping into you everywhere I turn,

invariably scorched by the torch
I continue carrying for you.  My love,

Thou art the clefts of the rock,
one with Jerusalem, you are my country…

review by David Herrle, December 2013

Postscript: After finishing this review and trying to contact Rena about it, I learned that she passed away in August 2013.  Though I didn’t know her personally, I grew to respect her through her work, and she seemed to like SubtleTea, contributing to it every once in a while.  As I look at the handwritten note she slipped between the pages of my copy of Captive of Jerusalem, I feel solemn and regretful of her passing.  Truly she was an interesting, sharp, deep-thinking, creative woman.

Sarah Joncas

Sarah is a BFA graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design.  She lives and works in Toronto, Canada.  Visit her official site and Facebook page.



Rite of Spring





Take By Storm

Claudio Parentela

Claudio lives in Catanzaro, Italy.  Visit his site.

Emily Strauss

Questions You Might Ask
How do these lizards know they live
on such a small mesa top
not much bigger than the public
library below in Chinle, and if
they venture too far, they will drop
1200 feet to the hot canyon floor
where they would undoubtedly be
crushed, food for a passing magpie
and how do they know that thirty miles
of desert floor surround their tiny
island, so that even if , miraculously,
they survived the fall, they would
never complete the walk to the next
sheltering crag before plunging night-
fall froze them in their five-toed tracks?


Emily is a semi-retired English teacher who lives in California.

Alayne Skylar


present: to deliver
present: a gift
present: being there
Arrived damaged, barely unwrapped, return to sender.



Alayne lives in New York City.

Silver Elvis by Raud Kennedy

“I like raw sugar sprinkled on my nipples,” Heather said, smiling, her lips glistening with maple syrup from her pancakes. Her voice matched her name, subtle flowers covering a hillside. Her last name was Honeysuckle and her perfume scented the air around her like the flowers in spring. She took another bite of pancakes and chewed. People at work, including Jonathon, who sat across from her in Weber’s Diner, wondered why she wasn’t morbidly obese. She ate whatever she wanted whenever she wanted it; chocolate maple bars, fresh baked cinnamon rolls, banana splits overflowing with whipped cream. Instead she was a tall waif who eschewed flaunting her looks.

Heather had a nighttime obsession. Once the sun dropped behind the coast range, she’d disappear into the darkness and run for miles, only to be seen by the occasional flash of passing headlights: thin legs, reflective shoes, skinny top showing off her pierced bellybutton. She wore a crystal in it the size of a marble that sparkled when the light hit it right.

Heather really liked Jonathon. He laughed at her jokes and made her laugh in kind, and he was cute in a pudgy sort of way. Everyone at the bakery where they both worked was pudgy. It came with the job, a nibble here, a nibble there. What’s another croissant with your coffee in the morning or during your afternoon break? Another pastry, or a donut, and your belly button sank deeper and deeper until it swallowed up whatever you had it pierced with. But not Heather, though Jonathon was pushing past pudgy. She was trying to think of a nice way to put it. She wanted one of those phrases that said fat but meant important, like his weight gave him gravitas, but Jonathon didn’t have gravitas. She would’ve thought he was gay if she didn’t know he wasn’t. He was the jolly fat man who loved to tease.

“What about your nipples? Are they sensitive, too?” she asked.

He was thinking about Heather’s nipples and how sensitive they might be. He didn’t care about his own. As far as he was concerned he didn’t have any. “Oh yes, very sensitive, the slightest breeze and they—” but he wasn’t talking about his own.

“Shut up! I can’t help it.” Her nipples always drew glances and comments in the bakery. The ovens kept the room warm, so when she’d step outside to cool off, she’d return with grapes in her shirt. “My mother used to make me wear Band Aids. Until even she gave up and stopped noticing. Well, are they?”

“Sensitive?” He sipped his coffee. “I don’t have nipples. I was abducted by aliens as a child and they stole them. I wonder what they needed them for. Maybe they collect them.”

“Collect them?”

“If I were you, I’d be running scared. You’re sporting the jewels of their collection.”

“People don’t sport nipples.”

“Ah yes, but not everyone is you. Believe me, you sport them.”

Their conversation paused as they ate, and then Heather asked, “Have you had any more of those weird dreams recently?” She tore open a packet of sugar, poured it over her moistened finger into her coffee and stuck her finger in her mouth with a wink at him. “Well?”

“Not since the silver Elvis.” He’d had a string of vivid dreams lately, all of them entailing small, two-legged creatures running about his bedroom. He’d wake up and in that state between being asleep and not yet fully awake, the little devils would scatter and try to hide, but then as he became fully awake they would fade into the dim light and were no longer there. He didn’t know what to make of these experiences so he used them to entertain his friends. Silver Elvis was a small guy wearing a shiny silver suit, like Elvis used to wear for his Las Vegas shows, that Jonathon had woken up to sitting on his bed. When Silver Elvis saw that he’d been spotted he jumped off the bed and hid at the foot of it. He wasn’t very good at hiding, but he was saved by Jonathon coming fully awake.

Another time he woke to see a small monkey in a Day-Glo pink spacesuit crawling across his ceiling. When it saw him move in his bed below, it zipped down the hall ceiling like a crab on speed and disappeared into the bathroom, never to be seen again. It wore gold goggles that went well with the suit. These dreams were strange, but they didn’t trouble him, even if they were a little too real. He’d had others that were disturbing that he didn’t use as fodder for his funny stories, true X-Files material that he pushed out of his mind as a result of too much pizza before going to bed.

Heather stirred her coffee, took a sip, and then added more cream. If she was going to drink it, it had to be just right. She sensed Jonathon wanted something from her. He’d been more attentive recently, a little too focused on her. She hoped he hadn’t gotten a crush on her. She didn’t want to lose him as a friend because he thought he was falling in love with her when it was really just because he was horny and she was the kind of woman who gave men wood. She stared at him without saying anything.

“What?” he asked.

Not one to leave it be, she said, “Do you have a crush on me?”

He was hesitant. “If I do, is that bad?”

“I knew it. Damn it.”

“Heather, I’ve had a crush on you since I first saw you. I’m a guy and you’re gorgeous. Every guy at work has a crush on you and at one point or another has said how much they’d love to slip it to you. Something would be wrong with me if I didn’t have a crush on you.” He stopped and smiled at her. “Why? Do you have a crush on me? Because that would complicate things. I don’t like to shit where I eat. You’ve probably confused love for lust.” He put his palms on his belly and gave it a lift. “If I’d known you were a chubby chaser.”

“Slip it to me?”

* * *

The night passed under her feet like a fast-flowing creek in spring. She moved through the fog, an apparition of the night, her footfalls landing almost without sound. The loop at the top of the hill was a different world. She went around it in a meditative state, a feather in the wind. She ran by the houses with their people buttoned up inside, tucked into their beds under their electric blankets, sleeping or dreaming or struggling to do one but not the other. Heather dreamed, but she dreamed when she was awake and rarely when she was asleep. She once dreamed of being a country music singer in the 1950s. In the dream she was in her car listening to herself sing on the radio. She was singing about a guy she exchanged glances with at a bus station whom she thought was the one but who got on a different bus so she never found out if he had been.

Heather didn’t listen to music when she ran. She followed the sound of her feet, her breaths, the wind through her thoughts. She didn’t want lyrics to direct where they went. Her thoughts were her own and she rarely felt like piggy-backing on someone else’s. People’s minds were filled with other people’s thoughts enough as it was; what was popular, what wasn’t, or who. There were miniskirt fads, black nail polish fixations, mullets, metrosexuals. She wondered how much of people’s thoughts were their own and not absorbed opinions of others. Top one hundred lists like “America’s Most Powerful Opinion Makers,” made her wince. That was her gripe with television. Its main purpose seemed to be to shape people’s opinions, and in some cases not only to shape them but to create the thoughts that led to the opinions. When she quit watching television she lost a lot of common ground with people. She no longer kept up with the imaginary people’s lives and couldn’t discuss them while kneading bread dough with the others. When she listened to the others talk about them she had to remind herself that they were talking about people who weren’t real. If people were talking about something that never happened, did their conversation ever happen? She’d tease herself with thoughts like that, which only made her more estranged from the conversation. When she brought up real things in conversation it only proved to be uncomfortable, so she learned to keep her thoughts to herself and talk about sugar on her nipples instead.

* * *

It was true. Jonathon had fallen in love with her and he knew it was bad for their friendship. It was becoming difficult to be around her, and it wasn’t just lust, though he did lust after her. The jolly fat man and the hot chick wasn’t going to happen. People said looks weren’t important but everyone knew that was bullshit. He’d have to be rich and she’d have to sell her soul for his riches. The state of his body revealed a lot about how he felt about his life, about himself and where he wanted to go.

He was at an impasse. He knew he could take out his frustration and his unrequited love in his usual way by eating another donut and packing on a few more pounds—he’d gained thirty-five since meeting her—but he couldn’t con himself with that any longer. That feeling of being satiated on calories wasn’t cutting it anymore. It was time to make a break and he felt it inside, so he put the donut back in the box with the rest of the dozen and closed the lid. He was going to have to find an activity other than eating to take the edge off his frustration and loneliness.

* * *

She ran through the night fog, eddies swirling in the light under the street lamps behind her. She was rapidly overtaking another runner ahead of her, a big man trudging along at a methodical, determined pace. She smiled at the sight of someone else nutty enough to run at night in terrible conditions. As she passed the man a sideways glimpse reminded her of Jonathon, but that couldn’t be, and she was soon far ahead and her thoughts were elsewhere.

Raud lives Oregon.

Kathryn Peterson

The Gniess
The gneiss stands record
to many things
glacial time
the Great Lakes
the tears that fill them
I place my hand upon this rock
and see
Johnny, (eyes as big as pie-plates)
“Are you an Indian?”
as if Geronimo was standing over his bed
a runaway at sixteen
fighting in the Aleutian Islands at eighteen
dying dreaming of Indians
sorrow isn’t exclusive
testify the lakes
logging industries paid the Finns
company store vouchers
cemeteries house the last of the miners
today eagles pinwheel
over a pile of fish guts
from last nights spearing
fire smolders in the east
the rock remains
and I am comforted.

Scott Laudati


they all want to be artists
they change their majors
from psychology
to sculpting
they change later
from sculpting
to economics
their parents say get a job
save money
you can work your art out on the weekends
most give in
get the job
they sleep around in their twenties
they get pregnant
sometimes for love
usually by accident
they get promoted
they become their refrigerator

some stay on
move to the dominican neighborhoods
move to the outer boroughs
keep hustling
always one contact away from the big gallery
thinking they made the sacrifice
art owes them now
one day it will happen

but it doesn’t
or when it does
it’s just too late
too much time happened
to question, playing
the ultimate gamble
with no chance to return
and get it right
or rewind
and try again

but they bet their life
and the ashtrays never emptied
and the bottles never corked
and they left something behind
good or bad
they wrote their own epitaphs
and the graveyards
and libraries
and art galleries
all filled
because the artist lived
and the artist left something behind.
but whether the dream
was lived out
or sold out
it’s hard to see a family
on a blanket under a free sky
every july 4th
or around a christmas tree every december
or taking a picture
with mickey mouse in the florida summer
and argue
that the love that shares your name
is the only art
worth waking up for

Marie Lecrivain


I watched Khem light the fire.
The first spark leapt from his eyes
& onto the woodpile,
which kindled into being.
Soon, the flames ascended
into the indigo sky
as he fed one item
after another into the blaze;
the handmade cradle,
her wedding dress, their photo
albums, the Ikea furniture,
& then, his beloved
volumes of Shakespeare;
through his fingers clutched
at the collection of sonnets
a nano-second longer
than the previous tomes.
Lastly, he pulled off
his wedding ring,
held it up to the light,
the gold band glinting
a final, agonized plea
before my amazed eyes.
He cast the ring into the fire,
turned to me, smiled,
& whispered, Ut supra, ut infra,
as he became one with the dark.



Marie Lecrivain is the executive editor and publisher of poeticdiversity: the litzine of Los Angeles, is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and is a writer in residence at her apartment. Her latest collection, Love Poems… Yes… REALLY… Love Poems, will be published in 2013 by Sybaritic Press.