Monday, May 23, 2022

Tad Tuleja


Two months into the special operation, Mariupol in ruins
and millions exiled, the news shows a clip of a man and a body
lying in the street where the invaders left it. The man—an aid
worker or a neighbor—pauses before rolling it into a bag
to cut the fetter binding the victim’s wrists.

In that small reverence, hope crawls weary from Pandora’s jar
and the dominion of the unholy is briefly undone. I give thanks for
that man’s decency even as I recall that the 20,000 Poles
killed at Katyn died according to the same grotesque formula:
bound then shot in the head by hollow men.

Now, as in 1940, the killers were following orders from afar—
the grey seats of power near Saint Basil’s. I wonder, when they got
home, what icons they kissed, what penances they mumbled, what
words they used when, holding their children’s hands, they spoke
of Mother Russia and righteous battle.

Tad reads "Take No Prisoners":

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Tad confesses: "This poem, inspired by seeing film of a man cutting free the bound wrists of a murdered Ukrainian civilian, asks the reader to consider what a 'no prisoners' policy does, not just to its victims but to the soldiers who are ordered to carry it out."

TAD TULEJA is a Texas-based folklorist and songwriter with interests in the Hollywood Western, honor cultures, and the mythology of violence. He has written or edited thirty books, including novels and nonfiction works on language, history, popular culture, and military traditions. His thoughts on nationalism inform his weekly podcast Skirmishes with Patriotism. The recipient of a Puffin Foundation grant for his song cycle Skein of Arms, he performs his songs on YouTube under the name Skip Yarrow.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Pamela Hobart Carter


The first boy interested in me,
in his thirties, was convicted
of murdering his estranged wife.
Have the decades of incarceration
returned him to human form?
A writer friend served a stint
for armed robbery, after which
he did become a decent citizen.
You’re not convinced.
Change seems unlikely.

What alters any of us?

An article covering ills of certain lipids?
Do we read, then swear off cocoa butter,
or eat more of it? Either way, but this
is about content at the epicenters
of our self-ness. Soul conversion, not diet.

Don’t you wonder how this confinement
may cause shifts in our covert cosmoses,
far below skin? Astral quakes.
Murkinesses of dark matter reallocating opacity.
Critical gravitational densities coagulating.
Leading us to a black hole brink.

Or its converse.

There is a chance we emerge
Emotional timidity forsaken.
Raring to convey each desire,
converse with every cousin,
compose a daily glow.

We cry
for those who cannot recover.
Converge in a ring, a coven to honor existence.

On our long walk to the waterfront,
where a seal suns on the boat launch,
and back uphill through that strip
of urban green, I ask, “Is it na├»ve?”
and listen for sarcasm.
None comes.

Pamela reads "Conversion":

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Pamela confesses: "When writing poems about my love life, I decided to Google that first boy interested in me and reeled: he had murdered his estranged wife with a crossbow. This discovery, mixed with our Covid experiences, prompted this poem. (Today I looked him up again: released from prison, after 29 years.)"

Photo by Omar Willey
After earning two degrees in geology, PAMELA HOBART CARTER taught science, art, and preschool for thirty-plus years. On the side she wrote plays, poems, fiction, and non-fiction. Now she writes full-time and teaches on the side. A dozen of her plays have been read or staged in Seattle (her home), Montreal (her childhood home), and Fort Worth (never her home). She has two poetry chapbooks, Her Imaginary Museum (Kelsay Books, 2020) and Held Together with Tape and Glue (Finishing LIne Press, 2021).

Monday, May 9, 2022

Rena J. Worley


Firm stride marches a worn grass aisle
Between dated names on upright stones
Incomplete history stamped on lifetimes
Of personal accomplishment
Or innocence molester

Agony searches with frenzied gaze
For detested loathsome pervert
Molding slab detected, knees fold
To soft earth never settled
Rutted dirt mudded puddle

Whispered chant escalates to raving scream
Whitening fists pound ground rhythm
Accompaniment to condemnation
Exhausted rant falls forward limp
Speechless, motionless

Weary expunger wavering stands

Departing defiled spits a sealing curse
“Be damned you Bastard,
May hell’s hurricane beat you forever”

R.J. reads "The Purge":

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Rena confesses: "Abuse in any form has no excuse. Sexual, physical, emotional, verbal. So often these events hide in silence. The victim shamed, guilted, angered. Years pass and the ability or opportunity to confront the abuser is taken from the wounded. No closure. Perhaps screaming and Dante’s hell help balance the equation."

RENA J. WORLEY is a Word Artist residing in rural Michigan. She began publishing in the Five-Two on May 27, 2019.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Bad Vegan reviewed by Carolynn Kingyens

In addition to this week's featured poem, "Duper's Delight", Carolynn Kingyens offers the following guest post reviewing the crime-related Netflix docuseries Bad Vegan. —Gerald So

Audio of Carolynn's review:

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Bad Vegan is a riveting, binge-worthy docuseries on Netflix. The docuseries begins with a flirtatious tweet from Alec Baldwin. In the tweet, he praises New York raw vegan restaurant Pure Food & Wine, and openly admires the beauty of its founder, Sarma Melngailis. Sarma is stunningly beautiful, and bears a striking resemblance to Katherine Heigl, the actress best known for her roles in Grey’s Anatomy and Knocked Up. But in a strange twist of fate, Baldwin’s tweet would put her on the path to meeting “Shane Fox” aka Anthony Strangis, an ex-con, who would ultimately ruin her life.

Baldwin and Shane/Anthony have their own tweet exchanges with the latter having 50,000 Twitter followers of his own. His social media savviness makes an impression on Sarma, and as a result, she lets her guard down. Soon she is playing Words with Friends with Shane/Anthony, a game Alec Baldwin notoriously enjoyed as well. Who could forget the time he was kicked off a flight for playing the popular online game right before his flight took off.

In Bad Vegan, you will see firsthand how love-bombing, mirroring, brainwashing, gaslighting and Stockholm Syndrome works, a step-by-step case study via text messages, taped phone conversations, videos, and personal testimony from family, friends and loyal employees. And how and why some people, like Sarma Melngailis, may be more susceptible to these cunning ploys than others.

Perhaps, Bad Vegan should’ve been called Bad Vibes as Shane/Anthony gives so many people in her orbit bad vibes. Everyone has a bad feeling about this guy that could only be described as dread; everyone, that is, except Sarma, who, at first, seems smitten.

Sarma, for the record, ain’t no dummy. At one time, she had the world of New York fine cuisine, and Alec Baldwin, in her hands — no small feat, before the mysterious Shane/Anthony entered her life to only drive her world into apocalyptic-like chaos. She is a graduate of The Wharton School, one of the most selective and prestigious business schools in the world. She has a good head for business, and a passion for raw vegan cuisine.

Sarma also has a big heart. She loves her adorable, tan-colored pit bull named Leon, her constant companion. She also develops an authentic friendship with a homeless man named Anthony, who has kind, Sinatra-blue-colored eyes. Sarma looks out for Anthony, and, in return, Anthony looks out for Sarma and Leon.

There are also hints that Sarma may be suffering from imposter syndrome. According to Harvard Business Review, “imposter syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question whether they’re deserving of accolades.”

Is imposter syndrome mixed with Sarma’s empathetic and sensitive nature like a neon flashing light for psychological and emotional predators like Shane Fox/Anthony Strangis?

One thing I did make note of throughout the docuseries is Sarma’s answer to this one particular question: “Why not tell someone?” Her answer is always “How do I tell someone?” You see, Sarma Melngailis was living in two simultaneous realities — one being her restaurant and business life, what she called “reality-reality,” and the other being Shane/Anthony’s crazy reality, which was getting more exploitive by the day.

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. In the Bad Vegan docuseries’ photographs of Shane Fox/Anthony Strangis, I immediately noticed a darkness, a steely coldness behind his eyes. The only other time I would see this darkness in still photographs was when I was watching a documentary on Andrea Yates, the psychotic mother who’d drowned all five of her beautiful children in 2001. The freeze frame had occurred right after the crime, while she was still being interviewed by police. The camera then began to pan in on Yates’ wild, fixed gaze, and that was the moment when I felt a shiver go down my spine. I have the same chilly reaction when the camera pans in on Fox/Strangis’ eyes as well.

Sarma’s eyes, in contrast, have a look of being dazed and confused. This is what narcissistic abuse does to its victims, especially in a case this extreme. And her case is as extreme as it gets.

Some narcissistic abuse victims totally shut down, like Sarma, while others go off the rails with emotive outbursts because their life has become a reactionary, never-ending carnival game of “Whac-A-Mole.” This abuse is up-close and intimate. Most outsiders, including the justice system in Sarma’s case, won’t suspect it. More education and awareness needs to happen so individuals and their support systems can spot the red flags before the loss is too great. In Sarma’s case, the personal loss was over $6 million, a ruined career, and a jail stint, not including the social tsunami it created in her life, the effects, to which, she’s still reeling from today.

Bad Vegan has more psychological twists and turns than a Coney Island roller coaster. Who would’ve thought that an order of Domino’s Pizza and chicken wings would lead to the duo’s ultimate undoing. You can’t make this shit up.

Disclaimer: I am being honest about my reaction to many photographs in the documentary, particularly Fox/Stangis’ mug shot, which is in the public domain as is the documentary itself. He stole $1.7 million to fund a gambling habit while psychologically and emotionally destroying someone in the process, which is also well-documented. Victims of this kind of abuse are rarely, if ever, recognized let alone supported and validated.

CAROLYNN KINGYENS is the author of Before the Big Bang Makes a Sound and the newly released Coupling, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble (Brooklyn), McNally Jackson, and Book Culture. In addition to poetry, Kingyens writes essays, book and film reviews, flash fiction and short stories. Her short story “Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie” was one of fifteen stories selected by Across the Margin, a Brooklyn arts and culture webzine, for their Best of Fiction 2021 list.