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Muse 20

Muse 20 Cover

These are just a few excerpts from the many inspiring selections in Muse 20, our premiere volume. To order a copy and read the entire issue, please visit our Support the Muse/Order Copies page.


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Katharyn Howd Machan, Doves


My mother’s dying.  She’s too young to die.

Yes, I keep saying these words silently.  Yes, they are my mantra.

Three days ago she told me, “The last tests came back.”  Her eyes almost met my eyes.  Her lips almost smiled.

Do you believe me?  I do not like the truth.  But yes, this time I am not lying.

Shall I go to live with her as she is dying?  Shall I cook for her each day as I have cooked for so many others all these years alone?  She was the one who taught me pots and sauces, garlic, smooth red wine.

But never did she ever believe what I told her about the man.  The cracked swing, the broken rope, his hands that pretended to help … I was 6 and he was our neighbor who shared his tomatoes, his grapes, the tiny eggs from his pale birds.  She called him “My friend Paolo” and liked the way he smiled.

And she made me keep talking to him, politely.  She made me go to his house with my rainbow basket to collect his gifts.

 I don’t want to say anymore except very fast, very blurred: smiling-different-way-his-fingers-fondling-round-ripe-red-sweet-purple-fragile-shells-holding-back-until-I-had-to-come-to-him-his-sweaty-vest-his-mouth-polite-polite-obeying-Mother-not-just-once-but-many-times-until-we-moved-away …

Since 16 I have cooked and served.  Now I am 51, my mother 66.  Will I tell her before she dies?

Love is a bracelet I put on, take off.

I do not like the truth.


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Eric v.d. Luft, Whose Lots Are Worst?

Whose Lots Are Worst?

Those never sure if hands and face are clean?
Those barred from funerals of dear ones gone?
Returning tourists caged in quarantine?

Those with no toilet paper in their john?
Bored athletes, teams, and fans deprived of play?
Those who must order food from Amazon?

Poor, low-wage workers now without their pay?
Heroic nurses? Hermits off the grids?
Scared, battered wives who cannot run away?

Sick parents with eleven homebound kids?
Courageous first responders sensing dread?
Neglected homeless, hopeless, on the skids?

You think your lot is worst? Then stay in bed.
But those whose lots are really worst are dead.
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Anne Rankin, How to Save Someone’s Life

How to Save Someone’s Life

            —for Brian Rankin


First, examine the eyes
for the presence of trauma.

Look for other signs
the past has dealt a blow

the victim cannot bear
alone.  Check for a pulse

of intractable sorrow.
You will find it thready

but possibly open
to intervention.

You’ll find the shoulders
hunched over; gently

square them parallel
with the future.

Resist the urge
to turn away; instead,

first-respond the
disaster yourself.

Choose your tourniquet
in the shape of the wound.

Inject a few words
of kindness and note

if the other flinches.
Touch the forearm

to see if you can
go further.

You will meet

Pain cascades like
rain in a storm.

You will need patience
for the drowning.





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Julia Knox, Press Your Ear Against the Heart and Listen (excerpt)

Press Your Ear Against the Heart and Listen

I am made of the rocky freezing waters of Blue Hill, Maine. Of many black flies. Of summer nights before I knew peepers were just frogs. Of growing up on Registered Fire Road #1 in rural Maine, of trying to explain where I’m from, of telling you that’s not where you went on vacation, and no, it’s not near there, either. I’m made of getting tired of this, so sometimes lying about it. I’m made of riding horses downtown, and of running toward the small wooden bridge behind our house, because my dad had an anger problem. Lots of people do. This is about how what I heard became why I learned to listen. This is about how through listening, I became a writer, and how writing helped me imagine my way out.

I’m made of lots of tiny spaces, of which I made regular intimate acquaintance, often with an armful of books. The tiny spaces are where I grew. After hours reading, I’d lay back and repeat softly to myself, “This is it. This is all there is.” until I fell back into a trance. My skin buzzed. The world felt magnanimous.

I felt my ideas reverberate into the excited twitching of my legs. Listening to their soft rustle, I thought, with unspeakable elation and utter belief,  “I exist”. The silence was no longer quiet. And I was listening.