ENDEAVOR TO SUCCESS

by Stacie Ramirez

I used to think I could find happiness 

By sacrificing my own 
I always thought getting away would be fun 

But I always miss home 
I never thought I would overcome the hurt 

But it has molded me into a sturdy vase
I have become more understanding 

By presenting myself an empty slate 
Oh how I dwell on things in my past 

And oh how they linger and haunt 
But I have seized the day

Do you know the joy accomplishment has brought? 
I say farewell I open this page 
I write vigorously about my life 

And talk about the hurt I’ve famously caged
I water myself with wisdom

 And encourage others with deep vitality
But how does the person that has it all together sleep? 
Does he or she clinch their fist as they continuously weep? 
The mentor longs for something 

Oh it aches! 
The simplest of disappointments 

Has haunted them for a decade

A PEN WITHOUT A MUSE

by Kristina Stanfill

Where has my inspiration gone? Has my muse left me longing for a feeling? I never knew that inspiration could be so fleeting. My pen wishes to hear the whispers of my muse and paint them into existence. What happened to that fire that fueled my pen’s desires? Oh how my pen and my muse used to dance and create beauty that only few could admire. Muse, return to me. Inspire me once again. Ignite the spark that set my pen ablaze for it misses dancing with its companion atop a clean white page. 

LITTLE THINGS

by Emily Elizabeth Allen

Brown roofs on golden

Homes with small, green terraces.

Peaceful little things.

Medieval structures

Surrounded by sweet vineyards.

Drunken little things.

Luxury and art

Blending fast at the bridges.

Vibrant little things.

Five cities so small

With beaches white and seas blue.

Stunning little things.

Crowds come to see the

Tower slant and baptistry.

Leaning little things.

Antiquity stands

Its ground against fast-paced change.

Timeless little things.

Food, art, and lifestyle

Claim this renaissance birthplace.

Cultured little things.

A Response to Browning’s Ferrara

by Emily Elizabeth Allen

Why does my beloved husband look upon me so? Why does he look upon me with malice in his eyes? Have I not always been good and kind and above all else faithful? We have been together in marriage but three years, yet only together in this house for one. All this time I feel he wishes we were apart again. My beloved Duke follows me through the great house, searching for something. I can see him, watching me from the windows as the stable boy takes me on my rounds. How I love the warm Ferrara sun and fresh air! The soft fur of my horse, though my love should degrade him by saying he is a mule to spite me, feels of the soft grass of my Florence home. I miss it so, for while my beloved husband served against France I was allowed to stay there. What else would have been expected of a newlywed bride of only thirteen? Precious Alfonso has twelve years of wisdom more than I do; therefore, I trust his judgment in the matter.

Now I must be the lady of these great grounds and I must serve my husband well. My mother, that great lady, has taught me always to be kind and gentle, especially to those beneath me. That is not hard, for I recall when Fra Pandolf came from the church to paint my portrait. Such a kind man he was, that it was not at all hard to show him kindness in return. He was ever so sweet to tell me how beautiful I was. My husband thought it necessary, though, to stay with me while I was painted. I was so hoping to surprise him with the painting, but he would not have it. I love how much he adores me and always must be in close proximity. Fra Pandolf was so very agreeable as well. He noted how my neck was flushed from delight at my husband’s presence. He also asked that I roll up my sleeve cuff. Scandalous! But it was to go in my beloved’s chambers, so I saw no harm. It was very natural to be at ease around him. Very much like the young stable boy, Paolo. He always asks to escort me around the grounds when I ride. Such a nice boy! My husband is always there to watch over me too. I feel so safe in his presence and therefore always feel secure.

But, alas! The last few weeks have been torturing for me! My food will not stay in my stomach, nor will the flesh stay on my body. At first, I thought I was with child, but the maids knew otherwise when blood ran from my nose. So much blood! Alfonso would walk past and see my torments and sit with me a while, at least in the beginning. Now he only walks by my door while I lay in bed, or past me in the garden when I venture out for air. I smile the prettiest I can in hopes that he will hold me, but he merely sneers and walks away. What could I have done to displease my lord so? He no longer talks to me or tells me of his pride that I am his wife. My happiness wanes when he is near, and my illness grows. It has become harder to breathe and my handmaidens have started to taste my food and drink before I take it, although I know not why. They are ever so sweet to me! Even in my illness, I try to be happy for my duke. I try to keep my pleasant countenance even if only around my beloved.

But now that these few weeks have passed, I do not feel the need to be happy or pleasant. My dear mother has sent down our family apothecary to see to me and he has told me the most distressing news. It seems my sickness is not caused by my new home, nor by the moist air – he tells me that I have been dealt with most maliciously. That there has been poison in my food! My mind goes to different faces, names, and families – all except one. I refuse to believe what the others tell me. My beloved duke could never have done this to me no matter how much my apothecary, nor my mother, nor even my maids insist that it is. He could never betray me, for I have never been anything but good and dutiful to him. I suppose his displeasure at me before was actually at my helpless state, for he has changed back to his caring self. Indeed, he must still love me as much I do him, for now, he brings my meals himself. How loyal and doting he is! But my body is dying faster than I can show my appreciation. I fear I shall die before I may bring his children into this world for him to love, as he has loved me in both my happiness and in my despair. My hope now is only to live long enough to thank him. Even now I sit in his chambers, even upon his bed, and look at the beautiful portrait that Fra Pandolf made of me. Such an amiable man. But I know now that I shall die, and it shall be in my beloved’s bed. Even his precious love cannot save me.

I say goodbye to this world and to the beauty it holds, but I pray a pox on the hand that has dealt so heinously with me, for I have lived my short sixteen years trying to hold up my family’s name even to that of my husband’s long and illustrious house. I hope that I have done enough to make them proud. I hope I have done enough to make my husband love me, even after my death. For I shall always love him and do now leave this small reminder of it. Fra Pandolf did wonders with the portrait, but he could not capture my truest feelings for my beloved husband, the Duke.

A MEMORY OF TIME GONE BY

by RAH

They’d never really liked waking these paths. The lands where mortals tread were so strange: constantly changing whether by the influence of of nature or man. They felt the cracked stone beneath Their feet as They walked and They could swear They heard the sound of solders marching along this old road.

They could see them in Their mind. Waking in rows of four, the metal of their swords and shields glistening in the summer sun as they marched onwards. Tens of thousands of men marching home in victory, having just conquered a new land.

They sighed and slowly faded from the hand made Roman road. As the mortal plane cam into focus again, They felt a sad smile on Their face as They looked out over the staggered rows of broken stone. They looked at the large play area where the finest actors of the day would preform for the masses.

They closed Their eyes, and when They opened them again, it was as if They were watching Medea again. The shine of the masks as they flaunted along the play area, coupled with the frightened chorus cowering about. It was art. They watched the present fade back into focus and sighed. It was such a shame that the place where it all happened was in such ruins now.

They continued on their journey, making their way to China. They found Themself on the Great Wall and smiled at the memory of it’s frantic construction in a span of 200 years. They could still see the workers hauling bricks up to the top of the wall and sealing it in.

They remembered another marvel of engineering, and soon found Themself in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza. All of this land had once been great. They wondered around Egypt, taking in the hieroglyphs and remembering the days of the pharos. They stopped at an old run down church and shook Their head as They remembered what was supposed to stand there. A great library filled to the brim with scrolls and tapestries. They found Themself  near tears as They pictured the beautiful library going up in flames. With that, They left Alexandria. 
Instead They traveled north, to Moscow, and smiled at the beautiful sight that was the Kremlin Palace. It housed the Russian president now, but it was a home for Kings when it was built. They grimaced as that thought brought Them back to the horrible night when the Russian Monarchy was overthrown. 
They sighed and moved on. They sped their way through Germany, in an attempt to avoid the haunting memories of the Holocaust. They jumped around in India, recalling the construction of the railroad. They admired the tower of Pisa in Italy, smiling as They remembered how panicked everyone was when it started to tilt. They walked through the Louvre in Paris, smiling as They took in the memories each piece of art held with it.

Finally They made Their way back to the place They should have been in the first place. The old man was sitting with a box of photos, a small smile on his face as he gazed at his parents, wife, children, and grandchildren. They walked up to the old man and he smiled at Them. “Thank you for the extra time,” he said. “I just want to make sure I won’t forget any of them…”

They thought back to all the centuries of human history They’d seen and They could understand the old man. It was important to remember, especially in the end.

“I’m ready, now,” The old man said, taking Their hand.

Death smiled as They led the old man away from the mortal realm, just as They had done so many times before.

A BUTLER, A STRANGER, AND A PRIEST

by RAH

There are exactly five people at their wedding, including themselves. A bride, a groom, a priest, a butler, and a stranger. 
He’s paranoid, constantly glancing over his shoulder, as though his family will burst in at any moment to put a stop to it. She’s reassuring, holding her groom’s hand tightly, and refusing to look backwards. He’s giving up everything for her. She’s got nothing to lose. He’s dressed for the occasion. She’s in what used to be a white nightgown, and is now a makeshift wedding dress.
William was the one who altered the dress for her. The butler had done everything he could to make this seam as normal as possible. Of course there isn’t much normal about attending a secret wedding at midnight.
William looks at his brother, a stranger to William’s master and his bride. Alexander had offered to bare witness to the ceremony after learning of the young lovers’ predicament. The groom, it seamed, had found himself falling for a girl he never should have.
It’s not as if there was anything terribly wrong with Delilah. The young bride happens to be a beautiful girl, with curly dark hair and amber eyes that had melted Matthias’ icy heart. The problem was never really Delilah’s beauty or personality. It was just the unfortunate way her groom was raised.
William had never in all his life seen a person change as much as Matthias had. The butler had served Matthias’ family for years and practically raised his young master. He watched the bratty child grow into an entitled teenager, and firmly believed he would be just as bad, if not worse, than his parents.
That all changed when Delilah came into the picture. Matthias began to appreciate the small things and cherish the time he spent with other people. Practically over night, William watched him turn into a kind, caring, and humble individual. Delilah brought out the best in Matthias, and if William didn’t know any better, he’d say she was a witch, for only magic could have changed his young master so drastically. 
Unfortunately, William wasn’t the only one who noticed the change. Upon learning of Delilah’s interest in their heir, Matthias’ family was outraged. They forbid the two from seeing each other, and made multiple threats on Delilah’s life. This did little to deter them. William was an active participant in their late night meetings on Matthias’ balcony in a reverse Romeo and Juliet fashion. 
Unlike Romeo and Juliet, this lasted for quite some time. Three years of seeing each other in private. Matthias never showed any interest in any girl but Delilah. This raised suspicion amongst Matthias’ family, until they realized he’d been seeing Delilah all these years.
That’s why they have to do this, and they have to do this tonight. Come tomorrow morning, Matthias will be sent away to live with his cousins on the other side of the country, and Delilah could very well be killed in her sleep. They have to do something to keep the pair from being separated.
William had asked Alexander for help, and now here they stand watching the young couple be married a the stroke of midnight.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife,” The priest says. “You may kiss your bride.”
The look Matthias gives his new wife erases any doubt William might have had about the whole situation. Delilah reaches out to cup his cheek, her face soft, and full of love. The pair lean in and seal their marriage with a kiss. Matthias is holding her within seconds, his arms wrapping around her full waist and hands tracing patterns on her curves. His pale hands stand out against her dark skin, and William thinks it’s the most beautiful contrast in the world.

PTSD

by RAH

I can’t help but stare at you. I wonder how everyone else can go about their day without a single thought of your cold, unfocused eyes staring back at them. Why do you always follow me? I find you in places and situations you have no right to be. Just because my lover has to pause to take a breathing treatment, doesn’t mean you can just start looming over my shoulder for the rest of the day. Just because someone scratched my back, doesn’t give you the right to drag me back to that night.
You’re making my life hell. I can’t sleep with you watching me like that, with you playing the sounds over and over again. I can’t bare the silence anymore. I have to fill it with something to keep you at bay, or you’ll just keep me there forever. I just wish you would go away. I wish I could forget you.

It’s not that I hate you. I loved you back then and I still love you now. Still, all the love in the world won’t keep your ghost at bay. I am forever haunted by the memory of your loss. The sound of your breathing machine falling from your lips. The sight of you slumped over so suddenly. The feeling of your weight on my legs as you were pushed back on the bed. Your cold eyes staring, unfocused and unblinking, upwards towards the ceiling.
I can’t get you out of my head. 15 years I’ve been trying, and failing, to get rid of you. I can’t do this anymore. You died that night, and yet I’ve been fighting to get my mind away from the ghost of your memory for most of my life. I wish I could force you away, but I don’t think I can. I hope you might go away on your own, but I doubt that at this point. 
Please, Grandma, I just want my mind back to myself. Please let me go so that I can let go of you too.

ABIDE

by Eric Morris

I cannot tell you of my fears

Won’t let you see me drown in tears

That’s just not the man that you need me to be

Got to keep it all within

Hide my sorrow, force a grin

Keep my demons appeased, hope that you never see

The darkness in me

I can’t abide

By this feeling inside

Because if I did you wouldn’t see me the same

So I’ll continue to hide

Watch as my innocence dies

You’ll thank me later ’cause my loss is your gain

My life is pain

I try to keep it locked away

Do what I must to make you stay

But I can’t hold back the darkness anymore

I’ve lost sight of what is true

I swear I did it all for you

But you’re closing the door, what was it all for?

Love nevermore

I can’t abide

By this feeling inside

Because if I did you wouldn’t see me the same

So I’ll continue the lie

Don’t know why I even try

You’ll hate me later, and I’ll take all the blame

My life is shame

My thoughts are locked inside this cage

Your life has turned another page

There is no reason you should ever think of me

I’ve fallen deep inside my mind

Emotions dead, consciousness blind

Pray to God set me free, these devils won’t let me be

Too late for me

I can’t abide

By this feeling inside

Because if I did you wouldn’t see me the same

I couldn’t deny

The lure of my foolish pride

You’ll find out later, my life is lived in chains

‘Twas all in vain

A NOTE FROM JEFFREY

by Eric Morris

Everyone says that my

Personality is one that

Starts fires in souls,

Tickles the conversation,

Ends the darkness, and

Invokes the memory of

Nobility long forgotten.

Do I not, then,

Inspire the same for myself?

Does no one see the

Nothingness, the

Torment of my loneliness?

Kicking and screaming,

I beg for a

Love to ease the

Longing that aches in me.

How can one such as

I, mired in the

Madness of

Solitude, discover

Even one who is also

Looking for a life

Free of emptiness?

A FOOL’S DREAM

by Eric Morris

My search for fortune led me to a place

Where golden rocks lay in the riverbed;

A wondrous paradise for greed unbound

Awaited my arrival with a lust,

A hunger for my soul unmatched by men.

I dove into the water without pause,

Before my conscience had its chance to speak;

My eyes were blind to anything but wealth,

An ache for power only money buys,

A need to sin but free from consequence.

The pyrite in the river lost its shine;

The water tasted stale and reeked of death.

I knew I’d erred and tried to swim for shore,

My only wish to breathe clean air again,

But I was held in place by bony hands.

The corpses of the fools who’d come before

Were pulling at my body from all sides.

They beckoned me to join them in the deep.

I struggled to break free and cried to God,

“Oh, save this mortal wretch from certain death!”

I looked about, but there was no escape;

The riverbank was gone, as was the floor,

And in its stead, a chasm dark as night,

An endless grave as wide as it was deep.

The devil’s creatures swam into my view,

Their tortured faces singing my demise

As Satan’s endless laughter filled my ears,

And darkness overtook my will to fight.

I lost all hope as I began to sink,

And water filled my lungs; I closed my eyes.

I suddenly awoke from restless sleep

And pierced the void with screams of utter fright;

It dawned on me that I was safely home,

And death had not yet overtaken me.

A nightmare, to be sure, but over now;

I stumbled to the kitchen for a drink.

When I turned on the tap I was amazed

By floating flecks of gold inside my glass.

I vividly remembered Satan’s laugh;

Maybe a warning, maybe prophecy.