Poetry Issue #34

The Small Book of Virtues

By Sandy Coomer

a bitch

in pain knows no better

than to bite the one

that lifts its broken body…
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*Image: “The Snow After Joe’s Funeral” by Jenn Powers, acrylic/photography/digital manipulation



Sandy Coomer

Featured Poet



The Small Book of Virtues


a bitch
in pain knows no better
than to bite the one
that lifts its broken body
from the gravel, each
pinch of teeth grinding
with guttural pain against
your forearm and from you
no sound at all

though we were
and only children
the ageless understanding
that is voiceless saw
you willing
to bear the soul
of another’s suffering
be beside it, within
its holiness

twenty years
and a hundred justifications
later, we recall how you waited
until after the final shudder
and the brown open earth
to speak
and then only something
about the least
and the innocent

how it seemed to us
who watched the scene
that the whole world
was held there dying
all at once in your arms
and as the back of your hand
wiped your cheek
and left a smear of blood –
the mark of a benevolent pain –
that we were witness
to something sacred
we could not name

it was only
when we were far beyond it
that we could even bear
to lift that memory
to the surface of our bones
and call it love


"The Snow After Joe's Funeral" by Jenn Powers, acrylic/photography/digital manipulation
“The Snow After Joe’s Funeral” by Jenn Powers, acrylic/photography/digital manipulation




In winter, we see
the true shape of things –

the curve of tree branch
wrapped around another,

the raw bones of rock
unmasked in dry grass.

The dark ink of nature
spells bare words

on a white page, while
the words we keep

from each other
are wrapped in ice,

a hyphen between us,
camouflaged in trees.





He is making a sandwich,
dipping mayonnaise from a jar
with a spoon and spreading it
with a knife. You watch
his hands – strong hands –
and from this angle, maybe today,
kind hands. But you can’t be sure.
You watch as he slathers
mayonnaise thick to every corner
of the bread, picks up another slice
and does the same. The spoon
and then the knife. The scoop
and then the spread. Methodical,
edge to edge. You are in the
doorway, frozen, spreading
your breath between minutes
so you don’t risk startling him.
You are a child, but you know
the flash that lies between
a kiss and a curse. How quick it is.
He adds turkey to one side, layers
of turkey, then blood red tomatoes
cut dripping, warm from the garden.
He licks the knife, grunts.
You have perfected the art
of freezing like a fawn by instinct,
to slow your heart, to not blink.
He is eating. His jaw moves up
and down. There is a chance
for kindness, but with a little luck,
he will finish eating without seeing
you at all.

By Sandy Coomer

Sandy Coomer is a poet and mixed media artist. She is also an Ironman Gold All World Athlete, ranked in the top 1% of her age group in the Half Ironman distance. Her poetry has been published in numerous journals and anthologies. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks: Continuum (Finishing Line Press), The Presence of Absence (Winner of the 2014 Janice Keck Literary Award for Poetry), and the forthcoming Rivers Within Us (Unsolicited Press). Sandy is a poetry mentor in the AWP Writer to Writer Mentorship Program and the founding editor of the online poetry journal Rockvale Review. She lives in Brentwood, TN.