Friday, September 29, 2023

Friday, September 29, 2023: Elizabeth Jaeger's "Mean Girls on the Mat"

 I call them the “Mean Girls.” At my age–I’m almost 50–I’m too old to be dealing with adolescent girls who think they are better than me simply because their bodies have not yet begun to deteriorate. I thought I had left behind that sort of arrogance, the exclusionary behavior that defines so many teenage girls, decades ago when I graduated high school. But I was wrong. In my youth, I was picked-on. At least in the 80s that’s what we called it. Now, we as a society have rebranded the term, opting for bullied instead. The term, however, doesn’t matter. It’s the experience–the scarring–that counts, that sense that no matter what I did, I would never be good enough. And I wasn’t. Not for them. And most of the time, as a result, not even for myself. No matter how well I did in school, or how well I performed athletically, I remained an outcast, my self esteem sinking so low that I’m not sure I ever fully recovered. Still, I survived. I got out of high school, moved on with my life, and never looked back–until now.

In my youth, I was a good athlete. Not great. I was never world class material, but I could pick-up new sports relatively easily and, regardless of the sport I chose, I always achieved some level of success. In high school, I was a three varsity athlete, playing tennis, basketball, and softball. For years, basketball was my sport. I lived and breathed to be on the court. I managed to win a few MVP awards, and in my senior year, I was selected as the school’s female scholar-athlete. In college, on a whim one afternoon, I switched from basketball to track and field. I told the coach I wanted to break the school’s javelin record. When he asked me what my experience was, I admitted that I didn’t have any. Surprisingly, it didn’t deter him from giving me a spot on the team. When it came to running, I wasn’t exceptionally fast, but I was versatile. The coach knew I’d be up for trying any event. While my running times were always a disappointment, I did break the New York University record for javelin–a record I still hold today. After that, my goal was to qualify for nationals, and in my senior year, I succeeded. 

Following college, life got in the way of sports, but I always prided myself on staying in shape. When my knees started to balk at the idea of running, I turned to walking. And I still lift weights daily. Recently, I returned to work, following a stint of homeschooling my son during the pandemic. Returning to work meant I could also resume studying Taekwondo with my son. I have a black belt, but at my age, I can’t kick as high as the teenagers in my class. Nor is my balance and coordination what it once was. Still, I am strong and my natural athleticism hasn’t completely abandoned me. I can do most of the drills–although I move slower than I once did–and I don’t shy away from sparring, even if it means getting kicked in the head by my much younger and far more nimble classmates. 

When I first returned to the mat, there was only one other parent–a father–in the class. Nearly everyone else was thirty years–or more–younger than me. For many of the students, if you tripled their age, they would still be younger than me. Needless to say, that alone made me feel old. The young men–boys my son’s age or a bit older–in the class, were nice to me. When I paired up with them, they were patient with me. If they mistook my slower pace or more deliberate movements for flagging energy or physical exhaustion, they genuinely encouraged me to keep going, to not give up. If I was doing something incorrectly they tried to help, demonstrating the proper technique. I could only wish my joints still worked as well as theirs, or that old sports injuries didn’t rise up to haunt me. I’m sure they noticed that I was not as sure on my feet as they were, but they never made me feel bad because of it. They also never grumbled about being partnered with me. If it bothered them, if they preferred working with someone more aligned with their own ability, they never indicated it. Over time, I came to really appreciate their kindness.

The young women–high school girls–were different. Some of them simply ignored me, which was fine. It’s not like there was any common ground for us to have a conversation. A few were friendly. Recognizing that I often had my head in a book before class, they would stop to ask what I was reading. It seemed they too enjoyed literature and were not put out by the age difference between us. Sadly, the girls that made the greatest impression on me were the ones who took me back to high school; the ones who made it clear that they did not appreciate my presence in the class. Unlike the girls I knew in high school, they never verbalized their feelings, not to me anyway. They never told me I didn’t belong, but they didn’t need to. Their demeanors and their attitudes exuded their displeasure, their belief that they were better than I. 

I hated being partnered with them. It took the pleasure out of the class. They would intentionally hold the clapper pad too high, knowing that I couldn’t kick as high as they could, even if they were shorter than me. I would readjust the pad to a height that was comfortable, and they would roll their eyes as if my limitations pained them. After they completed push-ups (on their knees as most girls seem to do, while I did them they like the men and boys) they were condescending in their attempt to sound encouraging while I finished mine. 

Even worse than being partnered with them for drills was having to spar against them. The Mean Girls looked at me as if I were a heavy bag, either that or they hoped that if they hit me hard enough and frequently enough, I’d give up and go home–for good. I moved slower and provided an easy target. One Mean Girl tried to repeatedly hit me in the head, angling–it felt upon impact–to give me a concussion. More than once, I went home with a throbbing headache. Another Mean Girl side kicked me so hard, she marked me with a black and blue bruise the size of her heel. Many nights, I crawled into bed in agony, wondering why I kept going, why I repeatedly presented myself for injury. But I refused to quit simply because others perceived me as being too old–weak. I am not feeble–I am far from it. In paying my tuition, and in working as hard as my body permitted, I had as much right to be on the mat as they did. Ultimately, though–after that bruising side kick–I felt compelled to speak to the instructor and I  asked him to please avoid matching me with certain students. He understood, and once we were kept apart, classes became more enjoyable.

I might have thought it was all in my head, a case of paranoia, but it turns out I am not alone. One night another mother, a woman close to my age, came to class. She had been a student at the school much longer than I, but it was the first time we took class together. Our similar age and height made us natural partners and we worked well together.  For the first time on the mat, I didn’t feel inadequate. Taking turns during drills, I could focus on technique, because I no longer felt compelled to prove myself. And when one of us messed-up, or age made our movements awkward, we laughed–genuine good-hearted laughter–because life is too short to take everything seriously. In short, not only did I feel comfortable, I had fun, which was the whole reason I took up Taekwondo in the first place. 

As I got to know the other mother better, I told her that classes were far better when she was there. She agreed. When I shared my feelings regarding the Mean Girls, she nodded. Her experience with them had been similar to mine, which is why she hadn’t been attending the school as regularly as she would have liked. Being partnered with them, she confirmed, was demeaning, “They acted as if they were somehow demoted every time I had to work with them.” Yes, that was it precisely. Getting stuck with either of us was the equivalent of drawing the short straw, and they didn’t want it. They didn’t want to be in a position where they were stuck with someone “weaker.” It made them look bad, or so they thought. To compensate, they did their best to knock us down, both literally and figuratively. 

However, what they don’t seem to realize is that someday, they too will be old. They won’t always be able to kick so aggressively, so rapidly. Someday, they too will wake up and realize that they are not as fit or athletic as they once were. Age happens to everyone. It is unavoidable. We become our mothers whether we want to or not. What the Mean Girls fail to see is that we–the other mother and I–should present a glimmer of hope. A realization that age doesn’t have to be an end. There is no way I will ever again be able to compete with a younger crowd, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be competitive with my peers or that I can’t have fun. I can’t help but wonder where the Mean Girls will be in thirty-five years. Do they not realize that one day, in a future not as far off as they believe, they will wake up and find themselves standing face-to-face with someone much younger, someone prettier, someone more agile. Youth is fleeting and they won’t always have the advantage of it. I wonder how they will adjust. 

As for me, I learned long ago that I don’t need anyone’s approval. My goals are no longer as lofty as they once were. I’m not out to make an Olympic team, though qualifying for the World Championship, in my age bracket, would be a satisfying accomplishment. Until then, I will continue working hard to be the best competitor that I can be, because the only competition that matters, ultimately, is how I stand up against myself. 

© 2023 Elizabeth Jaeger

Elizabeth Jaeger. “My work has been published in various print and online journals and my memoir is forthcoming with Unsolicited Press. I can be found at: and on Instagram @jaegerwrites.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Friday, August 11, 2023: Carole Mertz's "Renata at the Piano"

Au Piano, Romaine Brooks (USA) 1920

Renata at the Piano


(On Au Piano, Romaine Brooks (USA) 1920)


Her eyes downcast, her hands spread rigidly taut,

her somber expression hidden within the notes.

Oh dear! a memory slip, forgetting what she thought

she knew so well. Ah! now again the music floats

as she wanders blindly, with much embellishment.

With each repetition of Marche Funebre she earnestly strives

to speak Chopin’s darkly Romantic intent.

At a laborious and unlikely first ending she arrives

but now must perform a da capo without mistake.

Oh, hidden agony for this accomplished player—

there’s no intermission, no time for her to take

a rest before performing her feverish final and improvised layer.

Her hand muscles serve her better than her brain.

No escape—till the last note, au piano she must remain.

© 2023 Carole Mertz

Carole Mertz, poet and essayist, is the author of Color and Line, a collection of ekphrais and other poetry (Kelsay Books, 2021). Her poems also appear in Adanna, Al-Khemia Poetica, Quill & Parchment, Riddled with Arrows, The Ekphrastic Review, and elsewhere. Her chapbook Toward a Peeping Sunrise is a best-seller at Prolific Press. Carole resides with her husband in Ukrainian Village, Parma, Ohio.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Call for Submissions

 Al-Khemia Poetica is currently looking for your best poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, reviews, art, and photography. There's no submission fee, and no payment, but we do nomination for Pushcart, and Best of the Net. Submissions are open to all who identify as female. 


1) Poetry, prose, creative nonfiction: Two pieces, one may be previously published (with date and journal name included). For poetry, 100 lines max, for prose, 3K words max. 

2) Art and photography. Up to 5 images, 300 DPI, jpeg.

3) Bio: 100 words max, 3rd person preferred.

4) Author photo may be submitted, but is not required for publication.

5) Email submissions, or queries to

Friday, July 14, 2023

Friday, July 14, 2023: Interview with Giorgia Pavlidou, author of "inside the black hornet’s mind tunnel"


I met Giorgia Pavlidou, surrealist poet and painter, through FB, the day before she moved from Los Angeles to Greece. We’ve been published in Clockwise Cat (curated by Alison Ross), and it’s been my privilege to publish both her words and artwork in Al-Khemia Poetica

Her chapbook, inside the black hornet’s mind tunnel ( © 2021 Trainwreck Press), is the perfect fusion of surrealist poetry through a shamanic lens. Pavildou graciously agreed to an interview, and what she has to say is not only worth reading, but also  remembering.

AKP: What circumstances led to the creation of your new chapbook inside the black hornet’s mind tunnel?

GS: I either observed or hallucinated a giant black hornet exiting a little tunnel  in one of the walls of my home in the Peloponnesian Highlands, in Greece. There are solitary European hornets active in the area. I've seen many, but they aren't black. 

The image of the animal, and especially its droning stuck with me.  I kept on hearing it while traveling back to LA. The volume of its madlike current apprehended me. 

In some awkward way, it appeared protective (of me). 

Reading about solitary hornets, I discovered a mercilessly  matriarchal world. This experience and subsequent discoveries inspired me to start writing. I typed, typed and typed,  & unintentionally the piece acquired incantatory dimensions: the hornet as totem, birthing "manic wasp voltage." 

Maybe to navigate the mania of

contemporary urban living? 

The hornet's vibrations, like the shaman's drumming, opened me up to a portal leading to some other dimension. Think of it: there're hardly any wild honeybees in cities but beaucoup of wasps. Wasps thrive both in rural and urban environments. They can exist in two worlds: they're amphibians. 

I think the tunnel refers to the imagination. To survive life in an overly canned and artificial environment, I need to cultivate and ramp up the faculties  of my imagination. The black hornet's droning induces a trance that helps with that.

AKP: How would you define the phrase “living mythically”? Do you see yourself, as a poet and painter, actively involved in this process, and if so/not, why/why not?

GS: Myth probably is the default, and so-called reality is the socially sanctified narrative imposed/painted over it. I think our personal stories have  epic qualities. Even the seemingly most boring life has heroes of sorts. Boredom is a powerful antagonist. 

As a species, we're constantly redeeming ourselves. Our culture of commodification, however, has turned perfectly natural existential life-events and organic states of consciousness into deficits, and guess what, one can find a semblance of relief in psychotropic medication, quick-fix therapies, tourism, Netflix, fast food, Tinder and so on, which is, abracadabra, to the benefit of bourgeois society and the corporate world.

In this psychological black hole that LA sometimes can be, thinking of the Eurydice and Orpheus myth helped me understand my mission, the dangers, and possible rewards of my Californian meanderings.

I have encountered many Calypsos who, like Odysseus' Calypso, tried to distract me. Practicing divination can help with distinguishing the path from the detour. Poetry, perhaps, is a form of divination. It opens up the practitioner to a near-endless world of meaning and imagining. 

One feels stuck when the quotidian colonizes the mythological. In Western societies, the life-world

is emptied out of all myth and understood only in terms of use value. 

In my experience, the forest I live close to here in Greece is alive. It's a brain, a mind, a brainforest - not just wood. I feel it has incorporated me, as if I'm a family member. The trees are my family. I feel uncomfortable when I need to leave it for a while, and constantly think of it when I am away. This green mind feeds me. This is the myth I dwell in. Though I'm a clinical psychotherapist by training and profession, (though not by vocation. By vocation I'm a writer and painter), I refuse to  understand 

my life and other people's lives in clinical or psycho-medical terms. I find that one-sided and reductionist. I prefer thick descriptions. Myth is thicker than psychology.

AKP: Your title poem contains Sanskrit and Greek names/descriptive, which you very thoughtfully provided a guide for the reader to navigate. You chose words that contain multiple meanings. What was the inspiration for this, and why/why not do you think this will add to the reader’s experience?

GS: Some readers might feel irritated. Others may feel that it's presumptuous. A group of readers, however, are susceptible, I think, to the hypnosis of seeing another script and experiencing an archaic language. These words can create a wonderful exhaust and exit, especially for English speakers. The English language is so dominant, it locks you up in a one-only world-view. See these archaic foreign terms as tiny alchemical escape-hatches or windows, roads towards syncretism and multiplicity, as medicine and antidote to microwavable forms of speech disguised as language.

Poetry is a lifebuoy for the mind, used by those who understand that their nervous system is flooded with stereotypes.

Maybe even the irritation of seeing another script and feeling it's presumptuous, is enough to help you snap out of the hypnosis of the taken-for-grantedness of your own life. The script exoticizes the domestic. This alien element breaks the habitual, the mechanical, and hopefully creates some space to adopt a more

lyrical approach to living, reading and writing.

AKP: Kali Ma is not only regarded as a destructive/creative goddess, but also, as a harbinger of the time we now live in (Kali puja). What led you to associate the Kali experience with that of being inside a black hornet’s mind tunnel? 

GS: Women have traditionally been understood in western cultures as weak, so is the feminine. 

When we look at the animal world, however, we see that the female world is merciless. Perhaps it's a bit hyperbolic, but I enjoy seeing a touch of mercilessness in a woman, even if it's only imagined and  not practiced in physical reality. Kali in Sanskrit, freely translated, means the Black lady. But Kaala in Sanskrit also means time. Mahaakaal is the God of death, because basically it's Time that'll maim us all

in the end. Kaali is also protective.The solitary hornet will literally do everything and anything 

to raise her larvae. Kali protects her offspring from the excess of the extroverted forces of masculinity, of 

lineair time. The world of Black insects is radically female and its totally mercilessness. This is

probably why something in me associated being inside the Hornet's tunnel with  the protective virtues of Kali, the all-protecting but also all-devouring ancient Mother. Inside the Hornet's tunnel Kali's kids are hibernating. The hornet will sedate its prey and transport it to her young so that they feed from fresh meat. Isn't this Love with a capital L? 

AKP: You cite the poet Will Alexander as one of your influences. How has his work influenced yours?

GS: Without WA I probably wouldn't be writing poetry. WA doesn't practice linguistic acrobatics or muses over faits divers. WA's practice is applied linguistic alchemy or sonic shamanism, glossolalia of the first order, Jazz. This poetic tradition goes back to ancient times where poets were druids, oracles and other medicine people. Yet this bebopping isn't as random as it seems. It's fueled with acute observations of the mind of our times.

My meetings with WA, reading and researching his work has helped me move away from cognitive understandings of poetic practice, like when you start with a rather well defined idea and apply an accepted meter or form to develop it further. I find that boring.

I begin writing, and write, and write, and write. This is the prima materia, the magna confusa. 

Gradually images, shapes, characters, storylines, cadences, musings and music will emerge. Then I keep on kneading, kneading, kneading. I read out loud. The words reverberate physically in my throat. A rather tangible brew is massaged into existence. Without WA I'd probably still be struggling with how-to books instead of trusting my neurology to bebop on the page whatever needs to find form and expression.

AKP: As a poet and painter, how do your two mediums enhance the other? 

GS: The visual strengthens the verbal, it's like cement. The linguistic comes first,  though. The image is dangerous, it's therapeutic as well as poisonous, but it can also serve as an inspiration. Write poems as if you're painting on a canvas,  painting with words, writing with pigments, and vice versa. 

AKP: Your poem “Suicide Chez Jeff”, explores the idea of suicide as a commercial product, specifically sold through L’Amazone (I see what you did there). What are your thoughts on the legality of suicide, and the right to choose to choose to end one’s life on their own terms? 

GS: I grew up in Northwestern Europe. Euthanasia is a total non-issue there. I find it strange that it doesn't exist in California or elsewhere. Turning it into a commercial product would take commodification to another level. I tried exploring that cynical reality in Suicide Chez Jeff. Perhaps in some future point you can apply for euthanasia online. What would that look like? When will that become a reality? 

AKP: What’s your next project, and when will it be released?

GS: I just finished two new manuscripts: "Female Body Retold," and "Appetite for Abjection." I have submitted these to a few small scale avant-garde presses. It'd mean the world to me if you'd keep your fingers crossed with me.

© 2023 marie c lecrivain

Friday, June 30, 2023

Friday, June 30, 2023: Poetic Tribute to Tina Turner by Pam Ward, Emma Lee, and Lynne Bronstein

Ode to Tina Turner’s Sole 

If I could pick one shoe

any shoe in the world I could be

I’d pick the black shiny pump

holding Tina Turner’s leg

A sturdy one that might start off

slow to a song, a mild tap, tap, tap

A slithering glide across a stage

A shoe holding golden toes

And heart attack sculpted legs

Moving as fast as those

hot bones could go

A shoe that kicks doors

Stomping quick under rolling hips

Dancing as if life depended on it

Dancing like I ain’t got no sense

Dancing like love or any other mother

Had nothing to do with it

Stirring up kneecaps

Stirring up fuel under a sparkling dress

Turning the world into a wet sloppy mess

Running across freeways

Rolling across rivers

Leaping with just a dollar to our name

Smiling at red lights daring us to stop.

If I could pick one pair. Only one.

I’d pick the one holding Tina’s legs

Strong, ready to bow, jump or kick.

Dancing our heart out, no matter what.

© 2023 Pam Ward

What's Love?

(i.m. Tina Turner 1939 - 2023)

Not escaping from a motel room

with thirty-six cents and a luggage

of injuries, soul exhausted.

It starts with a toe tap, a beat,

waiting to build the courage

to fall again, to soar again.

A melody you desire to sense

vibrating throat-deep, teasing

a mouth open, vocal cords

warmed, sonorously filling

a studio, a stadium, hearts.

© 2023 Emma Lee

Tina Talk to Me

Now that she’s left us

For a higher love,

I look upward and ask her:

Tina, give us your strength.

Tina, put in a good word for us.

Tina, teach us how to fight.

Tina, give us your bravery.

Did you see before you left? We’re facing

Some of the worst dunderheads

Trying to stifle us. Passing laws

And banning books. Reaching out

To control our bodies.

Tina, please give us

Your energy. Your hope.

And Tina calls down

Girl, by yourself, you learn to fight.

Don’t tell me you can’t.

I had 35 cents and a wrap around my head

And I ran away.

Sometimes you just gotta go.

Your life is not the things you own.

You own your life

And you save that first.

© 2023 Lynne Bronstein