Volume 13, Issue 3
Not all that grows out of these woods is alive
Iron willed rock walls cross pollinate in New England
Collections of raised awareness, reticulated under pines, oak and laurel
Cultivations bloom in the river valleys of Connecticut
Stone phalanxes of ungovernable distance
All built without deference to the enormity of the task
By men who keep time by seasons and can afford
to endure the monotonous ever of bending and placing
The luxury of predisposition not diminishing the importance of the wall
In the bending and the lifting is built a bulwark
against the inherited scare of primogeniture
Stones bifurcating the breath of the family farm
antithetical to King Solomon’s belief in the severing of scions
In this new England, we divide to cordon off the threat of patriarchy
But this wall that stands its ground in front of me
is too tightly cornered, to exactly constructed
to be borne of familiarity, it does not unveil
the story of two men tossing together stones
from either side of a division that separates one farm among equals
No, these rocks advance to the furthest edge of arable field in longing
Then stop as if tethered to the land
In them is a struggle, struggle to fit, struggle to reach
leaning stones, up and over, in and on
Protecting tobacco fields, as fine as any in Durham
Hands in servitude, bound to build
Leaning stones, on and on
Two ducks, I suspect
but rather imagine, male and female
hide the strenuousness
of their paddling
with a dark blanket of lake water
Which, on this icy morning, exhales
a balm of moisture
over the opening of the day
The green, black and brown birds
each leave a rippling v in their wake
Two notation marks, carets
from their transcendental editor
perpetually inserting the pair
into the precise position
to enhance a fluid landscape
as they move forward together
TEACHERS EAT APPLES WHILE WALKING IN THE HALLWAY
We walk like secrets
unnecessary to reveal in any privacy
We consume the fires
too dangerous to leave unchecked
Then we let the flames
dance us like lanterns
left lit past dawn
illuminating from within
our star speckled darkness
We pause as if the wind
discontinued its breathing
on the now motionless fields
Or, as if, we stand in the still
of rhododendron petals
after the fluttering honey bee has escaped
Regathering ourselves like lovers
and their clothes afterwards
covering, yet uncovered
We confuse apples for conversation
The smile in your bite
tells me nothing is okay anymore
Your scratched laugh
gurgled with sweet juices
keeps me moving
Your nod, pillowed in the thoughts
of only the next bite
keeps me coming back
to this hallway
THAT WHICH 'TIS OF THEE
The America I thought I wanted
lopes like a startled deer into the shade
of the weed trees along the yellow creek
that winds behind a warehouse that has known
greater popularity. In the day,
no one knew it was the day, just another
in a series of quiet competencies.
To be fat and under-regarded seemed
not entirely the basic condition
of a vaguely confused citizenry.
The deer escapes, traffic resumes, someone
has called in a report on their cell phone
without first pulling aside. In the end,
nothing has occurred. The concrete storm drains
will remain only as an odd comment
on false relations with topography,
one more place for goods to accumulate,
where the browse is good, the shade refreshing.
In a few years even boredom will seem
deserving of gratitude. It’s not age
or systems crashes that polish us off,
but disengagement; not any disease,
but how native grasses bend to the ground
after the rain beats them. Everyone writes;
only a lucky few know how to spell
their team mates when the assignment changes.
I’m not so many things I’ve lost track
of what my bar code actually displays.
So what? the thunder asks, adding lightning
so the wind can see how honest we are.
It shouldn’t help, only within that light
entire lives unwind their breves and quavers.
A look one associates with foreigners,
at lunch a bottle of sherry for tonight –
I had no plan for the morning’s meeting
except to escape without a new task.
I failed. A season ends. The fiscal year
creeps in without confetti or champagne.
Smells that would be rancid now seem homey:
above all, that of wood smoke. I forgot
what details made past winters lovely or lean.
No one else can tell you either. The birds
are gone, going, or wired in position;
salamanders will not be seen again
till Spring or Judgment Day. People fatten
all the more when they can find a reason.
“The process of paying attention to a known task until it is finished and then by forgetting the first task, becoming psychologically enabled to move on to the next.”
The trick is to stay
focused on the loss,
death or its absence
which might not have been
bad except for the leaving.
Stay centered on that--
the one singular sadness.
You must resist temptation
to interrupt your grief
or it will never get used
up. Remember that
remembering is nothing
more than a roadmap
yielding alternative routes
back to the start. Make yourself
take your pulse at least twice
each moment, checking
for all vital signs
of memory and disconnected
heartbeats. Count out time,
useless time, restless time,
divided neatly into folders,
each tagged chronologically
by their own separate loss.
“Looping curves of a river occurring for no apparent reason”
Centrifugal force throws water
to the outside of the curve,
inside –to- out until the inner bank
is cut off, taking on superfluous life
like the threadbare towns
disappearing behind the curves.
Ripley and Gallopolis,
Portsmouth, Kenville, Pond Run,
the towns seem to loop
on one another their bleached riverwalls
pockmocked with graffiti,
and facing the slumping backs
of vacant stores and concave
row houses. The banks flood
and recede, the final resting place
for tires, skins smooth
as a baby’s bottom, and scrap wood
scattered like pick-up-sticks.
Each meander roots up
willows and the young,
each layer of mud choking
off what’s left of the dreams
of the old, curve- weary townsfolk,
abandoned and left behind.
To air reciprocal, smoke prepares
a fallout. Inside my chest, its ash
is laying forests down. Mountain
folded homes crumple to the flame,
this obfuscated boundary.
Impasse cracked, the landscape
inhales epiphany by brackish drafts
from valley springs, while my pupils
reflect the gravid lighting flash;
while I swallow a petri dish of culture
In the half-light of my living-room, I jockey past
my father, saying goodnight to his darker countenance,
whose courtesy and restraint doubles mine, at least. I try
to think of the last time we touched not by accident.
This occurs to me every night. Now, I’m confederate
to the choreographed show of nods and almost-
uttered phrases that pass between one (and another
shadow is made by evening’s coming on) and his son.
The darkness melts, carefully, into the lonely recesses
of our large home. Austere, finally unstressed, my father
caresses each neglected corner of carpet, dancing with
a vacuum cleaner. He will work at it until all else is quiet.
skin across bone,
each epidermis leaf pealing
of old times.
a foreign flower in
pulse from wrist,
beat from heart,
nothing to betray
within that breast.
a memory of rooms
But lo! The lotus
THE VOICES OF GRAVEL FELL
Can't you hear them calling where the wind greets kiss of morn
subtle underneath the natural tone
of casual conversation
wafting through the stark and trembling fingers
touched with trepidation.
Whistling over moorland wreathed in purple hangings
dancing with the stippled pebbling water
fanning from the surface
of a thousand wind-skirled lakes
keening in the colours spreading westwards
caught within dimensions of a long forgotten time
when man had need to tell
of love and crime.
They sashay off the sea in a petticoated pirouette
and echo down the dunes
like the kine ‘cross sands of Dee.
Gasping through the fat-boughed oaks
and tinkling through the thin
a message of the distant
and the timeless dispossessed
a weary whisper sweeping hills as old as hills themselves
alluding to the manic and the sadly unconfessed.
I've heard them as they gather with the storm
and then descend like banchees in a coven lost, forlorn.
Folks say they come to harry;
I think they come to warn
Travelling from a realm that time forgot;
I think they’ve come to warn
But no one knows from what.
The wind stirs shadows:
a new day
launches with rain
waiting to be seen.
bare wintered tree ice sparkles,
the hard pond
Adria Abbott Glass
Opal sat on her coffee table
the one for the books
on Rome and outer space,
surrounded by her things,
all the things
she and Raymond netted
throughout their lives.
Someone upstairs buzzed in a big man,
muscled, polite as he passed her.
The yellow hallway looked gray.
He reminded her of Bull,
long ago frat guy from college,
drinking beer and crushing cans.
Dust feathered her nose,
she looked for a tissue,
found only her glasses,
a five dollar bill looped around
the nose piece. Raymond never
kept that appointment
with the eye doctor.
The officer told her
he hit a tree, the dying was swift.
Was he supposed to wear
She closed her eyes remembering
Ray’s voice refusing
to believe he was old.
She needed a Bull to move
the coffee table, the bed
she would keep her tea pot
and the books on outer space,
throw away the collections notices
forget about her address
in favor of the sidewalk by the river.
On the honey-colored shelf above
the desk and framed playoff tickets,
beside the basket from
Acapulco, the instrument panel clock,
sits a small cherrywood shadowbox
with eight leaden cones
big enough to tear a hole in the world.
Civil War bullets, “lead Minies”
so slow they nestled in tissue and bone.
People found jobs in the making of gadgets
to pull them from bodies
of boys become men, cut down
in the orchards of Gettsyburg.
Eighty tons of opium prescribed
during the war, far too little
to kill the pain. Those not suffering
rode home in repose, injected
with creosote, wooden beds lined
with zinc, alcohol tinctures,
anticeptic attempts to wipe it down
clean from a mother’s memories.
They stare out the window,
these little cannon-ball demons
that had no ideas of their own.
Perfect conductors when fused
with views so narrow
only tears fit in the space.
Geordie de Boer
THE PASSING OF CIRCUSES
Eisenhower came through Eugene,
gave a stump speech from the platform
of his bunting-draped railway coach.
Elephants rubbed up against asses
in the crowd. No one was cowed - events
like these were not to be passed by.
In those days, the circus, too, arrived
by rail and debouched at the depot
on Fifth Street. Elephants, carnies,
clowns making asses of themselves,
trouped down Willamette to the fair-
grounds on – Thirteenth Street? Though
the fair-grounds are in the same place,
my memory is not. Time passes as
all things pass - events, people, species…
My sense of belonging passed down
time’s rails, too, gone the way of free-
ranging elephants and asses who couldn’t
tell theirs from a bump in the crowd.
SARA ORANGE TIP
You could have folded naturally
like a paper triangle, and slipped
into death’s pocket--
if you weren’t so beautiful.
June’s mustard fields and streams
still watch for you. Verbena’s purple bloom
has missed your touch. Who captured
you in mid-flight
and pinned you to this board,
forcing you to fly throughout the ages
with your elegance exposed?
first published by Flutter Poetry Journal
Sharon Rothenfluch Cooper
We love our long expanses
of unspoiled beach
and enjoy the sculpted coast
but the ocean eats away
the shoreline with a frothy mouth
tasting the sand with brine
one wave at a time.
In an explosion of foam
seawater slurries then fades
leaving the perfect sand
in a rush of power.
WOMAN OF BABYLON
Thighs worth a thousand whispers
Old-trauma eyes clouded forever
Where a promise can hang its head
For a dollar or two, the bones buried
In the ancient playground now dust,
A field so blank it glares, the
Stale smell of ritual
Dirty sheets in hotel rooms.
You thought you were never too young to die
How many times have we poured sugar on you?
"...as the saying goeth, like a hero wondering
aloud about destiny..."
Epitaph my epitaph, say hello
Before graduation day, the empty seat already
Depicted on the final stage
The ceremonial straightening-of-the-shoulders
And a wink
Without a promise
First snows make good
neighbors, where wooden
fences rot. Those men
march behind compact
car sized blowers, belching
white clouds and gasoline
fumes, baring concrete
sidewalks proudly for
neighbors on each side.
I stand by my drift with
my wood handled shovel,
smile and wave, my lower
back giving thanks, knowing
that second snows elicit
fewer volunteers, when
even powered blowers
become a chore. In midwinter
neighbors obey boundaries,
marked by neat lines
of piled snow like low fences
where power blowers stop
and my ragged scrapes through
pure white snow begin.
Cars merge into herds
galloping across open
plains on Interstate 80
in constant migration.
Fumes rise into thunderheads
and spark plugs ignite
lightening. Rain falls
into rivers of oil to the steady
thump of pistons, the eternal
roar of internal combustion.
Highways measure time
on gasoline gauges,
slowly dropping toward empty
when everyone’s eyes
stay on the road ahead
where all lanes meet on
a distant horizon and vanish.
James B. Nicola
THE SHADE TREE
I've reached this height
only since I tapped those depths.
O they seem so remote.
But I am I as much at my base
where no one can see the organic process
of tapping from wells and springs and soil
soaking in dirty nutriments and tears
from the lode of oxidized rots made earth.
You only catch the celebration above
where I have been transformed by the light
and other inscrutable processes
into shimmery greens
dyed poignant before their fall.
I stand here tall and wide and strong
for a nap of darker calm to be
a source of coolness from your summer scorchings.
My trunk’s your pillow. My bark, planed smooth
as a satin case, is firm enough
to support anyone’s head
and dangerous dreams.
Bugs forecast of late have inspired
a recount of my rings.
Days numbered, my growth
at just about maximum,
all that's left is littering with leaves
for others to rake, and spinning out curled shavings
as sheathes of bark fall off, like the papers of
a poet, fearing only a direct bolt
of lightning, or the mightiest
FOUND THE ONE
He found the one door in the city
that had not yet melted and been welded shut.
And just in time. It was about to rain
again and he had seen the acid rain
begin to dissolve through asphalt and concrete,
and sought a place with a pitched roof, where it
would be diverted, or else have to eat
through a couple of tons of granite first,
before it got inside to where he was.
The thunder grumbled. At least he believed
that it was thunder, but could not see through
the stained glass windows well enough to tell
if the flashes were lightning or more explosions.
Besides it was day, so flashes weren’t bright.
Then, no sound but the tremolo of silence—
And the clackle of his shoes on the flagstones.
He took off his shoes. He forgot—was he
supposed to cover his head, or the opposite?
At least he could be quieter with his feet.
If anyone were there he would explain.
No one was there. He didn’t have to care.
At last his legs gave way. He fell to his knees
on a slab to the side with writing carved on it
he couldn’t read, his face still moist and hot,
his eyes wet, probably bloodshot. He must look like hell,
if someone were there. No one was there.
He started dreaming—then dreamt not of pasts,
they were too horrible, but only futures,
violating all the laws of Freud and Jung,
recapturing the myths, the Testament
when Joseph told of ways that dreams foretold. . . .
It starts with flies. The aftermath is marked
by so much rotting that the flies and bugs
are supposed to have a heyday. So it was written
about the last time. Then eventually
the birds and frogs will eat the bugs, and so
on, life chain restored. If there were time—
which there was, but no fly. Not even an ant.
The sanctuary candle, thick as a thigh,
was lit, though. He thought it was, that is. But was
he only dreaming of a glimmer? No—
He heard the torrents hit the buttresses; saw
through a sun-rayed dove in a modern glass design
and felt the steady pounding on the roof
make the stone he lay on vibrate. Tremble.
No leaks. No dissolution! He got up
and found a green robe in the vestry and
a cushy bench there, swaddled the cloth around him
like a blanket or a shawl and really slept
this time, God knows how long, waking to
the creak of a hinge, a distant door: it squeaked
then slammed with a final, or prophesying, echo
though he never heard it open. Had someone just
come in, or gone out? He slapped his face and yelled,
Hello? Nothing. Hellooo? He bolted
through all the chapels and the cellars, up
to the towers, yelling, hoping. When the rain
stops he will venture out-of-doors, he thinks.
Right now he’s perching on a throne by the choir
to the side of the altar to catch his breath. The candle
is not lit now!—but was it lit before?
The rain’s matured and muted to continual applause.
It’s almost polite. If only we had learned
from the rain! he thinks. It’s never-ending. Then
it stops. He notices, catches his breath, stops wheezing
at last, and in the silence thinks he hears
a far-off buzz. A bulldozer. A fly.
It is only a question
Of who will die last.
There is no escape
From a burning sun.
Even Mars will end up
In the hot belly
Of a red giant,
By a supernova.
The next star we visit
Is no more immortal
Than our own sun.
Last night I saw
The rays of a setting sun
Touch the topmost leaves
Of a post oak before disappearing
Until the first hint of morning.
Night does not arrive
All at once, but in daily
Doses of a turning planet.
Recurrent night is our
Rehearsal for immortality
As interstellar dust.
WHEN THE SUN BREAKS
I am the whisper behind you
in the check-out line at the mall.
I am the riffle of pages
in Michael Crichton’s last novel.
Sometimes I’m the crush in the aisle
on the 8:15 to New York,
flash of blonde hair past the window
when your Saturn decides to stall,
or sultry air rushing to fill
space left by a familiar smell.
I’m not the cause of night fevers,
but rather the shape of your dream.
I’ll wait for you when the sun breaks
over Our Lady of Sorrows.
Don’t wait on the steps. Come in.
I’ve prepared for your arrival –
almond torte stippled with honey,
Zinfandel fruity and rich.
The kids are all at camp
and Gramps is playing bingo.
First published in Kelsey Review, 2003
SEVENTEEN YEARS WITH HER
In the morning
she kisses me just after consciousness
then proceeds to chisel my structures.
The buildings I’ve worked so hard
against her gravity to create:
my quaint two bedroom contentment,
my guesthouse of confidence.
She is an incendiary ventriloquist
with her hand up my back,
scratching away decorum
in every word she speaks through me.
She takes the wheel,
and drives me around the neighborhood
nine times to make absolutely certain I didn’t
hit the child I saw on the tricycle two days ago,
all the while asking me if I am attracted
to my mother or if I washed my hands.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
You are my crooked muse,
but why must I break to sing.
THE AORIST TENSE
We grieve in vain
For memory’s wandering off,
That favorite corduroy jacket of the mind,
Worn, thread-bare, elbows patched.
A young man learned three different times
The aorist tense in Greek
And how to extract the meat
From soft-shelled crabs,
Wielding with a surgeon’s skill
Tiny tweezers and scalpels,
Sugar, vinegar at the ready.
These days, when there is need,
He slips inconspicuously
Into the computer chair
And lets Google help recall
Who played first base
For the Philadelphia A’s
In the summer of ’48.
It’s been a while since he’s had need
Of the Greek aorist
And many years and miles
From Shibe Park
Or the shores of the Chesapeake Bay :
That friend who had the cottage there—
Gone now, of course;
What was his name?
previously appeared in Still Crazy, July 2009
Lee Marc Stein
Four centuries after Caravaggio’s death,
experts assert he was blacked out by sunstroke.
(Syphilitic death’s pedestrian, walking away
with Lenin, Gauguin, Smetana, and Manet.)
Yin yang: the man who lived in shadow
and transplanted it with paint burned out bright.
We are his Thomas, mind clouded, finger probing
the chasm in the Lord’s side, our brows wrinkled,
unified in our quest for truth, unable to fathom
the kingdom of light and dark that ruled his art.
We are the prisoners eying John on the ground,
watching rays foreplay the tragedy of his martyrdom.
We are calm Salomé, ready to collect saint head
and Caravaggio’s synoptic glints of sun.
We are the old maid holding our heads in disbelief
that a painting could depict perfidy so perfectly.
Caravaggio: “The Incredulity of St. Thomas ” and
“The Beheading of St. John the Baptist.”
PROFESSOR HAMMER'S VIDEO COURSE
Click, the man in the box speaks;
click, he’s caught in a freeze frame.
Time and geography are pleated,
fan folded so Yale’s in Colorado.
The camera sticks its steady eye to
the lectern, lavaliere filters out
the cough and rustle of invisible
disciples. Professor Hammer’s hair
grows every hour. He changes his shirt.
I never see his knees. He waves
his glasses like a baton, directs attention
to a slide show beyond my line of sight.
Mixing his salt in my stew, we remain
strange, though once, while explaining
Dr. William’s wheelbarrow, he seemed
like a man with an appetite, a lover,
and legs to walk him out of the picture,
because, as Miss Moore would know,
he has grown too large for the time warp,
is a real man in a virtual garden.
Q Are you sure you are not dead?
A I disobeyed my mother again just yesterday
Q How many fingers do you see?
A It depends on what cloud I am staring at
Q Your name? Can you remember your name?
A Yes But I prefer some of the words it rhymes
with On One Won and the words it
will never rhyme with No & Now
Q Not to harp on this Sir but will you know
you are dead when you are dead?
A Violin on it Trumpet it Drum away my
friend I don't think that Lazarus ever
had a thought when he was alive or when
he was dead or when he was neither
Q Has the word BE ever suggested the word BEE
A Some mornings Especially dripping ones &
ones with lots of green colors on those
sticks you call trees Yes Even a mirror
will do it
Q Do what?
A Make one want to be & bee & B sharp
sun on its wings
a brief glittering
Mayflies: The beautiful other. Who wouldn’t want to mate with them: they have paired genitalia! Their insides are filled with air. Some float to the ground while mating. Others keep flying.
the first to mature
scatter across the river
for the birds to eat
Your life is going as planned, your sea calm. You and your beloved take your ordinary lunch with a glass of red wine
which you notice is a little bitter, tastes too much of oak.
in the distance
nothing but gulls
Behold the Minotaur, sitting on his mother's knee in the ancient
painting, his little animal face turned toward her breast. He looks
as sweet as the baby Jesus wearing the mask He made in
kindergarten. He's old now, has a computer, contributes
to his profile on Wikipedia, careful not to get blood on the keys.
Mythology is just a tiny forage is virtual now, not alive in the
marrow of women and men. This makes him sad, but don't feel
sorry. His appetite is unappeased.
strewn with femora
bones too big to chew.
The bill for the flowers
Dad: months after your funeral
the undertaker wrote to tell me
there had been an oversight
and the expenses for your flowers
had not been wrapped in
with the other burial costs.
Then the greenhouse called to remind me.
The greenhouse owned by my 4th-grade teacher
Mrs. Grasso, 96 and still alive
and in excellent health. Some things
take their time dying, unlike you, dad.
So I paid the bill, grudgingly, months later,
putting it behind me. Where it lurks,
with so much other junk, in a crowded attic,
surrounded by something mercurial
that occasionally smiles and cries unexamined.