That Bitter Night by Martin J. Elster

That Bitter Night

We could have driven but hiked to the drugstore—
for a lark—on the bitterest night
spring ever whipped up. You held my hand
the whole way. A skin of ice as slick
as Teflon shellacked the streets and sidewalks.

In a coat as heavy and huge as a house,
you led the way as I helped you along.
As for myself, I felt as light
as a snowflake, for our bond seemed strong,
way stronger than this Baltic weather!

Did the old pharmacist assume
we were homeless when our noses were dripping?
The cashier, too, acted toffee-nosed,
seeing us so bundled up.

Elated we’d made it back alive,
we’d cuddled on the couch and laughed
about that bumptious bloke, lulled
by the whimseys of the wind, our shivers
melting away like frost in May.

Now it’s summer. We laugh no longer.
You’re the glaze that glassed the roads,
and I’m the heavy coat you bore
that bitter night you held my hand.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: Lovely alliteration and careful imagery carry the reader through this poem’s heartfelt narrative.

From the archives – Blessed Are Those Who Hunger — Tania Runyan

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger

On the day that 27,000 children died,
my dishwasher flooded its basin. I cradled a bowl,

running my finger around a yellow shroud of curry.
I mourned the scrubbing I would have to endure,

the salesmen with their litany of buttons,
the snake’s nest of disconnected tubes.

Mothers embalmed their children in wet sand.
Fathers folded skeletal bodies in sheets.

The mosquito nets and vaccinations were still
en route, stalled in cargo holds, legislation, hearts.

I did not remember. I opened the dishwasher again
and felt my blood quicken at the sour soup

of food and water, the marinara-flecked plates,
and—Jesus help me—oatmeal stuck to the whisk like bone.

by Tania Runyan

from Autumn Sky Poetry, Number 14, July 2009

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Treat by Marjorie Maddox


Shadows bloom and wilt across the patio,
our new home sheds flakes of bright paint,
and, of course, it is October; the neighbors we don’t know
hang pumpkin lights like lamb’s blood over the threshold,
and from their porch rocking chairs stare at us, the strangers.

We disguise ourselves with smiles and wave.
And why not? Let the leaves fall and the grass grow high,
our new life floats around us in the frost-free air,
and we own the chaos of autumn; the weeds
would grow between our toes if we’d linger

into another two seasons. We are giddy enough
for a picket fence or a pink flamingo
and bring out Baby to see the splendor.
“Here,” we say like good parents, “is the color red
and over there, the irrepressible orange of joy.”

by Marjorie Maddox, from Local News from Someplace Else

Editor’s Note: Imagery and movement are in every line of this poem, such that by the final line, joy is the most convincing emotion.

Hidden, in our final kiss by Steven Lebow

Hidden, in our final kiss
—For Madeline S. Sable

Let all the saints there are come bless you.
May all your questions end with yes.
Let every sphinx’s riddle come back answered.
Not even one must be a guess.

May all the Hebrews there are acknowledge
the messiah made his home within your womb.
And even if it goes disputed
let them meet you at that empty tomb.

Let all the Buddhists swear you’re happy
and all the evangelicals be saved.
Until all the Moslems and the Hindus say
there’s no one left there in that common cave.

The agnostics are never sure of anything,
but the atheists claim they know.
Even when all the temples, mosques, and churches were demolished
and all their buildings decay from down below.

When all the Sikhs discard their turbans,
and all the Jews shave off their beards.
Now there is nothing that is left over
that is unknown, or even weird.

And even then, at last,
until the coming of the apocalypse.
You and I will find salvation,
hidden, in our final kiss.

by Steven Lebow

Editor’s Note: This poem alludes to much, but by the final verse, the reader understands that love is everything.

With the Current by Richard Jordan

With the Current

We’re at the Squannacook again. The trout
are stirring as my father leans against
a willow, watches dimpled rings emerge

where open mouths poke through the surface, pluck
drowning damselflies. We’ve come to choose,
perhaps simply imagine the perfect spot

to spread his ashes when he’s gone. This place
right here, he says. Yes, this place where he taught
me to cast upstream and let the river

present the fly the natural, dead-drift way.
Stay with the flow. The current feeds the trout
what arrives. A rainbow leaps. Another.

My father takes a step toward the water,
bends to dip a finger, slowly rises.
We’re not here to fish today. We left

the car in idle, steady hum reminding
us to go and do what might need doing
this bright May morning, now approaching noon.

by Richard Jordan


Editor’s Note: The subtlety of blank verse serves this poem’s beautiful imagery well, allowing the emotional backbone of the narrative to emerge slowly but surely.

Facing The Music: An acrostic sonnet by Mike Mesterton-Gibbons

Facing The Music: An acrostic sonnet

From having crashed while drunk against a shop,
A driver opted to take flight, but got
Chased hard by somebody who wouldn’t stop
In hot pursuit through streets, a garden spot
Nearby, and farmers’ fields, until the chase
Got interrupted when a fence appeared.
The fugitive jumped over it, to face
His fate: A bird to whom he’s not endeared
Expressed the outrage of a threatened mom—
Malicious pecks in lieu of angry words—
Until he chose to face the music from
Some cops instead, as flight was for the birds …
If you’re intent on dodging justice, then
Choose not to hide inside an emu pen!

by Mike Mesterton-Gibbons

Editor’s Note: This poem’s delightful narrative emphasizes what we all know about emus.

What to Save by MJ Werthman White

What to Save

Once you start you won’t be able to stop; there’s no room anyway
for baby pictures, grandmother’s quilt, for the novel
you never got around to finishing; let them go.

Let smoke, water, and mold have at them; finally you will understand
ephemeral. People? Animals? Start with the irksome,
the difficult. Start with yourself, your ex,

include his spooky blue-eyed Persian cat, the one who hisses at you.
Drive. Away. Don’t look back; keep going. Refugee
enters your vocabulary. The sky burns orange

in your rearview mirror and rising water covers the hubcaps,
while a wind fells giant trees in your path like
the moving hand of God.

by MJ Werthman White

Editor’s Note: This poem’s plethora of punctuation serves as a metaphorical wall between the “irksome” past and the future that could hold freedom, if only the reader listens to the speaker’s hard-won advice.

From the archives – Ostinato — Esther Greenleaf Mürer


—(byr a thoddaid)

Where is the air of yesteryear?
Where are the fields, fallow as deer?
They’re gone, gone in a whorl of brine, to burn
until the rain turns alkaline.

Where are the snows of morrowmorn?
There high up on the Matterhorn
they dance, undecided which way to fall,
point and pirouette all the day.

Where are the stars of nevernight?
You cannot know, poor anchorite
who spurn the milk of skybridges unseen
for the glare of your mean fancies.

Hope remains, like a wire-wrapped string
that sends its ground bass pulsating
under the ever-shifting harmonies
drifting on the breeze from afar.

by Esther Greenleaf Mürer

from Autumn Sky Poetry, Number 14, July 2009

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

An Ear-Full of Waxwing by Martin Willitts Jr.

An Ear-Full of Waxwing

—(An “ear-full” is the name for a collective of Waxwings)

Waxwings are not easily coaxed to a feeder.
I include cranberries,
sliced half-moons of grapes,
and pieces of apples.

Grandmother suggests
if I am quiet,
I can creep closer, see them nesting.

Her words challenge me to see which is quieter:
me, or the waxwings in flight,
or the sigh of a loose floorboard,
or a chicken feather coming loose.

I have seen them up close,
plump white bodies like a prototype baker,
a crest like a shark,
nesting in the edges
of woods where light hangs around
a long time past dark, near the fruit trees.

I almost don’t see them,
or recognize their high-pitched sseee call.

I almost stumble upon an ear-full of them:
yellow bellies, grey heads,
short, wide beaks, yellow tips on grey tails,
black masks around their eyes.

I can almost touch one,
hold one.

But I don’t.

I see a cup-shaped nest woven with silence,
using twigs, tugged-loose grasses,
cattail down, white blossoms,
string from a kite, black horsehair.
Their nest is about the size of my hands.

I could collect it,
bring it back to my grandmother,
a prize.

But I don’t.

The nest is perched,
teetering on a vine tangle.
It is about three inches deep, like a tea cup
on my grandmother’s shelf,
where she would stare into one cup,
seeing the future in tea leaves.

The nest is decorated on the outside
with fruiting grasses, oak and hickory catkins
like the floral pattern on the tea cup.

I want this nest,
its fancy designs,
to offer to grandmother,
knitting her silence into psalms and prayers.

But I don’t.

There is a clutch of six eggs
with black spots
like my summer freckles.
There is a silence within the silence.

I hold my breath,
as an egg.
The pale blue eggs match the cloudless skies.

There is a way to gently enter the world:

it takes patience to move so slowly
that you are unnoticed,
blending in.

You must exit
the same way, like slow grace at supper.

I take back my memory to grandmother,
tell her about what I had learned:
the meaning of stillness.

There are some lessons one must learn the hard way,
the plain-spoken way,
the unspoken way of flight,

the way one turns a page in life like it is a book.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The conversational imagery of this poem gently guides the reader into an understanding of life, growth, and silence.

She, Barkeep, to Him, Barfly by Thomas DeFreitas

She, Barkeep, to Him, Barfly

Sometimes you’d really get to me, y’know?
Fifty-cent vocab and a slacker’s gut,
you’d guzzle Newcastle ’til you browned out
on the barstool where you left a pair of cheek-prints.

Still—lavish tipper! Oh, you’d never stiff me,
but really, forty percent? Shoot, you must have
wanted me more than the dark English stout
you’d use to ease your Niles Crane love-fluster.

I gave you grief. You took it straight, no chaser,
never flinching from my ashtray trash-talk,
my moods as changeable as late October.

I miss you sometimes, kid. You weren’t a jerk.
And I know I could be a piece of work.
And hey, good luck, I heard you’re getting sober.

by Thomas DeFreitas

Instagram: @thomasdef1969

Editor’s Note: This sonnet’s use of first person point of view illustrates a gritty narrative from the inside, inviting the reader into empathy without sentimentality.