Shore of Tago Bay, Ejiri at Tōkaidō by Martin Willitts Jr.

Shore of Tago Bay, Ejiri at Tōkaidō
Katsushika Hokusai, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, picture # 18

Men have cast their fishing nets from the prow. All day, they pull up nets of emptiness, over and over and over. All this hard work in harsh light, and all they catch is sunburn. They will return home at the end of the day, once again, with nothing to show for their efforts. It is not easy catching the nothingness.

On the shore, workers are tiny and insignificant, raking the flats for salt. Some have already gathered the salt, and now they are carrying their bags to the kilns. Inside the kilns, water boils to keep the salt. These workers will have much to show for their efforts. It is not easy boiling down a day into a single moment.

None of them care that they are close to the Tōkaidō highway. That road could take them far from all of this salt and lack of fish and pull of oars. The road is always there, yet these people always stay performing the same tasks as their ancestors. Small details persisted. The more they struggled, the more they failed, like sunlight, like heartbeats, like salt trying to avoid crystalizing in a kiln, like birds circling uncertain where to land, if to land. It is not easy to be so near a road that can take us elsewhere, and stay doing the same meaningless task.

Mount Fuji is always in the background, always with snow on its peak, always below the setting sun. The sense of Always is the only constant we have in this world. Even that is temporary, dissolving like water in the kiln. It is not easy being temporary.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sun is in a net,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .taken to the kiln to bake,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .turns to salt in heat.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This ekphrastic poem (prose and haiku) tells a straightforward story, or so it seems, but the persistent energy of the images resonates with the woodblock print, creating more layers of meaning than is immediately obvious.

Image by Katsushika Hokusai

From the archives – Prayers for Everywhere by Rachel Dacus

Prayers for Everywhere

Prayers for the volcanoes
that need garlands when they erupt
and prayers for the freeways
you never drive them the same twice,
prayers for the buds
that look like babies’ faces
as they open next week and for the blossoms
opening their soft legs to bees.

Prayers for everything the soul
must reluctantly or passionately kiss:
rain-running gutters,
a pebble in the shoe,
the silt gritty on your ocean-washed lips.

Because what is a prayer
but a laugh that can’t be formed
in letters, but only heard
in that place that, praised, lights up.
So prayers for everywhere
that needs them,

Prayers for the worms washed out
of the grass onto driveways,
prayers to step over as they swim
because you can’t pick them up
without damage. So much
of the heart can only be helped
without direct touching.

Prayers for everyone
in the throngs who need well-wishes
to suck on in their sleep
like giant glowing lollipops.
Prayers going to every restless sleeper
on this earth who needs a cool hand on the brow.
Prayers for their own sake,
prayers as beautiful as dolphins
leaping and twisting, prayers
freed from gravity’s pull
to fly glistening into the air.

By Rachel Dacus

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, February 6, 2015

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim

There is time to grow old by Julia Klatt Singer

There is time to grow old
For Harold

There is time to grow old. And we take it. Walk gently through the world; today made over with new falling snow. Everyone needs a partner, and you say I want to be yours. You tell me you love birds. How they sing and make a bush sing too. You tell me about Martha, your cat, who got too old and died. Let’s not get too old you say. Let’s not. You tell me you love snow, catching it on your tongue. You tell me you love winter because it lets us walk on water, lets us become angels. We hold hands. Even through our mittens, we feel the warmth of each other’s palm. We walk side by side, into the snow, into the world transforming.

by Julia Klatt Singer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/julia.k.singer/

Editor’s Note: The gentle repetition in this poem soothes the reader as the idea of love and hope and a “world transforming” slowly grows possible.

Polly by Robert van Vliet

Polly

I gave her permission: if she
was ready, it was okay. And
a few hours later, she slipped out

without leaving the room. Grey
reaching for blue while turning toward
green. Like Athene. As unlike

her mother as possible. Sprung
from her father alone. Those eyes
swimming, serene at last after

a lifetime of seeming always
worried. I was the last to see
them open, unseeing. I have

my mother’s eyes. So now
I know how my unseeing eyes
will seem when I at last slip out.

by Robert van Vliet

Twitter: @_robertvanvliet

Editor’s Note: The enjambment in this poem is particularly well done because it perfectly captures the sense of a person slipping away, while also illustrating the emotional uncertainty of the speaker.

Romanesque by Rick Mullin

Romanesque

O volunteers. O lost boys with your guns,
cigars and adolescent costume play;
O stalwarts of a reenacted Sons
of Liberty demanding right of way,
I’m sorry that you feel so trod upon.

I’m sorry that a narcissist has taken,
like some Antichrist, your sense of dis-
enfranchised hopelessness and grim mistaken
quest upon himself to the abyss.
I’m sorry that your Paine is QAnon.

I’m sorry that it’s come to this. Your snake
has turned as surely as the fabled worm.
The truth is severed and the news is fake.
Behold, mere anarchy is brought to term
and takes its place across the Rubicon.

by Rick Mullin

Editor’s Note: This poem is chock full of references and word-play, such that every reread uncovers more hidden meanings. This is the best kind of poem, especially when one is needful of something to help make sense of the world in which we live.

From the archives – Painting Czeslawa Kwoka by Theresa Senato Edwards

Painting Czeslawa Kwoka

I

In Brasse’s black and white photos,
you are a young girl with a round face
dropped into a flat, gray world,
26947 sewn on a striped wardrobe,
naked beneath these numbers.

What does color bring to you?
In color you move through our minds.

In color you are a movie star: Mia Farrow—
slightly protruding upper lip, swollen bottom
forms a dense shadow to your chin.

In color you are a young woman
bleeding from within: pale skin
filters red to pink. This is the
girl you are at Auschwitz, Czeslawa.

You are not a criminal.

II

Your full color portrait
forces our reaction—
your hair is the warmest
fall in a dead winter, amber
background sparks the short, matted
bristles: adolescent questions
quickly extinguished when a scarf adds
texture, diagonal patterns, another
look of a 14-year-old prisoner.

In color you transform: we can
touch your swollen mouth, feel the
voice beneath the left side of your face,
where grays mix with pinks,
a rash of illness.

The contrast holds us.

III

In a soft color profile,
above and slightly right
of 26947, we see a tear
from your right eye spilling down,
just underneath skin transparent,
thin from a bleak setting.

We follow the contour of your
smeared mouth, slightly opened,
trace from lower lip to the
bottom of your chin:
this part of pinkish-gray flesh
appears as number 7.

This is not intentional.

IV

In color we feel the
blacks of uniformity,
harsh marks of suffering
blacken the scratched
shadows below your nostrils.

The black slit above your
gray lower lip sucks us
empty—your eyes, black
oval platters reflecting
SS soldiers and worse
within deep, gray carvings.

Black is blacker in color.

V

Painted close-up: a bright
yellow backdrop brightens
the scarf’s pattern, your hair
hidden in black and white
becomes strands of sunlight,
movement on still life.

Yellows warm your cheeks,
your forehead clear of dirt,
yellows remove the dark patch
from the tip of your nose we see
in each of Brasse’s photographs.
Yellows plunge orange,
settle on the center left of your chest.

You can breathe them in.

by Theresa Senato Edwards

from Autumn Sky Poetry 15, October 10, 2009, previously published in AdmitTwo

Paintings by Lori Schreiner.

Photo by Wilhem Brasse used with permission from the archival collection of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim.

Waiting for Dawn atop Butterfly Mountain by Martin J. Elster

Waiting for Dawn atop Butterfly Mountain

A dilapidated lepidopteran
dying atop The Mountain of Butterflies
holds out her wings to the darkness—wings as thin
as the mist that swirls beneath monsoonal skies—

and pictures the tea farm women, who often glow
like painted sawtooths dotting the plantation;
and, wallowing in the Mahaweli’s flow,
trumpeting in carefree conversation,

elephants plashing, washing away all worry.
Unlike them, she’s alone here on this rock,
a decent rock on which to dream. No hurry
to flee the fleeting memories that flock

like the birds of Sinharaja: the cunning jackal,
the whistling thrush, the fish in every lake
(which lure the hungry to come with boats and tackle
and float on magic molecules that slake

the roots of rice), the din of Devon Falls
reverberating through a green expanse
where a muntjac barks, a magpie calls and calls,
and footsteps crack the chrysalis of her trance—

men climbing toward her haven. Soon the sun
will oust the night. Slowly she beats her wings,
wings like frozen wood as, one by one,
they gain the hilltop, quicker as someone sings

a hymn to dawn, then darts away as a bell
blossoms like an orchid on the height
and, rising with the most resounding knell,
fades like the constellations at first light.

by Martin J. Elster, first published The Society of Classical Poets

Poet’s Note: The title alludes to a mountain in south-central Sri Lanka, rising to 7,359 feet (2,243 m), which is variously known as Adam’s Peak (the place where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out of heaven), Sri Pada (Sacred Footprint, left by the Buddha as he headed toward paradise), or perhaps most poetically as Samanalakande (Butterfly Mountain; where butterflies go to die). Some believe the huge “footprint” crowning the peak to be that of St. Thomas, the early apostle of India, or even of Lord Shiva.

Editor’s Note: The imagery in this poem is so rich and detailed it feels like a painting, but the beautiful meter (iambic pentameter) and rhyme take this poem beyond mere image and into meaningful narrative.

2020 In A Mirror by Ellie Fowkes

2020 In A Mirror

It was March, it was December
It’s very hard to remember
Me arguing like an ambulance siren
My sister roaring like a lion
Noises mix Boom, Clash, no and yes
Mom loses temper less and less

Getting kicked off Zoom
I won’t come out of my room
There is something squishy in my bed
Me rereading books I’ve already read
My blanket’s as hard as a rock
My door won’t unlock

Whoosh, the school year went by so fast
Trying to get it in the past
Me in class swaddled up like a baby
I need to get up to stretch daily
2020 is over, now let’s have a good happy new year
Let’s not put 2020 in a mirror

by Ellie Fowkes, age 11

Editor’s Note: The easy (and somewhat cheerful) rhyme and meter of this poem is juxtaposed upon difficult and sometimes disturbing images, creating a dissonance that perfectly encapsulates the trauma of the past year.

[Dear teachers: If any your of students writes a particularly good poem, I am open to publishing it, with permission of the parents.]

Two Turned Ways by Lauren Camp

Two Turned Ways

In the desert the wind mounts and locks behind us.
And ravens roof and rise and loop, ubiquitous
then dip down for miles to grab anything dirty.
A mixture of temptations.
We keep discussing the thieving, the stains.
Another hour of people brimming with vanity
while some of us struggle with our sovereign sad hearts.
The roosters swing their shoulders
in the shed at the slow end of the hill
and you might think there’s nothing left
undone but the country, the country, the poison extraordinary.
I trudge back to bed. Sleep is what I came here for.
I wake late to the guts of dawn,
the greedy again rotten with triumph.
This is the likely mess we’ve come to believe in.
Reductions. The world goes on breaking.
At night my love and I speak our breath to each other:
our house, our solution. No one can tell us to stop.

by Lauren Camp, first published in Rise Up Review

Lauren on Facebook
Twitter: @poetlauren
Instagram: @laurencamp

Editor’s Note: The images in this poem are ominous and worrisome, and this cascade of difficult imagery imbues the poem with a sense of both urgency and trauma.