Poem for our Anniversary by Johanna Ely

Poem for our Anniversary

I ask you if you still want me
the way the shore wants
the ocean to lap
against its edges,
if you still feel the strong desire
of tides that pull and push
against a moon that is
slivered forever into my skin.
I ask if you remember me,
how I was before you really
knew me,
before you pulled me
to shore, breathing life
into my collapsed lungs
with your slow blues
and blackbird calls.
I want to love you
the way the shore delights
in choppy waves hitting
the seawall at high tide,
or longs for the silent calm
of receding water caressing sand.
You answer yes to everything,
even when I ask you if you imagined
my poems flying across your lips
the first time I kissed you.
I tell you I am the swallow
who will always return home
because you follow me there,
carrying marsh grasses in your beak,
the setting sun blossoming
like a bloodshot rose in your wings,
the ebb and flow of who we are inhaled,
how the love we have smells like the sea.

by Johanna Ely

Editor’s Note: Imagery, metaphor, personification, simile, enjambment—this poem’s craft is stellar.

From an Empty Nest by Gregory Palmerino

From an Empty Nest

He watches each leaf
drop painfully slow,
parting the way two
hands shaking let go

after a final embrace:
one remains
outstretched, silent, and bare;
the other strains

and falls away
by sailing outwardly
through seas
of dubious air quality.

He knows this leaving
is natural: leaves
must fall for newer vistas
just to tease

the hairy sky; and he
must trust the bole
that memories of spring
will fill the hole.

by Gregory Palmerino

Editor’s note: Careful rhyme provides a startling contradiction to the enjambed lines in this poem, subtly supporting the narrative.

Road Test by Liza McAlister Williams

Road Test

We drive slowly up a side street off Main
in your idyllic upstate college town
looking for parked cars to practice
parking on, you driving and me
admiring the scenery. Uphill, parallel
to the ridge, are all the mansions built
in bygone days when canals, like arteries,
brought the blood of commerce inland.

Now this town’s main import/export
is brainy kids the likes of you.
You’re good at everything you try except
parallel parking a car. No chance
in the city to learn, no chance in Paris
on your year abroad, none during
your internships at the DNA lab or
the literary agency. Now you want

to take your road test but you know you
stink at parking. You want me to tell you
how it’s done, give you the formula,
and I do, and you park and park
around the same three cars, the only
three cars on the street: backward,
forward, crunching over drifts of leaves
that answer the trees, orange to orange,

red to red like different languages.
Too close to the curb, too far, much
too close, a little too far, getting
frustrated, but maybe also getting it, finally:
“Now don’t say anything,” you say, and I don’t,
but I look sidelong at your resolute profile
and I feel I will never as long as I live
forget this flaming street and this moment.

by Liza McAlister Williams

Editor’s Note: Immediately after reading this poem, I mentally composed a note regarding how the regular stanza structure emphasizes the narrative (practice means doing the same thing over and over again), but then I noticed the poet had left me her own note at the end of the submission and I LOL’d instead–>

Poet’s Note: Although this poem is in free verse, I chose to organize it in regular stanzas, to suggest the practice-makes-perfect theme, and the underlying orderliness of learning a new skill, and to suggest metaphorical correspondences between memories and visual images.

River of Dreams by Kathryn Kulpa

River of Dreams

I favored the mirror, a river of dreams. I wanted to wade in it, to close my eyes and open them someplace else. Salt water cradles; it won’t let you drown. I believed in the other side of the mirror. I was the sleepwalker. You stayed awake, kept watch. Still I remember everything. Every room of our house, every hiding place: the shaded triangle behind the neighbor’s bulkhead in summer, the patch behind the raspberry bushes we called “the haystack” in winter, when we’d bury ourselves in dried grass to stay warm. The TV room in the basement, speckled shag carpet that never showed stains. You’d get me out of bed early on Saturday mornings and we’d sneak down to watch cartoons. Shoes we didn’t know outside our mother’s room meant cereal for breakfast, and if there were no bowls we’d use coffee cups, and if there was no milk we’d pour it into a popcorn bowl and eat it dry. You’d complain about how useless Aqua-Man was and how much better Batman would be without Robin and I’d fall asleep again, listening to the dog snore, using up all my goings-away in dreams, never dreaming you were saving all of yours for the real world. You never understood why my bookshelves bulged, why I read the same books over and over. Why read a book again when you know how the story ends? Wendy grows up and forgets the way. Dorothy chants: There’s no place like home. The dreaming ends when Alice wakes up. Who’d choose the man-village over the jungle? Who’d give up being kings and queens in Narnia to be solicitors and vicar’s wives in Wolverhampton? Who’d choose Kansas over Oz? But Alice looks out of the mirror. Alice wakes up. Alice always wakes up.

by Kathryn Kulpa

Editor’s Note: Prose poems give up line breaks, and must carry the reader with mere words. This prose poem’s narrative descends into surreality, in keeping with the fictional nods, and emphasis on emotional imagery. Very few poems give me chills these days, but the end of this one did.

Whirlwind @ Lesbos by Risa Denenberg

Whirlwind @ Lesbos

We met in Istanbul
where your face was a veil
and you beckoned a reckless gesture.

Cover your eyes, you hissed
when I dared look through
your robe at your breast buds.

You were twelve when we first kissed
wadded your gum under the desk
whistled at me, spit into the wind
earnestly began chewing my hair.

We ran away to Naples
during the long war while flames
licked our feet and charred our skin.

Hurry, you barked over your shoulder
I was already losing sight.

I wailed all night in Jerusalem
when you turned me hard
against the stone wall
pressing against my back
as your reached up inside me
grabbed my womb with your fist.

In winter, we rented a small cottage
in Copenhagen where winds blew
snow over our bed
we embraced and couldn’t let go
you were cold and needed comfort.

We undressed each other
maidens in the fifth century
and were discovered naked
entwined asleep
your ringlets black and soft
on the silken pillow.

But then I missed the cab to the airport
slept right through the alarm
one morning in Cairo
and you were gone.

I was beheaded
with your name on my lips.

The baggage was clearly marked
but reached Paris by error.

I’m in New York
awaiting your email.

by Risa Denenberg, from “Whirlwind @ Lesbos” (Headmistress Press 2016)

Editor’s note: The uneasy narrative of this poem is emphasized by the lack of commas and thoughtful enjambment.

From the archives – Bottomless Lake by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Bottomless Lake

It didn’t matter which one, they were a chain of lakes
in crooks of dells and around every sharp curve.
The lake was bottomless so when we swam we knew
it was for keeps but the water held us and let us play
in it and only once did I feel a moment of fear. Big Star
or White Fish or Podunk or Half Moon. The lake was dark
and rolling and it was glass and it was still bottomless
and cold, spring-fed jets of ice we swam through and sought
on the hottest days, bottomless yet we ran aground and
lost the pin on the motor and had to row home. What is
the pin? How could we lose it? There was nothing
the bottomless lake would not accept. I have seen it swallow
a piano, a truck. Condoms, not fresh, washed ashore.
It was the ocean because we had never seen the ocean.
The little sun and closer moon rose over our bottomless lake,
so bottomless we told it everything and there was room for more.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, September 15, 2015 — by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – The Peddler of Flowers by Amy Lowell

The Peddler of Flowers

I came from the country
With flowers,
Larkspur and roses,
Fretted lilies
In their leaves,
And long, cool lavender.

I carried them
From house to house,
And cried them
Down hot streets.
The sun fell
Upon my flowers,
And the dust of the streets
Blew over my basket.

That night
I slept upon the open seats
Of a circus,
Where all day long
People had watched
The antics
Of a painted clown.

by Amy Lowell (1874-1925)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim