At the Zoo by Greg Watson

At the Zoo

The zoo was a much less joyful place
when I was a boy. The animals seemed sad
and weary behind their metal bars,
and we in turn were sad for them:
the great lumbering polar bear pacing
back and forth on its white slab of cement,
Sparky the seal swimming the same
tired circle endlessly, doing the same tricks
for the same slimy fish thrown daily,
by the same human demanding applause.
The gorillas and baboons looked you
in the eye, held you there, unnervingly, as if
you had an answer for all of this,
imploring you to recall the common tree
from which you emerged so long ago.
These days, with my daughter, the walk
is longer, the animals sometimes
harder to spot among their tangled
foliage, vast stretches of plain and rockface.
We walk for miles in the heat of summer,
not always seeing what we wish to see,
but if we are patient, the great cats
may stir from their slumber, flick their tails,
let out a mighty, rumbling roar which
my little girl has practiced and mastered
as well, both of them letting us know
who is really in charge here.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This conversational poem draws the reader into what seems like an ordinary life, until the final four lines remind us that parenting a child is anything but.

Seaside Pentina for a Chinese Painter by Marly Youmans

Seaside Pentina for a Chinese Painter

Originality should not disregard the “li”
(the principle or essence) of things.
—The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting

The fish-scale glitter of the sea, the cloud
That hung its careless grace above the dock,
The solo fisherman who hauled a fish
To air: these were the things that pleased her eye,
The seaborne images she wished to mark.

Not for the picture’s sake she wished to mark
The dock’s salt-silvered boards or floating cloud,
Not as a souvenir of things her eye
Perceived, nor as a fleet of things to dock
And moor on paper, nor as captured fish.

She wished to snag another sort of fish
Entirely, and to hit a deeper mark
Than what the shimmering and brine-soaked dock
Proposed to others there, or what the cloud
Above seemed saying to a staring eye.

Nor did the watching painter wish to eye
The scene in search of novelty, or fish
For some surprising shock of sense to cloud
Quicksilver minds; instead, to freely mark
The world of things and tug her thoughts to dock

By finding out some essence of the dock,
By understanding aim of hand and eye,
By striving without strife to hit the mark
And catch the fluent spirit of a fish
Or mystery inhabiting a cloud.

So li that lives in cloud or dock or fish
May find a willing eye and hands to mark.

by Marly Youmans

Twitter: @marlyyoumans
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marly.youmans/

Editor’s Note: This delightful pentina uses lush imagery to draw the reader into a landscape that feels as ephemeral as a painting, but with a structure that perfectly encapsulates the concept of “li”.

Your Daughter Tells You by Shoshauna Shy

Your Daughter Tells You
She Has 3 Boyfriends
And #3 Is a Married Man

while you’re seated on her deck
outside the kitchen holding
breakfast bowls.
Pacific Northwest sun shines,
toes bare for the first time in six
months, and she says she’d see
this other boyfriend except
he is spending today with his
other girlfriend so you ask why

did he get married if he wants
to spend his days with
other girlfriends?
Your daughter winces for aren’t you
Midwest-vanilla-beige in wedlock
with her dad for three decades!
Well, someday, like J, she explains,
she and her primary K might marry too.
Show that they love each other best
(and for the tax breaks and hospital
rights). You ask but how can she open
her heart to J when she knows he won’t
always be there for her?

Your daughter says since she has K,
she doesn’t want always with J.
She is pulling a brush in long strokes
through her glossy hair, slim arms
still tan from last summer’s beaches.
And if K is with HIS other girlfriend,
I still have L.

L?
L. The man she had you come meet
at the café the night before, the man
whose speech was peppered with “we’s”
because he lives with the mother of his son.
You see how well this all works, Mom?

What you see is how crowded this deck
has become with denim knees, buckled
boots, lowered hat brims, hands cupping
hips, arms braced by shoulders – calendars
so clotted with names that they’re sliding
off walls from the weight of the ink.

She says cheating isn’t part of their lexicon.
Nor is belonging or mine.
Your daughter is pulling loose hair from
the bristles of her brush in a feathery motion,
opening her palm to the sky so the breeze
can catch, catch and carry each strand away.

by Shoshauna Shy

Editor’s Note: This poem reiterates the old saying, ‘love is love’, and this is especially true when that love is for a grown child living a surprising life. The close is poignant, ending the poem with another aphorism: ‘If you love somebody, set them free.’

Van Gogh Leaves Paris By Train for Arles by Bob Bradshaw

Van Gogh Leaves Paris By Train for Arles

Theo, gazing out at the passing landscapes
I thought of you.

Here in the south, snow
on the distant mountains

reminds me of Japanese prints,
the clear air defining

everything in bold shapes,
like those in woodcuts.

In this brighter light
fewer strokes will be needed.

The land is rather flat,
and near dusk a red sun

settles into the snowy horizon,
melts, and the long night begins.

There aren’t the refuges
we had in Paris, and Arles

is expensive. I don’t know
where I can find affordable

canvases and paints. However,
the morning light makes up

for everything. There is a dusting
of snow on the ground, and yet

flowering orchards thrive
in the fresh light.

There are grey olive trees, orange banks,
washerwomen in white bonnets,

a green river flecked with gold,
and red vineyards.

The place has the optimism
that school girls dressed up

for a spring play have—
the peach and plum trees as lit up

as bridesmaids, pink
and white blossoms

in their hair. Theo, I hope
you can make your way often

to Arles. Spread the word.
In time we can form a colony

of artists in the south,
where there are fewer distractions,

but with russet footbridges,
cobalt skies, a citron sun…

I’m not young, but I’m not
finished yet. I can do new things,

work you can be proud of.
Look, in Arles even a bent old

apple tree holds sprays
of flowers.

by Bob Bradshaw

Editor’s Note: The vivid imagery in this epistolary poem effortlessly supports the underlying allegory. Lovers of Van Gogh’s artwork will find this a delightful read.

Every poem I write for my father is called twilight by Kelley J. White

Every poem I write for my father is called twilight

Clouds make shadows on the mountains.
I walk through their green darkness. I want
a wind to silence thought, a storm to drown
out prayer, electric stillness, the promise
of breaking. You can walk three days
into woods and not find a single birch

worth a canoe. I know. I have done it.
I have loved slender saplings peeled white
and mourned for their cracking death
in ice. You never trusted your canvas
to my hands, never taught me the courage

of rapids. But I learned to read cocoons
and the wings of beetles, spider silk
and the veins of fern. I can follow bear
spoor studded with blackberry seed,
walk through thorns and not care if my legs

are bloodied. I have knelt on bruised knees,
mouth to rough water, asked the snake
to rattle your path from his one rock.
I want to remember dawn. I will listen for
the hawk to fold his wings.

by Kelley J. White

Editor’s Note: The intense clarity of the imagery in this poem conveys the weight of myriad emotions that couldn’t otherwise be articulated.

Poet’s Note: This poem has had an interesting life. It appeared many years ago in a now defunct internet publication, Three Candles, and as the title poem for an on-line chapbook (also now defunct). More recently it was included in two museum projects in New Hampshire pairing words and graphic art, one at the Museum of the White Mountains and one at Castle in the Clouds. I was reminded of the piece as we approach Father’s Day.

From the archives — But Skin Is Different by Rajani Radhakrishnan

But Skin Is Different

There are indentations in the blue
porcelain like impressions on soft
wax where it was held softly, when

the tea was warm, for a while, and it
would not stop raining. We leave marks
on things that least expect it, on a passing

wing, on yellow afternoons, on the serrated
silhouette of leaves against a midnight
moon, on time standing on one leg, back

against the far wall, waiting. Truth is a
collage of careless fingerprints, the rain can
draw your picture from the way your hand

caressed the clouds, but skin is different,
naked skin can be cleansed, memory carries
the deliberate guilt of sieved pain. This tea is

cold, a level certainty in an imperfect cup, it
is only mid-June, the sun flattens like an
unleavened candle, and it will not stop raining.

by Rajani Radhakrishnan

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, June 20, 2018

one on the wall by JB Mulligan

one on the wall
(Lance Corporal John Henry Ferril II, 6/3/46-7/7/67)

I

Your brother and your sisters speak
and sometimes hear the silence take
a familiar shape, and break.

Your shadow moves in shadows on their floors.
Your knock is sunlight on their doors.
Your smile might brush at night against theirs.

Your job. Your eyes. Your time alone.
So many threads undone
that air and light and dark are thinned.

Some essential pulse is lost,
something that dips and soars along the coast,
some egg that tumbled from the nest
and leaves each morning sky unblessed.

II

Stranger in a strange land,
speaking to new acquaintance or friend,
looking frequently around

this vivid lack of home
in shifting shadows of hope and gloom,
aware that what is to come

might be the trickle of a drying well
from which you drank the little that was all
that you could take before you fell.

Your memories are brittle coins
and gems scattered among the jagged stones
of a battlefield in broken designs
worn smooth by the seasons.

III

A man born on the day you died
would be nearing fifty – bellied
and balding, perhaps, laughing loud

as he pokes at the holiday grill,
watches sparks dance up from coal,
the drift and drop and settle of a gull

on the sea: backdrop of waves
frilled and ragged; a boat which leaves
its peeling wake. He loves

(since he is not) invisible children
running on sand, a wife unseen,
unkissed, unmet. You are gone
and he might have been your son.

by JB Mulligan

Editor’s Note: This poem handles potential and loss in three parts, using shadows, a boat’s wake, and other imagery as the backdrop of grief because some things can’t be touched directly. You only know they exist because of their absence.

Running Boy by Daniel Williams

Running Boy

Out the window,
a hollow metal thud and clattering.
I stand startled from my desk and see
a boy running madly up the road.

Spotting nothing ahead
to draw him on,
I trace his trail back.
A bike, one tire spinning,
lies on the pavement,
half beneath my truck
where it docks at the sidewalk,
ticking in sunlight,
invisible to a boy
until it knocks him down.
“So,” I mutter, smiling,
“we had a crash.”

The boy dashes away
for fear’s sake, away
from the shadow of my house,
a place of dangerous potential,
every window
an image of wrath
I remember so well
from a childhood spent trespassing,
hacking at trees I didn’t own,
believing no one owns the woods
or fields or sheds and barns with wide open doors,
running terror-struck from voices
of old men,
chased far away by the echo
of their anger in my head,
those ghosts,
my fear of them.

I watch the boy run for cover,
how his whole life is in it,
this escape, a precious thing,
worth running forever,
and I laugh,

I’m the old man now.

by Daniel Williams

Twitter: @dpwillia2

Editor’s Note: This narrative poem uses thoughtful line breaks and clear imagery to convey how nostalgia can become more joy than trauma.

Some Facts You Should Know About The Love Of Music by Christine Potter

Some Facts You Should Know About The Love Of Music

Johann Sebastian Bach had a street brawl with a student
whose bassoon he’d insulted and who was therefore trying

to brain him with a stick. Tchaikovsky and Saint Saëns liked
impersonating ballerinas together. Bach was carrying a knife.

Tchaikovsky was almost certainly gay, and Saint Saëns, too.
The student’s clothing was shredded before his friends

pulled Bach off him. Tchaikovsky’s wife would never have
comprehended the words describing homosexuality. A 20th

century composer of organ music named Richard Purvis
wrote an arrangement of “Greensleeves” in a fox hole, under

live fire, during World War II. Saint Saëns eventually left
his wife. Tchaikovsky did, too. Richard Purvis led the first

military band through liberated Paris after his rescue from
a German POW camp. His “Greensleeves” sounds like the

whole world’s broken heart, trying to bear up. A grave robber
dug up Haydn’s skull. It was replaced with someone else’s

but later found. Now there are two. The judge let Bach’s
student go and cautioned Bach to be more likable. Music

is the last thing to leave anyone with dementia. Bach and
Handel were blinded by the same inept surgeon. My own

mother, before her diagnosis of terminal kidney disease, sat
in her doctor’s office, singing “Flat Foot Floozy,” out loud.

by Christine Potter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christine.potter.543
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Christine-Potter/e/B001K7URHS/

Editor’s Note: This poem opens with a deceptively simple list of facts about musicians, but soon the repetition begins to press inward, and suddenly the “whole world’s broken heart” appears mid-poem, with such startling clarity, that the emotional refrain echoes long after the last line.

What to Expect: The Teen-Age Years by Cati Porter

What to Expect: The Teen-Age Years

A distant echo, like fruit belched up from breakfast,
I remember how it felt to house your body in my body,
how it knobbed up to meet the palm of my hand,
how every gas bubble even before you could
was a kick. Then, you grew. Plop, you fell out of me
like a menarche clump of red cells except you
were pink and frail and required oxygen.
Then, suddenly, you were pushing up to standing,
then walking, running, playing Matchbox cars,
and now here you are, only a toddler, with your own
car and license and my time is my own again
and I don’t know what to do with it.
There was nothing to prepare me for this.
I read The Baby Book until the spine cracked
and pages leaked out like my nipples oozing milk
whenever you cried. I read What to Expect When…
each stage a fresh new hell, except, once you hit
puberty, there were no guidebooks to tell me
how to teach you to drive, how not wind up in the ER
after a drinking binge, or how to make you love
poetry, or me. That book doesn’t exist, but I imagine
if it did it might begin with a chapter or two on mourning
who you’ll never be, and accepting that.
Forget college. Forget the golf scholarships.
Never mind that homework. I forgive you for giving up
on me not giving up on you. Instead, I give you
the freedom to fail, and my unwavering love
as I watch you clamor at the guardrails,
pulling yourself back up, up, and then off again,
while I sit here barely daring to sip my glass of wine,
phone beside me, volume high, waiting, waiting.

by Cati Porter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cati.porter/
Twitter: @cati_porter
Instagram: @cati_porter

Editor’s Note: The conversational tone of this poem makes it easy to read fast, much like the shocking distance from infancy to teen years, but by the end, the aching worry of parenthood is firmly fixed in the mind.