The Telescope That Always Fails
It is pleasant, when the sea is high and the wind is dashing the waves about,
to sit on shore and watch the struggles of another. —Lucretius
No, it’s not.
Unless you’re seagulls snapping up an easy meal,
a heart without a conscience there.
I’m right beside a friend of mine,
tied by raw necessity to chemo pumps.
I hope beneath the scarves I sent,
her chestnut hair hasn’t turned
to clumps of autumn’s brittle straw,
once in bales tied with ropes, but not right now.
I pray it hasn’t fallen off
old bumpy trucks on graveled roads.
We’re hanging on with long, wet socks
clipped to broken clothespins pulling on a tired wire.
Once I tried a telescope to glance away
from things the way they really are.
It never worked. Just like pasta overcooked,
because I looked away from all the burning mist
above the fiercely roiling boil.
My glasses still reflect disturbing close-up shots—
bullets lodged in heaving chests—
their heavy fists attacking me, leaving me
with bloody noses filling up a bathroom sink.
We shouldn’t be like ocean sharks
that smell the dying far away.
Then seize on it, as if they’re quite
above it all, bigger than the rest of us.
Having hides of thicker skin
prevents the world from striking nerves.
So what if life’s not lilies or a poppy bowl
returning stronger every year.
Enveloped in a muddy cloud
lends meaning to the fickle light.
by Janet I. Buck
Editor’s Note: Some things are too painful to discuss directly. Chemo is at the top of the list, so this poem side-steps the issue and uses imagery to describe the wrenching anger, grief, and pain.
Dorothy as Madwoman
After the tornado, you sink.
Half the house gone, the other still present
but somehow missing.
Piano twice-drowned in the corner,
& every key
You’ll let your hair grow long again,
let it grey & tendril,
follow the beaches
& their trailing wreckage along the shore
seagulls battering your back
by Meggie Royer
Editor’s Note: An imaginative retelling of a familiar story serves as the framework for this poem. The description of madness is both delicate and regretful.
Five is the gathering hour,
time to pool scraps from napkin backs,
thoughts that passed slowly enough
to stuff in a pocket—
hurried impressions of an oil-slicked loon,
the words soft fear on a line alone.
Another lists catfood, Risperdal
and celery; skips a line before a reminder
to check the meaning of reverie.
Last, on the back of a sketch I made
of your laugh, only the words brief respite.
by Patricia Wallace Jones
Patricia on Facebook
Editor’s Note: Some poems have such strong imagery that it seems as if I’m looking at a painting instead of reading verse. This is one of those poems.
Por Favor No Maltratar Los Aguacates
“Please do not
written in black
marker on blue-
lined legal paper
and taped to a box
at a Yonkers bodega.
Someone has felt
for ripeness, deemed
one inept squeeze
and render it
I’m no longer
sure if I could pass
for ready, if I’m worthy
of such a sign.
Forever I’ve waited
for competent hands
to protect me
from the careless,
by Laryssa Wirstiuk
Editor’s Note: My first favorite poems were those written by William Carlos Williams and Theodore Roethke—imagery rules their lines. This poem evokes that sense of wonder I felt as a teen. Its imagery and enjambment belie the underlying introspection of the poem’s narrator. The title is a clever nod to the language of New York’s myriad bodegas.
6 a.m., North Shore
gave my sadness
to the river this morning
before all the traffic began
before all the people went
walking with their dogs
before the sun was
high enough to be bright,
sat at the edge
of something bigger than
this sorrow and watched
the way the water carried
tiny sticks and tree trunks,
from where they were rooted
before the city began
on its hushed trajectory,
opened my hands
and poured what I had
into the passing current
blood red heart stuff —
a freshly dead wish
poured the most
shade of grief
my hands could hold
poured every last bit
into the big, slow waters
and begged the river,
color of decayed leaves
and forest floor,
to carry these things, too,
from where I am rooted.
from Autumn Sky Poetry 14 — by Jen McClung
Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
by D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
Video by Chris Sinclair
Porcelain inkwell, given to me
the writer, for my birthday.
Aunt Annie, divorced, fearful,
shedding all she could not carry.
She said, “for inspiration.”
A china bulb set upon a flowered dish,
according to the precise year pressed
upon the bottom, like my father’s
puckered pocket watch, it has seen
times far more civilized; like sugar
spoons and monogrammed warming pans.
A bit of forgotten ink is cemented
to the bottom of the well. A thin
blotting, a place where confident
pens had scratched. Enough for one
last word, a dash, a question mark.
I have no feather quill.
On the inkwell’s side there is a rendering,
a windmill on a far shore, the blades
are still, do not spin in the coastal breezes.
Imagine the farmer waiting for the wind
to start. Imagine his fear, the churning
doubt that fields will not yield. Imagine
his feverish wish for blustery days.
by Katharine Sargent, first appeared in Frost Writing.
Editor’s Note: The last four lines move this poem from mere description into the suggestion of more—what is inspiration? What is writing? The farmer knows.
The Ghost of Grant Wood
You point out the snowmen as we walk:
short-lived front yard companions, dressed up
in pricey scarves and elegant headwear,
all melting now in forty-six degrees.
Dali would have a field day with the hats
that slide off their earthbound silhouettes,
the button eyes now stuck into their hands,
the fallen branches making extra limbs.
A couple of snow gnomes has grown apart.
Their pitchfork stands, but they’re on their backs.
A Gucci shawl conceals the woman’s head;
the man is disappearing into soil.
Soon, vaporized by early evening sun,
both will ascend into the cooling air.
Maybe they’ll manifest again as frost
on the windows of some nearby home.
I close my eyes, lost in a fairytale:
they both end up on the same windowpane;
a child walks up, traces a Valentine.
You touch my hand. I leave the gnomes behind.
We barely speak for the rest of the night.
I pack my things and merge onto the pike.
On my back seat, the frost from the windshield
casts scars on your forgotten handkerchief.
by Anton Yakovlev
Editor’s Note: The slant rhyme in this poem carries the narrative. Read aloud, the story comes alive–imagery as sound. Disappearing snowmen become frost, which scars a forgotten handkerchief. Loss is everywhere.
Tonight I set the dinner table for
the remnants of my phantom family.
Here is the marriage spent in fantasy,
here is my stillborn brother, here is war
that wiped out all my relatives and tore
my mother’s mind to pieces, here is me,
here is a place beside me for big tree,
and here’s my sister shot down with a roar.
We flipped and landed upside down in hell,
no parachutes, just higher, hotter flames
burning our places right down to our names.
The empty plates have nothing left to tell.
Here is a table, here a fork and knife,
here is the phantom of a better life.
by Mary Meriam, from Conjuring My Leafy Muse
Editor’s Note: At first glance, this doesn’t read like a sonnet. The enjambment fractures the narrative, yet also perfectly complements the content of the poem: a broken family. Upon careful rereading, the rhyme pulls the story together and emphasizes the narrator’s sorrow at the dinner table.
on being constantly civil towards death
in great black stillness
she lights a small candle hoping
to see the rich colors
and hear its breath
by Nic Sebastian, first published in Dark And Like A Web (What is nanopress publishing?)
Editor’s Note: Grief can ruin a person. This poem shows another way of approaching the inevitable separation. I read it often.