Painting a Chimney by Matt Dennison

Painting a Chimney

He leaned the old wooden ladder against the house,
climbed twice to extend its heavy sections,
retreated to pick up scraper, brush, paint
and mount the lowest step to rise. Remembering
the horses he had read about or dreamed
who late in the race would bite their necks
for oxygen, he cursed his slowness
and general delay toward the chimney,
last painted some ten years prior—for the life
of him he could not remember, or grasp
the need for such an act at all. Pausing
at each rung to lift a foot and boost,
he reached the grey-stubbled tiles,
placed one hand on the gutter and gazed
at the impossible slate. Luckily he had thought
to pour off some paint, for there would be
no setting down the can up here. He climbed
the final steps, swung behind the ladder ends
and sat, accoutrements in lap.

Gauging the sunset barometer served
only to speed his tics, so he pushed against
the ladder, somewhat, which lifted in the air,
causing him to scuttle up the roof a bit
in instant crab recoil. Pleased to be embarked,
he looked about until he spied his neighbor’s son,
raking leaves and weeping proudly to himself.
He whistled his plain-tooth note to signal
the boy’s exposure, and when he looked up
waved, though the youngster only scowled
and turned to attack the growing pile—
reminding him a house requires some trinity
of occupants to thrive, that one plus ghosts
will not do. Feeling the wind lift his hair,
he moved backwards up the tiles, not as slick
as he had feared, hands and feet propelling
him slowly to the peak. What masters of lead
and rope they must have been, he marveled,
to have built a roof so slant.

Arrived, he straddled the crest and stood,
bow-legged his way toward the bricks
with arms outstretched, eyes lowered to guide
his angling feet. The chimney, of course,
loomed at the farthest end, as if, in running
to expel its breath, had teetered at the edge
and stopped. I have you now, he thought,
and slipped face-forward, mind, gravity
and paint unspooling a fount of arching red.
Tasting slate and blood, he raised his head
to see the hawk land on the chimney,
shoot him with bald eyes and pull dark
strings from the neighbors’ half-eaten
dachshund. Spinning the best he could
to find the boy hidden by roof-line, he flung
the paint can hawkward, and when it swooped,
the brush, which dropped the gutted fur-sack
in the crimson at his feet. Below, voices
bent over in shadows as he rose against
the sky, howling, red carcass aloft.

by Matt Dennison

Editor’s Note: There is not one unnecessary word placed awry in this brilliant narrative poem. The ending is unexpected and oh, so exceptional.

Entrechat by Maryann Corbett (with editor’s note correction)

Entrechat
probably from the Italian, intrecciata, intertwined

April again. The old seductions of April.
Cat in the kitchen, loitering with intent,
swivel-eared, listening to the menu
as birds at the feeder intone the daily specials.
She’s slinking, wide-eyed, close to the closing door—

O indoor innocent, haven’t we played this scene?
All impulse, you bolt through the opening’s last inches.
I, Keystone Cop, give chase, flailing and staggering
through raspberry canes. Then, standoff under the porch:
stooped, on my knees with supplication and tuna
for an hour. At last my desperate lunge, and you
panicked, darting beyond my asthmatic powers.

And then the hours, wondering if this is it.
If this is the frayed end of an obligation
I never chose, the long denouement
of a ten-year-old’s desire, her vow of fidelity
to food, water, and litter box forgotten
a dozen years, a handful of lives ago.

The end of lapfuls of motorized condescension,
of rub-around entanglements on the stairs,
of black and chic reduced to snag and fuzz,
demands, imperious, piercing the depths of sleep,
dust, dander, hairballs, puke, and allergies.
Dare I imagine? Then the night of waiting.

And morning, and the whine outside the door,
and the odd, old, twisted leap of the heart.

by Maryann Corbett, first published in The Raintown Review, from Breath Control.

Maryann on Facebook

Editor’s Note: Many apologies—for some reason, the note I wrote for this poem didn’t properly save (human error perhaps? internet demon?). Here is the correct note: Every cat owner knows the frustration of discovering that the creature believes it owns you. Tuna is only partially useful, and the heart is a lost cause. This poem’s delightful narrative teaches us these things we’ve forgotten.

Deviant Ballade by Julie Steiner

Deviant Ballade

I died out there! you say. You mean I froze
onstage. Yes, hostile audiences daunt.
When heckling hits you like a fire hose,
the trick is to deflect it on a slant.
Self-deprecate. If anybody throws
tomatoes, wear one, clown-like, on your nose.
Dignity? The wise prefer détente.
Some things it’s just ridiculous to want.

That’s sick! you laugh. You mean My laughter shows
I’m not contaminated. Jeer and taunt
and carry on like all the other crows.
You’re carrion the moment that you don’t.
Give no one any hint you’re “one of those”
whose hearts are so delicious to expose.
Forgo the comfort of a confidant.
Some things it’s just ridiculous to want:

A shred of sympathy, however gaunt.
A flyspeck of respect. Untrodden toes.
Freedom from the fear and guilt that haunt
you always, thanks to things you never chose.
The sort of specialness that you could flaunt.
The sort of suffering you might disclose.
To be yourself, not Mr. Nonchalant.
Some things it’s just ridiculous to want.

Print slips for fortune cookies. Bold the font.
Such wisdom might be Buddha’s. Or Thoreau’s.
(In fact, concerning eros, it’s Rousseau’s.)
Some things it’s just ridiculous to want.

by Julie Steiner, first published in The Quarterday Review.

Editor’s Note: Stage fright and drama go hand in hand, and must be handled with flair, as this poem so deftly suggests. Poet’s Note: The repetend is a line from the poem “Jean-Jacques Rousseau” in the series “Noted Sadomasochists,” found in Rose Kelleher’s collection Bundle o’ Tinder (Waywiser Press, 2008).

American Numerology by Stephen Bunch

American Numerology

52

A Mayan epoch, cards
in a deck, weeks
in a year, the atomic
weight of chromium,
not the Korean chrome
on the straight-eight
Pontiac, not the atomic
weight on Eniwetok,
while Nixon played
Checkers. Eisenhower’s
first, Lucy’s first, no
lynchings for the first
time since 1882,
but shortly Boeing’s
bombers excavating Vietnam,
back to the stone age, ivories
pounded, all the white
notes, shaking that love
shack, baby, the hexagram
that directs, “Keep still, no
blame,” shuffle and deal.

76

It’s a short drive to Whitman’s
bridge from the Liberty Bell
but a long haul to cheese-steak
independence, a declaration
of trombones on parade
in the hinterlands.
Longer still for Halley’s ellipse,
two countdown steps
from heaven, when homo
erectus intersected
string theory, and a nuclear peanut
farmer lusted in his heart
and said so. All the way,
the four-lane’s lined with signs
bearing freedom’s number,
promising petroleum
and clean restrooms forever.

49 (for Joy)

In Petaluma, poultry
emerged from Sutter’s golden
egg. Rushing miners modeled
Levi’s. A century later,
Hiroshima plus four, mon
amour, seven squared,
booming, genes
photogenic, we were born.

by Stephen Bunch

Editor’s Note: Humans have been enumerating significant events and places into history for eons, yet still do not quite have a grasp on the ephemeral nature of our own creation. In this series, America the great might just well be as significant as an egg that arrived within an arbitrary year.

From the archives – The Muse of Concord by Ralph La Rosa

The Muse of Concord

In summer woods, her springtime voice matured
as beckoning notes that mystify—a creature
thrumming when at rest, Tee-chur, Tee-chur,
but sweetly lyrical in flight. A bird
impetuous and speedy, songs assured,
she could elude, confound this woodland seeker,
who sensed the ovenbird was nature’s speaker,
though, he knew, she never said a word.
Until the chill of fall, he would be sure
the warbler calling from its hidden site
was midday’s sonic, acrobatic blur
that chased the sun, then dipped into the night.
Although her voices faded with the fall,
on winter days he still could hear her call.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, March 25, 2015 — by Ralph La Rosa, from Sonnet Stanzas

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – Travel by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Travel

The railroad track is miles away,
. . . .And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
. . . .But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,
. . . .Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
. . . .And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,
. . . .And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
. . . .No matter where it’s going.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Newark Basilica by Rick Mullin

Newark Basilica

It hunkers like a clammy slug
Behind the treeline twigs of March,
A basilisk, a box, a bug,
A plug of pasty Gothic starch.

But that could change. It often does,
As boxes, clams, and plugs may leak,
And cherry blossoms come, becuz
It’s April sometime late next week.

by Rick Mullin

Editor’s Note: This poem pokes fun at a building most people would consider impressive, and by proxy, also pokes holes in the seriousness with which the weight of history imbues such a structure (and its purpose).

Let Down Your Hair by Ed Shacklee

Let Down Your Hair

Like Goldilocks, I’m off in search
of the bed that feels just right,
not the soft, too accessible perch
where strangers commute at night,

nor the hard one, the bed of nails
with blankets so small and thin,
or quicksand, which conveniently fails
to explain what I’m sinking in,

but the bed, as the fairy tale goes,
that isn’t too lumpy or brittle,
and doesn’t cut off or stretch my toes
for being too long, or little.

I don’t want a tortured affair
with some growly old bear that could bite;
Rapunzel, my dear: let down your hair,
wherever you sleep tonight.

by Ed Shacklee

Ed on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This poem’s deft play on several fairy tales delightfully belies the underlying desperation for connection.

Spring Will Leave You Behind by Martin J. Elster

Spring Will Leave You Behind

The thaw has drawn the robins, ravenous, eager
for things that creep, while terra firma teases
with wafts of geosmin, hints of the hocus-pocus
that brought the thundershower, woke the crocus,
and coaxed the chorus frogs to call, which breezes
convey like news. They’ve lived through winter’s meager

provisions, trilling the nip out of their blood.
A cattail pond I walk by every day
already stirs with cyan, orange, gold
and reddish shapes. Your hypothermic hold
diminishes with each and every ray
that touches fur and feather, flower and bud.

I watch a balancing act above as chill
as were your rime-caked eyes: a soaring hawk,
its wings as motionless as your emotions,
scans the fields for mice. No magic potions
will bring you back. You’ve vanished in the talk
of the towhee and the whistling whip-poor-will.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: This poem’s abccba rhyme scheme echoes the Dream Songs of Berryman, but without the uneven stresses. The form gives the poem a sense of structure not immediately apparent on the first read. Spring is always caught between winter and summer: a balancing act, much like the rhyme balanced between lines.

Nightfall by Neil Flatman

Nightfall

Up here, it’s easy to imagine:
Gordian knot as slip – solved.
The writhing, somewhere
between gravity and desire
where decisions possess
infinite weight. It’s knowing
you could that draws the eye
to the pool, lights affirming
stillness through the blue.

When Martyn leapt they said
he was high, dancing, tripping,
but I think he’d lost the knack
of himself, balance, how to ride.
I could never have known
he was falling, he seemed so fixed
in place, but the ripples closed
in until they found him.

by Neil Flatman

Editor’s Note: Peering down into an abyss does not have to be dark. Sometimes the abyss is filled with light and deception.