Vintage verse – Clouds by Christina Rossetti

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Clouds

White sheep, white sheep,
On a blue hill,
When the wind stops,
You all stand still.
When the wind blows,
You walk away slow.
White sheep, white sheep,
Where do you go?

by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim

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Purple Rain by Alex Stolis

Purple Rain

It’s pouring. It’s the dark bone chilling lonely
un-regal kind of rain. I want to believe in this

imaginary life. Where the bluest expectations
of the sky meet a honeyed sadness balanced

over the horizon. I remember knee scrapes on
Hennepin Ave, faint whiff of weed in her smile

when she kissed me. Oh man, the rain was neon
full color. It was salvation, sex, revolution falling

from on high. The thump thump thump of bass,
the staccato siren-whoop of reluctant cop cars

crawling through the crowd. They had no clue
we were drenched reborn; sanctified, immortal.

by Alex Stolis

Editor’s Note: It has been just over a week since Prince’s death and artists are struggling to process the news. Memory is tricky, but this poem’s imagery paints it with such vivid detail a reader can’t help but taste it.

The Volcanologist’s Last Words on Mt. St. Helens by Erik Lloyed Olson

The Volcanologist’s Last Words on Mt. St. Helens

Her craggy forehead blows—a landslide shoots
to shave the thicket, mount the threatened steep,
snake down the drainage, gulf the valley’s sweep,
floating cars, houses, trees ripped from their roots…
Black and voluminous vapors rise,
as high as fifteen miles up; the day
is blotted. Solid earth shakes, giving way;
smoldering columns kindle half the skies.
What was a mountain cascades from a spout.
Scientists run from observation rooms.
But you keep on, describe impending fumes;
armed with a two-way radio, you shout
your last words from your ridge, still passionate,
heard: “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!”

by Erik Lloyed Olson

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Editor’s Note: Some people may know that I’m peculiarly fond of disaster movies and stories, and this sonnet’s volta evokes just the sort of urgency and foolhardiness that most confounds me during such drama.

Burning the Journals by Susan McLean

Burning the Journals

Alixa shocked me when she said she’d burned
her journals. All those insights, lost. And yet
each time I’d kept a journal, I soon learned
someone had read it. Wary of the threat
of having candor peeled off like a scab,
exposing raw and stinging sores, I’d sworn
never to bare my secrets to the stab
of prying malice. I could not have borne
having each vagrant thought and wayward mood
viewed with amusement, prurience, or scorn,
like those whose webcams, hijacked, film them nude,
turning unguarded love to vengeful porn.
So now I light a match to every day,
and what I felt then, only I can say.

by Susan McLean

Editor’s Note: The speaker opens this sonnet as if it were a conversation with a friend who knows exactly who Alixa is… The reader becomes a friend, and thus the personal nature of the poem draws one inside the speaker’s ruminations.

The Whales Off Manhattan Beach Breaching in Winter by Arthur Russell

The Whales Off Manhattan Beach Breaching in Winter

I

I have never wanted anything but to be understood and accepted,
except from my father, from whom I wanted to be appreciated,

but he did not believe in praise. If I got a 96

he thought it was thrifty to ask where the other four points went,
because acknowledging success was prideful.

I was so hungry for his praise I got to know his mind as ancient Greek sailors knew
the islands of the Aegean, how their shapes rose on the horizon, conjuring their
olive groves and the monsters in their caves.

I searched his inconsistencies for deeper hidden consistencies.
I listened for approval in the caverns of his silence
and read his eyes for signs that weren’t there

from boy to man, and still he was ahead of me, withholding praise
and holding out the possibility of praise, and withholding praise again.

II

Then he got sick and very old and spent the last two years
of his life in a bed in a home that smelled like a bowel

that had been washed with minty disinfectant.
He was embarrassed by immobility and proud in his mind.

He took no visitors, and referred to himself as “The Potato In The Bed,”
and to the anti-depressant pills they gave him as “Nursing Home Not So Bad.”

His legs swelled, grew purple, oozed pus, scabbed over.
He spoke like an oak tree.

His fingers were smooth flesh purses of stymied bone.
And yet, when he could no longer reach the control that made his bed rise,

he invented a string with a 3/8 inch nut tied to one end and looped over
the bed rail to help him fish it up. Patient as a prisoner planning an impossible escape,
he loved his engineering, he loved his invention; he loved his mind.

III

His weight dropped. His eyes were failing, Sundays afternoons, that autumn,
we were watching the Jets, when he said, “Shake me.” I looked at him sideways.

He blinked and smiled winsomely, almost coquettishly, like a high cloud on a summer day.
“Like a baby,” he said. “Shake me like a baby.”

I knelt astride him on the bed and threaded my fingers under his shoulder blades.
I lifted a little, then let go. “Faster,” he said, like the air
rushing out of a tire when you depress the pin in the valve.

So I went faster, maybe one pulse every two seconds, up an inch and down again. Then he
began a moan, but so low I could not hear it, only a vibration in my chest,
and the whales off Manhattan Beach breached and fell back into the water.

It was crying, but not the regular kind, because he was talking with someone
I had never known. And then he fell asleep. I got off the bed, and sat

in the chair again, and the Jets were losing, and the linoleum was thick with wax,
and I imagined the factory in Germany where they make linoleum, big steel rollers,

the smell of bitumen, and I dreamed they were slicing the linoleum into squares and putting it into boxes; and then we both woke up, and I went home.

IV

The next week, he said, “I asked mother to shake me like a baby. She said no. Embarrassed.”
Then I mounted the bed found his shoulder blades and did it again,

strange massage for the places that his heart had ceased to serve, and this time
he moaned loudly and shivered and dropped into a thick, robust, snoring sleep, as if

it was 1943 and all of the other men were off at war, and he and his friend Artie
had all of the girls to themselves, and woke up in their cars at dawn, disheveled,

dirty, thicklipped, thirsty, sure of themselves and what came next.

When he woke, he asked for water, then we watched the Jets, though he could
not see much more than the field of green, and twice asked me the score.

Then, with his voice so low only a motion detector could hear him, he asked,
“Why is it no one understands me but you?”

by Arthur Russell

Editor’s Note: Irony and pain converge at the end of this narrative poem via allegory. Sometimes life is quite painful.

What Remains by Sally Houtman

What Remains

There is a knocking in the eaves tonight,
an earthly sound that buckles over distance,
echoes through this room of straight-backed
chairs and shadows where I lie atop the blankets,
shoes and glasses on. For I know, outside,
not far beyond the darkened field and sturdy
oaks, the watchman waits, leaning on his spade.
But before he takes me, before the breathing stops
and I lay naked as when mother-born, in the shallow
end of nowhere where nothing blooms or grows
and the water is no longer blue, I tell you I will
have the final say. For these long eighty years of life
rough-cast, what have I now to show? Nothing
but to work and work, to remember what is lost,
the squandered years, the gaps I’ve muscled through.
But I tell you, at this waning hour I would tongue
the devil’s ear to have them back. For here I wait,
night on night, staring at the coal-face
of another hundred midnights, maybe more,
and I am tired. I have seen decay, the way a thing
grows fallow, goes yellow in the margins,
closing in its grief of memory, fingerprints
and breath caught between the pages and yes,
this too shall pass, they say, but what of what remains?
Am I to offer up this body, wings outstretched
and pinned, in hopes that it goes quick? Or
should I wait, and in so waiting thus prolong
the stuttering decay? I ask each sly,
unticking moment just how much more
this life can take from me—this slow
unravelling, the body doing what it will,
beginning with the hands then moving
inward, and what goes next? The eyes,
the hair and teeth and then the heart,
the lungs no longer whistling mighty sleep,
and next the mind, a’slur with words unmoored,
sounds drifting, sliding in the one good ear.
The vision blurs, fingers swell, a damp cloud
settles in the bones until at last the pulse is dimmed,
flesh chewed to pulpy marrow and flayed remains.
What more is there to say? No belligerent madness,
no crying out will stop these hours driving forward
to an elsewhere I can neither cheat nor comprehend.
And so I pour a shot, and then two more, and raise my glass,
a toast to words remembered—The cup unfilled is of no use!
because tonight it is the whiskey chorus that will turn
this grief to gladness, lift rage to exaltation—
what relief it is to slip aside this pain!

by Sally Houtman

Editor’s Note: Contemplating death in poetry can often be overly melodramatic, but this poem’s delicious imagery slides the reader along through what remains of life. The speaker is still vibrant. Still defiant.

From the archives – And Not Forgetting Bees by Sherry O’Keefe

And Not Forgetting Bees

I’m not sure where the sky begins,
where field turns to blue. We thread our way through
bramble grass and briar bush, careful not to walk
with heads pitched too far forward,
a tumble off the cliff only a boot’s step away.
We could be standing on the horizon, hundreds
and hundreds of feet above the valley,
where we are searching for lichen rocks
atop an unnamed cliff, talking about what is
and what is not organic. When does something begin
to change? My brother says it started for him
when they shortened the quarter mile
in drag racing how many years ago.
This startles me, both the leap to racing
and the false measurement, and now I cannot remember
what my own example would have been.
My life is not what it used to be,
and I’m not good at beginnings but I’m learning to trust
the path. The way water follows salt
or a coyote finds entry sometimes into dreams;
or how the land dreams of a king, one with feathers
and who is careful not to use the music
all at once. And when we find the stones growing
with orange, sage green and black lichen,
my brother on his knees, fingers digging,
I’ll think of clover in my front yard,
the rabbits, the blue spruce and the bird bath,
and—not forgetting bees—one new rock for the rain
to water, and realize we can’t take this rock
without taking home the cliff.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, April 15, 2015 — by Sherry O’Keefe

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim