Visiting Hours by Peter Vertacnik

Visiting Hours

That evening while her loved ones sat beside
The bed it seemed she might be getting well.
Even when her boy fidgeted and cried
She felt calm, lulled by his familiar smell,

As by her husband’s voice when he recounted
His day: a haircut, work, the grocery store.
Both scent and tenor gradually surmounted
The fear that she should never hope for more

Than intermittent health. No regimen
Or drug the doctors ordered could relieve
The pain her family had quelled again
By visiting, though soon they’d have to leave.

Then she would wait alone for sleep—a guest
Who seldom came; or coming, brought no rest.

by Peter Vertacnik, first published in Lucid Rhythms.

Editor’s Note: The slow movement of this Shakespearean sonnet draws the reader into the patient’s world. The volta at the end emphasizes her tragic existence beautifully.

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From the archives – tell me again by Julia Klatt Singer

tell me again Singer

tell me again

about the man
with the pear tree
who lost his wife
after fifty-six years of marriage
and how that tree doesn’t know when enough is enough
that last August
he had to prop the poor thing’s branches up
with two-by-fours
it was so laden with fruit.
He gave you a bagful of those pears
and their scent filled the car
even with the windows rolled down.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, October 26, 2015 — by Julia Klatt Singer

Painting by Julia Klatt Singer

Vintage verse – My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson

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My Shadow

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim.

An Early Autumn Chill by Martin J. Elster

An Early Autumn Chill

Though bit by bit the mullein blossoms wither
and daisy fleabane slowly turns to seed,
white cabbage butterflies still sip the liquor
of clover — skipping, capering, keen to breed.

While sunflowers hang their heads to catch the murmur
of bumblebees, and pumpkins put on weight,
woolly bears, fueled up on summer’s flora,
seek a secret place to hibernate.

Vast hordes of them are crushed on roads and highways,
quite out of harmony with human haste,
their bristles useless, too, against the sparrows
which love them (though it’s an acquired taste).

Should they cocoon, they will emerge next April
and roam the night when bats are on the prowl,
yet few will fill the bellies of those mammals
which dare not fiddle with a bug so foul.

Fields team with asters mimicking the sun god
with myriad rays of brilliant blue or pink
and eyes of gold to charm the pollinators
as day by day the region’s rations shrink.

Gone are the cardinal’s whistle, the hummer’s hustle,
the robin’s comical hops across the lawn,
the mockingbird’s adroit impersonations.
So deafening, this quietude at dawn!

Black-eyed Susans drop their lemon petals,
Sol is sinking fast behind the hill,
milkweed down is hovering and dancing,
and chickadees fluff their feathers against the chill.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: I confess to having a great fondness for iambic pentameter. In this poem, the slow groove of the meter highlights the descriptive imagery and brings the reader into the narrator’s autumn.

Simple by Robert Nisbet

Simple

Imagine this. Brown-panelled surgery.
You’re simply told of what you’ve hoped so long:
You’re clear. Just that. You’re clear, you’re bloody clear.
You hear your heart’s wild shout. Huge days stack up.

You’ll walk into the morning (will you not?)
and every cornice, pavement, starling, cloud,
each doorway, primrose, coffee cup and street,
that man’s inconsequential smile, your heart,
the whole vast, lovely, all-but-shapeless heap,
will seem to say, its breath quite still, You’re clear.
How very, very beautiful is life.

Now we, my friend, my compeer, we’ve not known
that rasping clash with our mortality.
For me, for you, might days still be like that?
Why can’t you, can’t we, every trembling day,
gaze on that drift of surely random cloud,
that coffee cup, the starling’s glossed black,
the stranger’s sudden smile (that most of all),
the whole big, deep shenanigans of hope,
and in the warm heart’s certain core, be glad?

by Robert Nisbet

Editor’s Note: This poem is anything but simple. The blank verse slips into the reader’s mind, deceptively easy, but the true heart of the lines is in the narrator’s questions.

Dirt Roads by Elise Hempel

Dirt Roads

Those childhood highway trips I’d stare
out at the passing cornfield miles
from my backseat vantage, wondering where
they went – those intermittent trails

that stretched away in the opposite direction
from our rushing car; I’d strain my eyes
as we made good time, tracing one down
as far as I could, following always

some pick-up’s slow cloud as it bumped along
the thin line of dust, past cows, a farm,
to a town I imagined beyond the shifting
green curtain, a secret place that time

had lost on that road that never arrived
but just kept going forever straight,
then vanished like that as we left it behind,
the pick-up this tiny red speck afloat.

by Elise Hempel, first published in Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry.

Editor’s Note: The imagery in this poem floats along the meter in one long sentence. The breathlessness of the final line mirrors that of a dream, a memory, or a wish.

If Wishes Were Horses by Ed Shacklee

If Wishes Were Horses

I wish there were an island flush with mangos and papayas
and natives plumed in feathers like the atavistic Mayas,
who’d sing the runic epics as they tended evening fires.
I wish there were an island on the sea;

and winds with piquant spices like the chili of El Paso
would blow upon the lively waves beyond the mild Sargasso,
with latitudes of freedom and a horse you couldn’t lasso
as fleet as any wind would come to me;

and I would give her carrots, sugar cubes, and bits of apple,
and by her wordless kindness on a back of silver dapple
I’d ride without a saddle on a horse you couldn’t grapple.
O what I’d give for such a thing to be;

for like the wind we’d travel on the piquant island’s beaches
and laugh when cynics caviled as we sought the outer reaches
beyond the judge’s gavel and the politician’s speeches,
as careless as a wind and fancy free.

We’d hide upon an island near a city made of granite,
just past the sooty towers on an overcrowded planet,
an isle that can’t exist outside of childhood dreams – or can it,
if what we wished had waking eyes to see?

by Ed Shacklee

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Editor’s Note: The lovely cadence of this poem deceives the reader into thinking the subject matter is mild. However, by the end, the true nature of the imagery slips out as the narrator’s voice is given teeth (a granite city, overcrowded planet, politician’s speeches).