Vintage verse – The impact of a dollar upon the heart by Stephen Crane

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The impact of a dollar upon the heart

The impact of a dollar upon the heart
Smiles warm red light
Sweeping from the hearth rosily upon the white table,
With the hanging cool velvet shadows
Moving softly upon the door.

The impact of a million dollars
Is a crash of flunkeys
And yawning emblems of Persia
Cheeked against oak, France and a sabre,
The outcry of old beauty
Whored by pimping merchants
To submission before wine and chatter.
Silly rich peasants stamp the carpets of men,
Dead men who dreamed fragrance and light
Into their woof, their lives;
The rug of an honest bear
Under the feet of a cryptic slave
Who speaks always of baubles,
Forgetting state, multitude, work, and state,
Champing and mouthing of hats,
Making ratful squeak of hats,
Hats.

by Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Poem for a Partly-Warm Winter’s Night by William Ruleman

Poem for a Partly-Warm Winter’s Night
(26 December 2016, Montgomery Bell State Park, Burns, Tennessee)

The wind is blowing over the lake tonight
After a day so mild it was well-nigh warm.
The geese are crying out as if in fright;
The stage is set for a sure and simmering storm.
The world has rarely been so dark, we think.
Nothing will ever be the same again.
And now and then our musings reach the brink
Of sentimental thoughts of way back when.
We keep the window open all night long.
By and by, a colder air returns,
Rushed on the wind’s absurd, relentless song;
And some deep force inside our beings yearns
For nights of childhood oh so long ago
When we lay snug and heard the chill winds blow.

by William Ruleman

Editor’s Note: The highlighted lines in the midst of this Shakespearean sonnet stick in the mind. Most of us have moments when we yearn for childhood innocence (when ignorance was bliss).

Surprise Possession by Karen Kelsay

Surprise Possession

She spends her afternoons beside the tree,
where Mr. Lizard’s made his home. Last week
she caught him in her mouth, and forcefully,
my husband pried him out. She doesn’t seek
this reptile, or a patterned, scaly prize—
just itches for a thrilling chase. For days
she’s turned into a sphinx. Unblinking eyes,
and breath held in her breast. Her mind’s ablaze
with thoughts of how he was in her possession.
He watches from the wall where he’s protected.
They play their waiting game. No intercession
at dusk is needed. She comes inside dejected,
and marches to the house to scheme and plot.
Tomorrow she will have another shot.

by Karen Kelsay

Editor’s Note: This sonnet is a delight for any cat lover.

Spring Cleaning After Eden by Katie Hoerth

Spring Cleaning After Eden

In a perfect world, homes clean themselves.
There are no epic battles waged between
dust and vacuum cleaners, mud and mops,
order and chaos. Who could live in such
a place, she wonders as she thinks of Eden,
how her hands were idle, how she tiptoed
through a home she never felt she owned.
Here, the clutter’s hers and hers alone

to clear. She is the savior of this home –
the one who sweeps the cat hair, scrubs the stains
that mar her countertops, fills up the trash,
with yesterday’s mistakes – the empty bag
of potato chips, the crumpled letters
of apology the size of fists,
the bitten apple core that’s turning umber.
She fills the trash and Adam rises up
from his Easy Chair, lets out a grunt
and takes it to the curb. His work is done.

Eve puts her hands on hips and heaves a sigh,
declares this tidy paradise their own.

by Katie Hoerth

Editor’s Note: The blank verse of this poem slips into the reader’s mind with ease, supporting the narrative’s easy lesson.

Sister by Hannah Hackney

Sister

1

We grew up at the same time so
more and more she’ll call
and ask remember that time.
Remember when.

It’s a call into form, a summons. It condenses,
with her help it comes
clearer, like two images in overlay,

a small hand, mine,
clasped in a big one, grandpa’s
rubbing circles on the house paint stain
in the centre of the palm
with a rag. Turpentine
gets it off easy, he said,
the little hand limp
against the motion.

Remember is like
being at the eye doctor,
peering through,
lenses snapping into vision.

The pencil shape on
the paper mother used
to trace our feet for slippers.

2

Sometimes she’ll say
something wasn’t right
about it.

It’s elusive, a
glimpse caught around a corner
from a mirror in a mirror:

all we have is
a name I liked the sound of,
a quiet, tooth-set anger
in a house we didn’t know,
a sick feeling in the car on the way home.

We work at it,
coming closer.

Halving the distance that remains.

Remember is like
discovering water
as you surface.

by Hannah Hackney

Twitter: @hehackney

Editor’s Note: This poem emphasizes one word twice—Remember. This technique draws the central theme of the narrative into sharp focus: memory is shared.

Selfies by Billy Howell-Sinnard

Selfies

My daughter gave me a selfie stick,
said that mom told her I was the one

always taking pictures of myself.
I protested at first, then let it go,

thought of all the photos on Facebook
that were of me as a baby up until now

and the hundreds of transformations
in between. Was I vain? I didn’t

think so. I know my mother
would be critical of the way I looked.

She was beautiful and her children
had to be beautiful, except my nose

was too big and my feet were better
kept covered. There was a time

when I thought my looks were all
I had, but I didn’t trust that either.

I look at those photos and wonder,
who is that baby, boy, teenager, man?

What was I thinking in my swallowtail
tux, a buzz on, the sun setting behind me,

high school done and never begun?
Why that sad look on my face?

I’m holding a toy gun, about to cry.
I’m always about to cry even when

I’m smiling. I think we all are.

by Billy Howell-Sinnard

Editor’s Note: This poem subtly emphasizes one of the problems of social media—what is true? Are we all crying behind our profile pics?

From the archives – Let Death Come by Martin Willitts Jr.

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Let Death Come
—villanelle, starting with a line from Jane Kenyon

Let evening come — I am not afraid of dying
for I have known the kindness of birds and seed.
Let trouble find someone else. I have time

to find the climbing blue flowers, trying
to talk to God. Let winds tear, let rivers recede,
let evening come — I am not afraid of dying.

None of this will succeed in denying
what I know is true: not one will impede.
Let trouble find someone else, I have time

before I die, to search for God, and find
bees hording secrets and worms for bird feed—
let evening come, I am not afraid of dying

in the winter of my life, in everlasting, crying,
searching. Death will have me, even if I plead:
Let trouble find someone else. I have time,

I have time; I can fit more love in my mind
and heart. Let the turtles try to hide in reeds,
let evening come — I am not afraid of dying.
Let trouble find someone else — I have time.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, January 20, 2016 — by Martin Willitts Jr.

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – See It Through by Edgar Guest

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See It Through

When you’re up against a trouble,
. . . .Meet it squarely, face to face;
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
. . . .Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it’s vain to try to dodge it,
. . . .Do the best that you can do;
You may fail, but you may conquer,
. . . .See it through!

Black may be the clouds about you
. . . .And your future may seem grim,
But don’t let your nerve desert you;
. . . .Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
. . . .Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
. . . .See it through!

Even hope may seem but futile,
. . . .When with troubles you’re beset,
But remember you are facing
. . . .Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
. . . .Don’t give up, whate’er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
. . . .See it through!

by Edgar Guest (1881-1959)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Winter Visitation by Peter Vertacnik

Winter Visitation

Although I hurry home as soon
As work is done each afternoon
(Speeding through every yellow light,
Tailgating, passing on the right),
It’s almost dusk when I arrive.
Having parked quickly in the drive,
I scan the birches in the yard
Whose branches look both iced and charred—

And empty. In the house, it’s dark
Already, calm. The birch trees’ bark
Glows through the kitchen window. Here,
Hoping they will reappear
Tonight, as they have for a week,
I sit and wait for the oblique
Descent that’s sudden but quiescent,
Wings flashing black and iridescent.

Their voices peal—discordant, keen—
While they begin to roost and preen.
They’ve been forced to these few cramped trees
(Where, for the moment, they won’t freeze)
Because some woods were felled and sold
For condos that the wealthy old
Will live in only half the year,
Leaving when autumn turns austere.

Meanwhile, the rest of us remain
As light and warmth and color wane,
Then struggle back toward spring in slow
Steps through the salted, melting snow.
These crows are now a part of this,
A presence we cannot dismiss.
One neighbor gripes, “Loud, that’s for sure.”
Another thinks they’re sinister.

To me each one seems an informant
Assuring us we’re merely dormant,
Not dead. If in the trees behind
My house they sometimes bring to mind
Hitchcock’s Birds, or the strange beaked mask
Plague doctors donned for their grim task,
The fractured music that emerges
Resembles dark airs more than dirges.

by Peter Vertacnik

Editor’s Note: This poem’s suspenseful opening immediately focuses the reader’s attention upon the narrator’s eager rush home. There is no murder here, only delight.

Poet’s Note: Tetrameter couplets in eight-line, “Marvellian” stanzas.

Checking the Funeral Musicians’ Schedule by Maryann Corbett

Checking the Funeral Musicians’ Schedule
January, 2006, Saint Paul, Minnesota

Start doing funerals and you notice it:
the time of year the old people decide
they’ve lived enough—that death might be more friendly
than winter is. Some go outside to meet it.
They toss the snow from walks in reckless swoops,
till their hearts bank and dive, and then the sirens
call us to muttered prayer. Mostly it’s men
who get this easy out, who cheer themselves
right to the end with reasons to be, to do.
Their women, cursed by common sense, hang on,
caged in their houses, living on crumbs of care.
Their houses keep them alive and their houses kill them:
Rooms, more and more, resist the readying
for visits that rarely come. A room at a time,
they fill with the useless things that will not stop
singing the litanies of the dead and absent,
till living shrivels to a room or two,
a few clothes, dishes, everything hand washed,
warm water the last solace where the drafts
insinuate at every uncaulked crack
to say, Give up, dear. I don’t know how long
persuasion takes. I do know where it ends.

There’s nothing for it but to sing, although
my aging mezzo sinks more every year.
I curse the cold and salt the icy steps
pray at the wakes and sing the funerals.

by Maryann Corbett, from Breath Control

Maryann on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The conversational tone of the narrator in this poem is strongly convincing. By the end, the lesson of aging has been subtly pressed into one’s mind.