Involuntary Memory by Michael Meyerhofer

Involuntary Memory

I was eating a bologna and mustard sandwich
the day my father fell against a hot stove
and burned the shape of Africa into his right palm.

We were staying with an aunt in Iowa City,
an aunt who used to be a nurse but quit
for fear of AIDS. It was August, my ninth summer.

I remember how the ruined skin pickled,
how my father did not cry though the burn wept
sour gold the whole time we were there.

For days, women who smelled of hairspray
had been x-raying my kinked spine,
wrenching and measuring my flaccid ankles,

carting me between ovens that turned out
to be MRI machines. Then one doctor convinced
my parents to let him circumcise me

during a skin graft so that I woke with a moon
of stitches in my cock and didn’t know why.
Back home, the grown-ups lamented

the inconvenience of a 3rd grader in diapers,
the result of beer cans and ashtrays
pearling a pregnant diabetic’s bedskirts.

Then my father tripped, palmed the stove
and rose cursing, calling for ice and a bandage.
They’d never read Proust, had no idea I’d remember

the sheen left by that untended bit of fire.
And in time—the smell, that wild musk
when what is wounded begins at last to heal.

by Michael Meyerhofer, first published in Cream City Review.

Editor’s Note: The imagery in this poem surprises the reader into paying close attention to the narrative. It’s only at the end of the poem that we understand the deeper meaning behind the story.

All That’s Known by Alan Walowitz

All That’s Known

My mother fallen, hip cracked, now replaced,
sits slumped in the hospital chair,
where the nurse and aide have plunked her
like a half-filled bag of laundry
no one’s hurrying to reach and make clean.
She seems to wait for nothing
and not to be able to say,
she who would talk to the wall I was
till she was blue in the face.
But what’s unsaid makes a life—
and this late hour I’m finally ready to hear:
Tears instead, despite her effort to stanch them,
she who once proclaimed the ice water in those veins,
and though the color’s drained from her glacier-face
what flows away is proof
that everything I’ve heard her say
about herself is wrong.
All that’s known of anyone is tiny,
an iceberg perched and dancing on the sea,
compared to what sits brooding far below
secret and unfathomable.

by Alan Walowitz

Editor’s Note: The emotional center of this poem pivots around this line, “…what’s unsaid makes a life”, while careful line breaks carry the reader along the current of the narrator’s realization.

Van Gogh, After an Attack by Bob Bradshaw

Van Gogh, After an Attack

Theo, I’m doing better.
The attack came like thunder

out of a clear sky.
For weeks I couldn’t think straight.

What I need now
is the distraction of work,

and quickly:
the trees’ flowering season

is nearly spent.
When will I be allowed

to paint outside? The creamy
blossoms of almond trees,

and the pinks of the flowering
plum trees, awash

in the afternoon mistrals,
will soon be lost.

These mistrals can shred a man
like thistle.

On the day of my attack
I was supporting my easel

with big rocks,
the canvas trembling.

I finished the painting
in a fog:

it was as if my brushstrokes
were birds who knew

instinctively where
to fly to.

I am sending you a number
of rolled up canvases–

blue hills and yellow cornfields
under a lemony sky

viewed from my window.
You must frame them in white

like brides, their future
ahead of them.

by Bob Bradshaw

Editor’s Note: Art lovers will recognize this poem’s narrative—Van Gogh writing to his brother Theo. This poem bridges the gap between words and the imagery that informed so much of the artist’s life.

From the archives – For a Bird Found Dead on my Doorstep by David Parsley

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For a Bird Found Dead on my Doorstep

We found him after lunch just
out of the snow.
My wife touched the still-warm breast,
one limber claw drawn in an infant curl.

Yellow as sun, too exotic for our climate,
he would have come while we were eating,
sent while the season’s first stormfall
and its clouds clung to surrounding hills.

We watch those clouds leave our valley today.
Trees and brambles shake down their snow.

I remind her we don’t always know
how hunger approaches our door.
We look for it as we can, ignorant
of where it comes from, and when.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, January 29, 2016 — by David Parsley

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – Meeting at Night by Robert Browning

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Meeting at Night

The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low:
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

by Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Moss by Ciaran Parkes

Moss

Hesitant, your voice
when I pick the phone up
but soon we’ve returned
to a remembered flow

from two years earlier.
I hold your warm
words against my face.
It’s winter outside.

As we talk I scrape
moss from the windowsill
and watch it falling, so much of it.
I hadn’t noticed it before.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: Spare lines and imagery effortlessly carry this poem’s central allegory of loss.

Substitute by D.E. Kern

Substitute

So, it’s too early to figure
if the sun will do serious
business today with an Earth
coated in hoarfrost, my engine

eager to settle in its solid
state, frozen in position,
with just ghostly wisps
marking its latest efforts

gliding across the fractured
concrete. Two coffees shy
of useful, I pry open the steel
door, rise the stairs and key

my way through to these last
precious ticks of solitude
before chaos floods each square
of this fluorescent universe.

Now note the funeral march,
minus the bleating, this one
distinction between stockyards
and this drill in standards

fit quite coyly to gallows,
the sentence for a species
cursed to wrestle the knowledge
of its role in our mortal

comedy. She enters a day
already stained by error,
just a Johnny Rotten T-shirt
separating her from the queue

of the soon to be forgotten.
I would not notice her if not
rendered window blind, hit
by this bolt of brilliance

slinking in from a more
substantial world. A nimble
dodge to the left reveals
her wary face, jutting cheeks

masking the darkness of eyes
I know in a glance have seen
too much, a parade of husks
helpless against this enigmatic

prairie wind. A flannel shroud,
rolled up three times, discloses
striping—her declaration of a
been-there-done-that captaincy

her pound of flesh embossed
atop a little more, stretched
tight over a pencil-thin wrist.
I take a snapshot glimpse and

call the roll, careful to not put
a name with a face. Head still
hanging, a target for fortune, I
wait for the bell convinced

her salvation is not my cross
to bare. I am just a contrail
slashing her horizon, with
plenty of scars of my own.

by D.E. Kern

David on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This narrative sits firmly within the mind of the speaker, a teacher who has no energy left to reach out beyond what the classroom requires. I think most educators will understand this weariness.

Epiphany: Rudolph Doing the Camel by Peg Duthie

Epiphany: Rudolph Doing the Camel

On the pocked and blistered lawn
at 17th and Garland,
the hearty inflatable Santa
has softened into corpse pose,
and Rudolph too is in an asana,
front hooves to the back,
parachute-silk-seamed reindeer hips
open to the sky.

It’s been the kind of winter
where everyone’s been trying
to catch their too-short
tail-tangled breath:
even Rudolph’s nose-so-bright
is oh-so-dull in the dishwater daze
of after-Christmas eons-til-Easter blues.

The wind nudges Santa into “fixed firm.”
That’s when we spot the kid in a hoodie
curled beneath the nylon knees

as if he’d fallen
right through Santa’s lap.

by Peg Duthie

Editor’s Note: Holidays’ end signals the deflation of merriment, and this poem pokes fun at our arbitrary calendar with great imagery, but also an undercurrent of sadness.

Denouement by Sarah Russell

Denouement

The movers are here this morning.
Only things with yellow post-its,
I tell them. I find my long lost earring
behind the couch. Probably landed there
that night we couldn’t wait to get upstairs.
I put it in my pocket, wonder
if I kept the other one.

I divide the sterling service for eight
into two sets of four –
Solomon solution of no use
to either of us for dinner parties. Outside,
the garden needs tending – stalks of gray and brown;
withered blossoms in a winter without snow.
I reach for the pruners, then put them back.
The roses are his now.

Tonight I fix a curry with stuff from the fridge,
and we make small talk – my new job, his vacation.
Afterwards, we clean up in choreography
perfected through twenty years of meals together.

I feign tiredness and ask if he’ll be around
tomorrow before I leave.
No, there’s an early meeting, he says
and turns back to TV.
In the guest room, the sheets smell stale.
The old cat comes and curls into the crook of my knees –
an exquisite kindness.

by Sarah Russell, first published in the Goodreads Newsletter.

Editor’s Note: Sometimes the end of a thing happens with a long, slow movement into separation. In this poem, the narrator’s unspoken sadness is brought to attention by the cat’s unintentional punctuation.

Winter Hawk by Ed Hack

Winter Hawk

A hawk among the skeletons. Macbeth
out there, the sky a freezing silver scrim,
the trees the bones fall left behind, the death,
the final, stinging death of spring, the grim
white light of ice. The hawk, a sharpened knife
with wings as unforgiving as the snow.
The winter says this is the end of strife—
accounts are closed, in case you didn’t know.
It’s now you see who rules the world outside
your warmth of walls, that bubble of a self
that’s tethered to your myth. You cannot hide
from ancient cold. You can’t be someone else.
The hawk’s the night that breaks through winter sun.
The hardest time, it says, has just begun.

by Ed Hack

Editor’s Note: Evocative imagery sets the scene for this sonnet’s pivot in the last four lines, where life lessons are offered with unequivocal emphasis.