la vita nuda by Christos L. Hadjigeorgiou

la vita nuda

Apple orchards in bloom, treacle tart: oily malt arrives first
on the palate followed by smoked pineapple, summer
berries, pine nuts and almonds, a very soft hint of sulphur
. . . . . . . . . . . . . as in the baths of Davlos,
my father’s and grandfather’s
and great-grandfather’s village, Davlos, a torch
under the castle of Kantara, a craggy lime ghost
and the bray of donkeys tied
in 1973 on the capstan of the well still
rings in my ears and the bones of the dead, Greeks
and Turks, Phoenicians and Crusaders whirl
at its bottom for centuries.

Now Wolf moon over Kantara; a voyage; incoming; a boy’s legs
disappear into the wine-dark water
and although Auden is not
wrong about human suffering,
. . . . . . . children cram into inflatable boats
only to end up in concentration
camps and women plunge into the cold, their bodies
heavy with weeping as men carry infants on their
backs their feet, their tired
. . . . . feet . . . . . bare on beach
pebbles, ζωή . . . . . not βίος, bare life first
shot with military-grade cameras, bare life
incoming: and Mosse zoomed in
on a curious . . . . . little . . . . . girl holding onto a smart
phone and we fail to understand that poverty and despair have many
dimensions just as displacement and the sense
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . of home
and the white bodies are trapped in limbo
forever, la vita nuda masked as protracted refugee situations
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . intractable-

Cyprus cyclamen and pink
Anatolian orchids still carpet the pine forest in Davlos
. . . . . . . and I am told that as a small
boy, I tumbled down that slope into the turquoise sea,
looking for pearls, sea urchins, and turtles
and tonight we drink Craigellachie in small Limoges
cups but what started as an excuse
. . . . . . . . . . . .to discuss poetry and voyages over whiskey
turned into libation
. . . . . . . . . . . . and remembrance
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and horror.

by Christos L. Hadjigeorgiou

Editor’s note: The complicated enjambment and spacing of this poem mirrors the complex grief/anger/sorrow of the speaker.

From the archives – Picture of a House by Paul Hostovsky

Picture of a House

There are several V’s in my daughter’s drawing.
One is a gable and the rest are birds
flying off into a spiky yellow
sunset she’s coloring in on the kitchen table.

From where I sit across from her, writing
a check to the Hartford Federal Mortgage
Corporation, the birds are houses
and the house is a large bird, a vertical triangle

from eaves to ridge, ready to take off
at the drop of a letter, rooftop flapping
over the treetops to Hartford, Connecticut. . .

I sign the check as she signs the picture
in the bottom right-hand corner, and the birds
migrate softly into my hands as she gives me
the house. For keeps. No strings attached

to the birds which could also be houses,
or the sun which could also be time
running out, going down like a diminishing
crayon stub still eking out, incredibly,
enough yellow to warm a house 30 years.

from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 7, December 2007 — by Paul Hostovsky

The Compass by Julian Matthews

The Compass

Tears are an ancient compass
constantly pointing south
for the Sabina Nessas of the world:
Muslim, Brown, South Asian descent,
and for the 700 indigenous women missing—
from the same area Gabby Petito was found

Tears are an ancient compass but
N-E-W-S without the N is only ews to you
Your compass is a screen coloured with your flighty bias
You are not lost—just feathering your nest with your fears
Your needle is magnetized by “influencers” who flock together
and never fly south,
nor east nor west,
every winter of our lives—
as if we even needed a winter to remind us
of all the seasons of killing

Our tears are an ancient compass
the tracks of which
lead to an ocean that will never wet the cheek
of you

Your compass is broken.

by Julian Matthews
(from the prompt “Tears are an ancient compass” from Taylor Mali’s @metaphor_dice broadcast on IG)

Editor’s note: Metaphor, enjambment, and unexpected punctuation keep the reader off balance in this poem, emphasizing the underlying theme of grief/horror quite well.

Sonnet by Those Who Stay Behind by Betsy K. Brown

Sonnet by Those Who Stay Behind

I’ll see you again in many days, or a few.
Just leave your echo here within these walls
To wait in corners with your old footballs
And piles of papers, artifacts of you,
Reminding those remaining what is true
Behind the curtain every time it falls:
Choirs wait in quietness, till the calls
Of trumpets reunite them at their cue.
Till, then, dear friend, I ask you, leave your echo
For me to gather up while you are gone,
Like wildflowers, or penny after penny
Into a jar of moments I won’t let go
Of till again you fill this room with song.
I’ll see you again in a few days, or many.

by Betsy K. Brown

Editor’s Note: The repetition in this lovely sonnet adds a mournful musicality to the sorrow of the speaker.

Grammar Twins by Irena Pasvinter

Grammar Twins

Two strange creatures Who and Whom
Emerged from primal grammar doom—
Mischievous twins without means,
With lust for complicating things.

Who stuck to He and Whom to Him.
It proved to be a perfect scheme:
Nobody knew if Whom is Who
And how to tell between the two.

They married, on the same day,
The Ever twins, as grammars say.
Two fine monsters they begot,
The Whoever-Whomever lot.

Since then life is forever tough
For those who deal with grammar stuff:
The dynasty of Who and Whom
Delights in breeding mess and gloom.

by Irena Pasvinter, first published in Every Day Poets

Editor’s Note: What better poem than this one to remind us that language is always moving into more interesting, bothersome, confusing, helpful, and surprising directions?

I Write in the House of Her Narrative by Risa Denenberg

I Write in the House of Her Narrative

Don’t ask me about my mother.
Don’t tell me to lean towards joy.

Would you tell a dog barking for bone,
a babe bawling for breast to be jubilant?

My mother was not. And so I am not.
She of the gilded mask and robe,

inscribed with molasses and tobacco. Here,
where sunlight is rationed, I’m the ugly ingrate.

When I pull on the pink slippers and shout:
Look, Ma. I can pirouette, she taps ash.

When I show her my first poem, she
upstages me with her own version.

Body from body. It’s just too fucking intimate.
My infant form faltered, crowned once,

drowned twice. Nearer now to my own line break,
I lean towards the volta. The mother still inserts herself

between couplets. A third foot.
We did our little dance.

I was not chosen. Such a blessing
the dead have no memories.

by Risa Denenberg

Editor’s note: This poem’s speaker recognizes how trauma can linger the way cigarette smoke stains everything around it, until the only freedom that seems possible is death.

Love Under Threat of Cancer by Larina Warnock

Love Under Threat of Cancer

1. The Night of the Call Back

We lay facing each other, smothering
ourselves by ticking off things we know
and things we don’t want to
suspect. Whatever they’ve seen is small yet.
It could be nothing; statistics provide
hope, genetic testing an educated guess.
We start to talk about the family history, but instead
fall into silence, as if our voices might carry the violence
of a positive diagnosis even before biopsy.
We start to talk about my random fevers, my fatigue,
other symptomology we’ve not seen in the normal
course of autoimmune disease. Tears take over
like tangible, existential philosophy. We make
love, every touch ten times as powerful
as radiation. You are more present to me
than you have ever been, your hands upon my skin
caressing cancer away.

2. The Night Before Ultrasound

We have held ourselves together by threads made
more of magic than science. We have repeated
the reasons it cannot be a tumor a thousand times.
I breathe you in as if this one intake of breath
can hold me upright through chemotherapy or whatever
waits on the other side of tomorrow. Our lovemaking
echoes with sorrow, what we’ve already lost together
so present twe don’t dare hope and we don’t dare not to.

3. The Night of the All Clear

Somewhere in the back of our minds, we are cautious.
Family history has shown it’s just a matter of time
before time catches up. You cup my breast in your hand
and kiss me the way you did the first time, nervously,
as if afraid I might slip away. But I am present tonight
and will be tomorrow. We burrow into each other
knowing hope is a hoax for people like us.
Knowing hope is all we’ve ever had.

by Larina Warnock

Twitter: @thedocnock

Editor’s Note: People who live with a chronic illness know deep in their bones that another terrible diagnosis is always a possibility. This poem deals with what life is like with that monolithic dread looming just over the horizon.

From the archives – And This Remains by Cynthia Neely

And This Remains

I heard your mother found you
in your bed as if asleep,
your affairs all tidy, neat.
The glass sat in the sink, clothing
folded at your feet.
And this remains

your mother’s final memory of you,
one she has to keep.
You waited until spring,
thought the timing would be right
and planned it just as carefully
as how you threaded skis through
tight white-mantled trees.

Why antifreeze, I wonder?
Wouldn’t sleeping pills suffice?
As your gut disintegrated,
did you think it might keep ice from
forming in your soul,
a man who so loved winter, only snow
could keep him whole?

I have to think I’m lucky;
my last memory of you
is a swirl of snow in vortex
behind a disappearing back,
sweeping, swift down Cowboy Mountain
in the trail of your deep tracks.

from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 4, March 2007 — by Cynthia Neely

From the archives — The Prospector by Dennis Greene

The Prospector

A long day I’ve had of it,
and a tiring one,
and little to show
but this loose scree of words
like dinosaurs;
the fossilized remains
of once great moments.

They tell me beauty’s truth,
but still I fail—what use is it to me
that Keats once wrote,
thou still unravished
bride of quietness,
and tore
the language from God’s living
throat. I fossick, find, make space
back of the truck—say virgin girl
lets go. It’s time to fuck.
. .

by Dennis Greene

from Autumn Sky Poetry, Number 3, December 2006

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim