From the archives — So Near by David Ayers

So Near
for M

First love’s best, love.
You, days from the womb, already master
of the long jaw-movement; me,
near thirty, still seeking where I might fit
in every bone of your face.

I watched
over the sterile blue drape—
that first startled breath, before the blue
body’s rest slipped out of her
slit belly. Then, you cried,

but where the cord wrapped
twice around that ox-like neck,
there’s not a mark to show.

As if life hadn’t hung
on a strapped
piece of flesh. As if, floating in the dark,
those eyes hadn’t first
opened and grown wise.

by David Ayers

from Autumn Sky Poetry, Number 1, June 2006

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Traveling Back to the Heart by Hafsa Mumtaz

Traveling Back to the Heart

The metal-stiff bubbly palm of cobbles in
The terrace rebel against my calcaneus
As I saunter under the cyan sky where
Streaks of clouds frisk and fumble for vapour
Thrushes chant to the waking sun as
Their beaks osculate the wedges among the
Humid stones searching for beads of millet
The damp metal of the railing from between
Cracks and tatters of the knife-thin varnish
Feels arctic like the water under an iceberg,
And looks like the skin under a crisp scab
My eyes alight on a fungus-hued plant clad in
A not-so-exact domino of a cactus—
The needles stuck on its face remind me of
The mornings when mom would quickly stitch
A button on my uniform shirt that had been hanging loose
Like a marcescent leaf waiting to fall
The delicate thread in the needle was like a ligament
Holding our love intact for the love of a mother is infinite and matchless
These needles—pricking the green oblong balloon
Look sharp like the ramified fingers of a fork from which
My friends and I, on birthday parties, would burst birthday balloons
My eyes traverse through the mornings before school
When my mom would use a hairbrush that looked like this plant
To style my hair lovely; I was sixteen-year-old child who
Couldn’t decide which hairstyle to make for I knew none
These needles—poignant as the nib of my sketching pencils
With which I’d draw mom’s sketches on the mom’s day cards
I’d make for her, sticking on them her favorite chocolate
These needles—long as raindrops falling from the sky at midnight
When mom, my sister and I would stroll the lane
With ice-cream cones in our hands, dark umbrellas above our heads
These needles—thin like the borders of kohl around my mom’s eyes
In the mirror as I stand alone making up my face for a party
These needles—attenuated like the intricate designs of henna
On my hands on every Eid
These needles—the scarf pins I bought when I started Hijab
These needles—
A tender knock at my aperture leading to my mind
And scenting of warm feelings in my heart

by Hafsa Mumtaz

Editor’s Note: The meandering imagery at the start of this poem mirrors the way nostalgia tugs gently at the heart before arrowing sharply to those memories most poignant and stubborn.

Bastard by Robert Nisbet

Interviews at Oxford, 1959

The guide book phrase is dreaming spires, the facts
are pleasing too, the staircases and quads.
Train-loads of schoolboys shuffle in, disperse.
I’m bound for Jesus, for an interview.
Sounds pleasingly irreverent, that phrase:
“I’m bound for Jesus”. Then alas, ill-met,
here’s John the Baptist getting on the bus.

Who is this man, smile spread, grin grown so great?
He has the Bard’s Collected Works, and totes
this ammo to his holster arm, before
he fires in his first offence. Your school?

My glum, gruff Welsh response is slow:
It’s Milford Haven (‘Grammar School’ left out).
I do not ask his school. He tells me though.

His school spreads wide on England’s Southern coast.
‘Tis Beadles, Boodles? Rather good, he says.
Good little school. But so of course (he grins)
is Milford Haven. What a sizzling pratt.

And on we go. Next question. Do you ect?
In sooth. My mind describes new views
of some foul practice known to him alone,
of buggery in Boodles, beastly boys.
And then he clarifies: In our place
we did King Lear.
The monstrous grin now spreads
so far it seems to hinge half-off his head
(a large one) and he booms that he of course
was Edmund. Now, self-deprecating wit:
The Bastard Son of Gloucester. And I think,
Well yes. We read in Milford Haven too.

The bus conductor’s shout hails my release.
To Jesus. Ed’s for Queen’s. I leave him thus,
the Bastard Son of Boodles on the bus.

by Robert Nisbet, first published in Prole (Wales, 2010)

Editor’s Note: The irreverent tone of this poem doesn’t quite disguise the sense of insecurity that pervades both the speaker and his nemesis, coloring their narrative with tension many readers will understand.

Poet’s Note: Form: blank verse with a concluding heroic couplet, in the manner of a Shakespeare scene.

Falling Angel, September 11 by Angela C. Bilger

Falling Angel, September 11

And so it was
that a shadow fell—
or was it light,
absorbing too well
a darkness too dark
to behold? My lips
keep trying to say
but the vowels
won’t sound, for a body
doesn’t exhale while
suspended and unresolved.
I wish I could walk a high wire
between stars. I wish I had
a hand to hold.
I turn off the TV
and sink into
the inaudible.
Some days, grace
threads your shadow, the sky
sprouts wings, and we
are caught, heaven-held.

by Angela C. Bilger


Editor’s Note: Stunning imagery and careful enjambment showcase both longing and grief in equal measure within this elegiac poem.

A Phone Is Ringing by Ed Hack

A Phone Is Ringing

A phone is ringing, waiting for a voice.
The shadows mime the source they’ve travelled from.
All nature speaks, and what is Time but choice?
The phone’s alarm might be to urge the dumb
to speak, to wake from their bad dream, the one
they call their truth. Two ducklings in the stream
send ripples like a broadcast tower. They’ve swum
away and left more messages that gleam
then fade away. That ring might be a scream
or plea—or stranger’s voice that wants to sell
the cure for everything. Bird song redeems
the silent trees. The ring might be a knell
announcing who knows what? So shrill, the sound,
so small, so vast the space where it now drowns.

by Ed Hack

Editor’s Note: The disparate images in this sonnet coalesce into something resembling a life philosophy, but the closing lines remind the reader that any conclusion about existence is relative.

The Woman with Carrots by Rachel McInturff

The Woman with Carrots

She’s there whenever I am,
in the morning on the trail by the wash,
always at the spot where the old trees grow largest;
I think they’re probably watching.

She quietly pushes a black stroller
with a dog in it, small pink bows on curly white ears,
and a ten pound bag of carrots
chopped and perched accessibly on top.

More than once I’ve seen her talking
to herself—or maybe to her dog—or, this morning,
to the rabbits. They live by the dozens in this chosen spot
where shade kisses the desert from

the trees that grow like a psalm, all of us watching
the quiet woman pushing her little white dog,
talking to animals, and sewing the ground
with pile after pile of orange kindness.

Once I saw her in the grocery store,
nothing in her cart but carrots
and a little white dog with bows on.
I wonder, do angels not need to eat?

Sometimes we smile at each other, awkwardly, but
she doesn’t know how much I think she deserves a poem,
how much we (the dog, the rabbits, the trees, and I),
think she might be a poem.

by Rachel McInturff

Editor’s Note: The meticulous imagery in this poem elevates the narrative from mere oddity (dog in a stroller + carrots) to the moment when the speaker realizes that this woman adds joy to the world.

The Hang Glider by Ralph La Rosa

“We hug the earth,—how rarely we mount!
Methinks we might elevate ourselves a little more.”
Thoreau, Walking

The Hang Glider

It is said transcendent souls inform us:
. . . . .I sometimes think
Mine is like a soaring hang glider’s

Shadow, sauntering across mountains
. . . . .On sunny days,
Skipping over tree tops, disappearing

Behind a grove or into a deep crevice
. . . . .And popping up
On a clean-swept shale slope,

Huge, much larger than the glider,
. . . . .Far less defined,
Almost amoebic as it slinks its way

Across unleveled earth—but then contracts
. . . . .As the glider
Swiftly sinks toward its safe ground,

The shadow moving ever more slowly,
. . . . .As if waiting
For its substance to catch up with it.

If that shadow’s anything like a soul,
. . . . .It’s most active
When a body willfully transcends it,

Most indolent when the body hugs it
. . . . .Too tight to earth.

by Ralph La Rosa

Editor’s Note: The central image in this poem moves from visual description to philosophy as the lines meander to a surprising and inevitable close.

Of This World by Greg Watson

Of This World

There’s a window open between each written word.
Words alone are my witnesses within this world.

The witnesses to our childhoods fall away, one by one.
Who is left to say we were here, walking this world?

My daughter calls out to the crows along our walk.
She needs no convincing to love this world.

Still, we study endlessly the passing of things.
We want only to say that it’s not the end of the world.

Once, long ago, I saw the lake-light pierce your skin.
I knew in that moment I was alive in this world.

Even in sleep, your words could astonish and beguile.
It was hard to limit yourself to just one world.

Words, like memory, are the least reliable of guides;
but we follow them into the silence of the world.

The names of many things continue to elude me.
One day I will forget my own, and that of this world.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: The repetition in this ghazal presses the importance of small, singular moments into the reader’s mind, for they encompass the entire reason for our existence.