Steamed Bread by Zhihua Wang

Steamed Bread

I inherited it, and injected my ideal of creating splendid bread:
water, wheat flour, yeast, cage-free eggs, no sugar added bread.

Mix the ingredients, I can’t wait to see the dough rise. Crush
it, it grows again. Do I expect more than my humbled bread?

Knead it by my hands, divide it, roll it, shape it like a flower
or stuff it with bean paste, set it aside to prove rounded bread.

Put them in the steamer. Vapor expands the numerous beehives
inside to full size. Time & temperature are key to grand bread.

Gaze at them with amore, feel their warm, moist, and dappled skin,
break one, send it to my mouth. Oh, elastic, chewy, revered bread.

Like being a chef, Zhihua? Yes! This augmenting process is more than
healing. If you ask me and steamed bread who lasts, steamed bread.

by Zhihua Wang

Editor’s Note: An inherited bread starter is a most precious commodity, and this ghazal is an ode to both family and deliciousness.

Punctuated by Joan Kantor

Punctuated

Mornings elude me.
I don’t come alive till noon,
but today,
rising at 6AM,
I headed to the marsh for a glimpse
of dawn’s most colorful creatures feeding
against a background of burgeoning light.

In the pink tinged mist,
birds had gathered by the hundreds,

a white pelican
separated from its flock,
pairs of cackling sand hill cranes,
lithe ibis, egrets, herons,
black neck stilts robotically walking,
then gracefully taking flight,
skimmers swooping down
to swiftly glide above the surface,
their open beaks scooping water
and leaving liquid trails behind.

The view was a visual hum,
a statement of beauty
and peaceful coexistence
so close to home,

and the coral-winged Roseate Spoonbills
I’d come to see
turned out to be
the exclamation points.

by Joan Kantor

Editor’s Note: Sometimes the sweetest imagery is that which is most needed in difficult times.

Before It’s Not by Carole Greenfield

Before It’s Not

Today I’ve had the opportunity to watch bees
burrow in and out of pale-green hydrangea blooms,
listen to breezes in neighbor oak and maple,
as well as hammer and whine of buzz saws
on a nearby addition going up in place
of two lovely tall trees taken down at summer’s
start. I didn’t realize how much morning
shade they gave ’til they were gone.

I try to notice what I have, what is here
before it’s not. I try to give thanks, practice
humility, manifest appreciation

for the giant oak tree still standing on the corner,
for what’s left of the maple tree behind
my next-door neighbor’s garage,

for each day I waken in a body free
from pain, each day my parents are yet living,
each day I waken to the world.

This I know: bad things that happen
are never ones I dread, but what I never
thought possible.

My husband swung the spade so hard into my finger,
it left a blood blister that lasted for weeks,
a dark splotch, tender to the touch.
Could have been worse. Could have been
the whole finger whacked off.

This I know too: a day with low humidity
in New England is a good day, even though we need
the rain, desperately, it’s still a beautiful morning,

and being able to wake up, brew tea,
step outside to see a goldfinch
perched on a drought-browned echinacea,
digging out seeds for its breakfast, well,
that’s enough for now, maybe even
a little bit more.

by Carole Greenfield

Editor’s Note: This poem’s truth is stated clearly, yet still it seeps into the reader’s mind with gentle steps, making the resolution feel possible.

Swans by Sally Thomas

Swans

All that summer the sun refused to open
On the sky, and the river carried rain-spots
Down and over the weir, and by the footbridge
Swans’ eggs chilled in their nest. I saw them, rained on,
Blue and dead as the moon the clouds were hiding
Every night when I looked to find it. What could
Live, neglected like that? The wind, cold and green
With the smell of the hawthorn flowering, came
Brooding over the fens, but what could it bring me,
Who had chosen to view the world with sadness,
Or had taken that sadness into myself,
Gift and charism? One day, though, I saw them,
Triple vee-wakes on dark tree-printed currents:
One ahead of the others, big and whiter
Than the cloud-pale sky. Two cygnets, gray, living,
Broken free from the death I’d assumed for them.
Well: their ways are not my ways. The next summer,
Walking that same towpath, heavy with a child
Who had come to me after years of asking —
Who was taking his time just then, head downward,
Happy where he was — I saw them paddling
Under the bridge, where it laid out its shadow,
Current-rumpled. The same swans? Or three strangers
Hummed down onto a river pricked with sunlight,
Strange and new as the season? I can’t say now.
I remember the baby’s head engaging,
Heavy, ready, real, an impending pressure.
I remember the wakes widening, river
Flowing down in the sun, and by the footbridge,
Gray, empty, the mess of twigs, leaves, and feathers.

by Sally Thomas

Editor’s Note: Beautiful and concise imagery carries the reader into depression and then back out again as the speaker in this narrative poem makes her own surprising journey from despair to hope.

What We See by Ed Hack

What We See

Amazing what we see—Here’s life again,
the morning says in light, so shadows too.
For things are what they are and what they seem
and what they’re not, and all three views are true.
Our past is shadows cast that do not fade
away. They’re in our children’s DNA,
and thus their children’s too. So what we are
is river flowing by and bottom we
can’t see or even guess. I say a word
that echoes through the story that I am
passed on to me by those I do not know.
A vessel that’s a self, part of a flow
I cannot name but know has brought me here,
to 8:15 and all that I hold dear.

by Ed Hack

Editor’s Note: This sonnet’s title fools the reader into thinking that what we see is the point, yet the poem encompasses everything else.

From the archives – Surgeon Finds Tree Growing in Man’s Lung — Laura Sobbott Ross

Surgeon Finds Tree Growing in Man’s Lung

First there was the cough, then the dream—
a rumbling through his diaphragm, throat dilated,
raw as if scraped with bark, the soft corners
of his mouth splitting like a seed coat.
His sinuses so full of green needles,
his sheets smelled like fir for days.

He began to disdain clouds and blinds,
the pearl colored cave of Russian winter sky.
Here, it was not unusual to lack vitamin D,
but, oh, the craving for sun! How it burned,
as his fingertips tingled and itched for river silt
buried beneath the snow clotted valley.

His cough grew in the humid bog
of his lungs, until he was blotting blood
from his lips, an essence aromatic
as rosemary on the back of his tongue,
despite lozenges of honey and eucalyptus.

Inside his chest, between bruised air sacs,
slashed webs of capillaries, doctors found
a shadow with teeth, a clawing of roots into tissue
lush as peat moss, while he lay at the window,
almost breathless with pain. His eyes transfixed
beyond the amassed evergreen edge, taiga,
tundra, permafrost, whiteness upon whiteness.
Snow clouds heavy with winged seed,
the same air he had once inhaled like a forest.

by Laura Sobbott Ross

from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 18, July 2010

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Nuzzle Into the World by Martin Willitts Jr.

Nuzzle Into the World

Love has a secret. It cannot be mistaken
for anything else: nuzzling, feeding a horse
some carrots, fresh from the fields.

Grooming, stroking with a brush,
cooling off the horse, talking to it
in a slow, easing-down way.

Love cannot be rushed. It must build over time:
Buttercups littering the uncut fields,
a softness that cannot be fenced in.

Love stares back, eye to eye, never turning away.
There are questions endless as grass.
I wonder if the horse sees the world the same way—

if his world gentles—or if it strains,
tugging a plow—or gallops?
I wonder if the quiet moments enter him, too—

a quiet you can slowly peel
like an apple in one red spiral. A muzzle-in quiet
we all might enter.

I feed you this story like a carrot, feel your
shoulder against me. I brush your hair,
the world slowing to a gentle trot.

Lean into that quiet—soft endless grass,
hum of silence—lean into that.
Feel how quiet the quiet can be.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The imagery of this poem is quiet and contemplative and necessary.

Storm by Greg Watson

Storm

We are staying up late, my young daughter
and I, to watch and listen—sleepy
though we are—to the summer lightning
storm outside, which flashes matchstick quick
and seemingly at random across each
small window of the flimsy French doors.
This light show is far more exhilarating to her
than the storybooks stacked beside us,
which wait patiently until the world
becomes once again calm and ordinary,
in need of retelling, embellishment, magic.
For now, we wait, counting out loud
the seconds between flicker and crash,
the dark shoulders of trees and angled outlines
of rooftops, lit up for a moment, then gone.
When we startle, it is merely with delight.
We do not speak—not now, not today—
of the horrors seeping from the evening news,
the once unimaginable now commonplace,
school children crouched under desks,
their backpacks cradled close, utilized as shields
against a hail of bullets from every direction.
For now, the danger is far less specific.
For now, we are snug and safe in this
boat of a bed, letting the wild wind-swept
currents surrounding us have their say,
our small, indeterminate patch of the universe
throwing off sparks, shifting, nearly breaking
apart, reminding us of what we live within.
When the storm at last seems spent,
I rise to close the curtains, the plastic moon
of a nightlight standing in for the one
we cannot see. Though we know it’s there,
as the stars are still there, and the faraway sun
of tomorrow, like all good things,
and it’s enough—for now, for now—
to rest, at ease in that simple knowing.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This sweet narrative holds a terrifying fear at the center that the speaker nevertheless must move past, again and again, because hope is the first and last lesson of parenthood.

The Croissant by Laura Foley

The Croissant

My wife has baked croissants
as a Sunday treat,
in this odd time of quarantine,
days made tasteless by isolation,
and the jam is raspberry,
gleaming redly at me in morning sun.
One buttery, flaky moment
on the tongue returns me
to twenty-three,
to the Hungarian Café on Amsterdam,
tucked into the blanketing shadow
of St. John the Divine.
The jam I taste today
is not tart raspberry,
but the honeyed apricot
the café served then,
as Clara and I watch
church on a phone
propped against a book,
as the pastor, our friend,
intones kind words
for the loss of our shepherd Alys,
while a candle he lit for her
flickers in the empty church
that gently echoes his words,
as the last bite crackles
against my palate
and melts in the nave
of mouth—this bit of now.
We struggle all day to stay
in place, as some instinct
teases us to stray—illusory
as memory’s preserves—
till this flaky bite
of just here, just now,
this crispy crumb
of all that’s left,
butters the tongue.

by Laura Foley, first appeared in The Quaranzine

Editor’s Note: The imagery of this poem appears and reappears, grounding the reader in both present and past, in order to teach the reader to live in the moment.

Lies We Honor by Tara Iacobucci

Lies We Honor

Midnight, I awake to darkness, a silent
house without electrical hum grants

sound to dark thoughts: What if
school shootings? What if cancer?

What if their tiny hearts cease flickering?
I consider the moon outside, dark bruises

on white slate, my only navigation
and how my daughter once asked mom,

why does that light follow us everywhere?
My husband and I stumble, searching

for a match. I shiver and almost confess
to my unspeakable fears but remember

when my children are scared I repeat:
You are safe. You are safe. You are safe.

I do not know if I can surrender
to the optimism of the moon,

its unswerving light, or forget
how all affirmations are just lies

we honor. Yet, here is my husband
kindling the logs in our fireplace, here

is a reminder of what follows us,
a red glow tempering the dark.

by Tara Iacobucci

Editor’s Note: Only poems like this can encompass terror and love and hope all at once.