Scandal by Barbara Lydecker Crane

Scandal
Madame X, by John Singer Sargent, Paris, 1843-4

At last, when she allowed me to depict her,
this married beauty linked to love affairs,
the critics brayed I’d broken every stricture–
her brazen stance, décolleté, her air
aloof–as if with scorn, her head is turned
aside. She flaunts herself and yet withdraws,
a self-preservation I have learned.
Beyond this daring portrait, did I cause
reproof for what in me I must conceal?
Despite the furor, I did not take this out
of public view. The work is vital, real–
and over time, its scandal gave me clout:
what once made Paris critics blanch and fret
now flaunts its beauty at the New York Met.

by Barbara Lydecker Crane, first published in Think

Editor’s Note: This ekphrastic sonnet gives voice to the artist and art history simultaneously, with impressively rhymed lines. Also, if you’ve never seen this painting at the Met, I highly recommend it. It’s luminous in person.

From the archives – Transfer of Power by Rick Mullin

Transfer of Power

It’s only natural, our hearts attuned
to reconciliation, that a great divide
would bleed into its center as the wound
reverts to scar on the resilient hide.
There are the massacre and Pentecost.
The fumes of war, the bright tongue of the dove.
Given ample rope, we’d hang ourselves,
but our imagination casts above
the rafters and the heavy attic shelves
on which our bound philosophies are tossed.
There comes a desperate encounter, fraught
with animal ferocity, a hand
extended where a battle has been fought
to one who rises from the bloody sand
already overwhelmed. Already lost.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, November 21, 2016 — by Rick Mullin

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim

Before the Hurricane by Diane Elayne Dees

Before the Hurricane

the chill
as tall trees sway
in unhurried warning

the smell
of stormy flint
as the sky turns green

the silence
when the birds and frogs
have fled to hidden places

the urgency
to prepare one cup of tea
before everything goes dark

by Diane Elayne Dees

Twitter: @WomenWhoServe

Editor’s Note: This spare poem demands attention via the imagery, and of course, the killer last line.

Climacteric by Cynthia Neely

Climacteric

You woke today to an ache
you thought was spent—that season
already mourned and set aside,
flushed away like pink-tinged tissue.
It’s a late-March-snow in February, far
too early to be so transient; yet
its whitewash is not unwelcome to the grime
of the fading season. Even now,
as wasps stumble out of the woodwork, fumble
drunken and useless on gray stone floors, winter
begins its end, always before you are ready, always
before your mind has softened
to the idea of it. You hold on too long,
as if letting go will lose…what?
The clean and cold, the muffled
and muffed, safely layered in wool and white?
Or the weightlessness that comes with snow?
It’s not that you dread the beginning
of the new, but the ending
of the old. Still you lighten your step
when the earth is young, green rising,
and despair spring petals’ fade.
You bask in the heat of long days,
relish the taste of salt, then miss the sweat of it
in coming shadows. How you whistle
so you can see your breath
in the first frost of fall, but grieve
that last leaf ’s bright tumble.

by Cynthia Neely, first appeared in Bellevue Review (runner up for the Vilcek Prize)

Editor’s Note: Beautiful use of alliteration enhances the imagery in this poem, creating an atmosphere of calm even as the speaker’s ambivalence resists dismissal.

The Last of the Harvest by Matthew Miller

The Last of the Harvest

I’ve been keeping a census
of squirrels, naming the circus of thieves
who gnaw the blackbirds’ seeds.
With empty beaks, the grackles still sing
a morning song, its solos low
over a chorus of insects. Voices tumble
from the church over the hill,
down the pumpkin vines like geese calls.
All this tangled, impossible
to separate. I don’t have patience
to decide which knot to tear
first. The sunrise splits
over ironwoods and pine. It streaks,
dusty pink, on the white logs of the fire.
As I child, I slept with smoke-
scented sweatshirts, rolled as a pillow.
On Sunday mornings, the songs I liked best
were sung by the dove, perched alone
on cold peaks. I keep trying
to live that moment for the rest of my life.
The weak, beautiful hoot shimmering
up my spine, like grandmother’s voice
reading verses to me. A distant train whistle.
The world is going on, but does it need
me? I listen to birds sullen tweets,
hungry hymns of lament, and I want
to be content. I must get to my feet,
unlock the garden gate and invite
the squirrels to the last of the harvest,
to glean ground cherries and
clean the colors from the grapevine.

by Matthew Miller

Twitter: @mattleemiller32

Editor’s Note: Every line of this beautifully written poem uses precise imagery and thoughtful line breaks to support the central theme.

Reasons to Run by Julia Klatt Singer

Reasons to Run

In the east a planet hangs low in the sky,
A silver apple ready to be plucked.

Last week it was robins. This week
Squirrels—how long since I’ve seen a rabbit?

The lake mirrors the slate blue sky.

And what do I mirror?

Am heartbeat, am steady, am certain
That no one can see me now

Dancing as I run to Aretha
Like the sweet morning dew

I took one look at you,
And it was plain to see

you were my destiny… you, still
and asleep and dreaming; fleet foxes,

a star in your mouth, moonlight
in your bed.

by Julia Klatt Singer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/julia.k.singer/

Editor’s Note: The surreal imagery in this poem beautifully mirrors the way the mind wanders while running, while also allowing the reader a glimpse into the life of the speaker.

My 1917 Royal by Joan Kantor

My 1917 Royal

Whose love
passion
sadness
fears
have poured through their fingers
and onto these keys before me

With each clunking laborious stroke
rattling tap and rustling ribbon
ink was sealed onto the page

and couldn’t be deleted
or completely rubbed off
with the putty-pink tip of a pencil

While slowly typing
I’m mindful of more than my words
and glad that the space bar
is in disrepair

giving me pause
time to think

about awareness
impulsivity
intention

how the present
can’t erase the past
yet indelibly lasts
as a shadowy stain
seeping into the future

by Joan Kantor

Editor’s Note: Writing about writing is a tricky topic, fraught with history and vintage typewriters, and people and intention.

From the archives – A Thanksgiving Anthem, by William Billings by Christine Potter

A Thanksgiving Anthem, by William Billings

Ye dragons, whose contagious breath
People the corridors of death
Change your dire hissings into heavenly song
And praise your maker with your forked tongues
—William Billings, 1794 – (a paraphrase of Psalm 148)

For-ked, with two syllables, and six or eight
sixteenth notes on “for”. Repeatedly. For
measure after measure. Breath control,
says my husband. He reminds me it was

my idea our choir sing this anthem. It’s what
I deserve for having cocktails with him and
a Sacred Harp CD. William Billings, leather
tanner, street sweeper, composer, missing

an eye, one leg shorter than the other, loved
dragons. Hissing dragons, especially, because
he could win even them. So what if they
smelled bad and King James gives them just

one word in Psalm 148? Billings turned his
anthem into dragons, turned his whole choir
into dragons, turned choirs into dragons two
hundred and twenty years into the future.

And because of his love, the dragons were
grateful. They unfolded their napkins and
ate turkey and Indian Pudding. Make sure
you hit the “s” in “hissings”, my husband says:

Hissssingss! Thus instructed, our lizard-like
scales include the whole world, as they were
intended to. See? The dragons are carrying
everyone’s plates to the kitchen sink. Alleluia!

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, November 26, 2015 — by Christine Potter

You Arrive Like Fall, Suddenly by Bob Bradshaw

You Arrive Like Fall, Suddenly
leaving my heart thumping
like a banging shutter. You missed

the bigleaf maples that hung
like mid air vineyards in spring,

their long racemes
of yellowish green flowers

heavy as grapes. Now
they have the anemic yellows

of leaves folded
like handkerchiefs waiting

to be pocketed away. That alone
should have alerted me to loss.

Haven’t the blow-wives long lost
their beautiful heads of white hair

to shearing winds?
Still, there’s hope you’ll stay, right?

Like the woolly mule’s ears
with her long blonde hair

you too feel at home
in the cool air,

one moment clinging to me
like a monkey flower to a fence,

as if intent on staying.
And yet the next moment

I sense you don’t need roots
–that like a moon jelly,

there isn’t a rock
or a patch of soil or a man

that could ever
anchor you.

by Bob Bradshaw

Editor’s Note: This poem is a study in metaphor and simile, with the heart of the poem set squarely in the middle—loss.