It only takes a couple of small matches
to torch a total forest to the ground.
A flick of the wrist, and kindling quickly catches
and palms and rubbers hiss and soon the sound
grows louder as they crackle, snap, and sputter
as lizards skitter, hummers rise and flutter,
and sloths, absurdly slow, stay put and fry.
One match. A million matches. Same effect
for anaconda, frog, or butterfly.
The lungs of Earth are now ablaze, unchecked
as our encroachment on the last pristine
preserve—when nothing will again be green.
But then there is the match of CO2
heating the homeland of the kangaroo,
koala, wallaby, and flying fox
imprisoned in a broiling greenhouse box
where plucky firefighters fight and fight,
where even the sun can’t match this matchless light.
by Martin J. Elster
Editor’s Note: Iambic pentameter is always pleasing to the ear, but this poem’s content is unfortunately more grim than pleasant. A lament, however, is still a poem, and this one is beautifully constructed.
Trapped in a solitary dance
where means and ends refuse to meet,
the desolated body chants
its mantra: Eat. Excrete. Repeat.
Muzzled and shielded, we advance—
till someone nears, and we retreat.
We’ve rolled snake eyes: we’ve lost our chance,
our time, our lives, our salt, our sweet.
Exchanging sorrows with a glance,
we wave farewell like wind-blown wheat,
while vultures wheel the bald expanse
and wait to eat, excrete, repeat.
by Susan McLean
Editor’s Note: Iambic tetrameter trips through the lines of this poem, chillingly reminding the reader of the singsong cadence of Ring Around the Rosie, another plague song we can’t seem to forget.
In the Pool at the Bourbon Orleans
Behold the empty courtyard with its army
of pristine lounges guarding the empty pool—
empty but for a beach ball trapped, untroubled,
spinning and skimming like a drunken fool,
making Venn diagrams on the water’s surface,
skidding and tilting—perhaps randomly,
perhaps not—from edge to travertine edge.
Hold in your mind the glad captivity,
the lavish nonchalance, the willingness
to be blown and batted, possibly ignored,
instructed only by small breaths of wind
in a game that seems to be its own reward:
aimless and fruitless and purposeless, perhaps,
but altogether pleasing to the Lord.
by Jane Greer
Editor’s Note: This sonnet’s extended metaphor is perfectly supported by its clear imagery and excellent closing line.
White Paper on Blue Stationery
Thanks for your note received on Aug. the first.
The time you chose to send was not the worst
of times but neither was it quite the best.
I read most carefully griefs you addressed,
enumerations of your discontent
and understanding of where our love went
when it turned up its heels and flew the coop.
So let me say you are a nincompoop,
first class. Your reasons echo hollow.
More like Koalemos than like Apollo.
Here’s my reply: please find enclosed from me
your shriveled heart. And please return my key.
by Janice D. Soderling
Editor’s Note: These epistolary couplets draw the reader into the narrator’s world with an intimate and unexpectedly humorous portrayal of a failed relationship. (Koalemos is the god of stupidity. 😂)
[PS: My apologies for the previous typo in the headline.]
The View from Shore
Not too far out, two paddlers carved their bit
of bay into a pliant stream that held
the solitary kayak they propelled
in perfect synchrony. Their intimate
accord was clear: they’d worked out how to fit
their bodies in the narrow space and meld
their muscled strokes. But my next glance dispelled
illusion; this romance was counterfeit.
What I saw was not one kayak, but two,
joined only by a trick of light and tide
for seconds, not a lifetime. As they drew
apart, each craft distinct, I modified
my story. They were strangers; one breeze blew
them close, the next one parted them and sighed.
by Jean L. Kreiling
Editor’s Note: The alliteration in line one of this sonnet immediately captured my attention, and happily the rest of the poem does not disappoint: sonics, meter, and metaphor draw the reader in before letting go in the last line.
Musee des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
by W. H. Auden (1907-1973)
Painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The Body, Before
Notice the geography of freedom–
this open prairie made of flesh, the slow
swoop of the back’s small, curvature of skull,
the belly’s subtle knoll. The mirror shows
this vista of my body and I gaze,
try to commit this scene to memory
like a valley filled with bluebonnets
in April, touch this land of milk and honey
before the fall, my exile from myself.
The cold ink on my skin. The thick black mark.
He draws a border on my body, says:
This is where I’ll cut you.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .But I hear:
separate skin from skin, flesh from flesh,
bone from bone. Even with the bridge
of sutures, healing skin, the growth of vessels
carrying my blood across this border,
this scar defines the woman I am now.
by Katie Hoerth
Editor’s Note: Blank verse gives this poem a subtle rhythm that reinforces the carefully constructed lines.
In a Taxi from de Gaulle
This morning the plaster-white dome of Montmartre
presents to the highway a century’s grime.
It hemorrhages clouds from a cold Sacred Heart
to color the city of Ingres and Descartes
a boulevard gray. In the interest of time
this morning, the plaster-white dome of Montmartre
speaks not of its grand contribution to art,
but more of its neighborhood’s canvas of crime.
The hemorrhage of cloud from its cold Sacred Heart
calls forward the spirit of Camus and Sartre—
the pipe smoke that wanders and couplets that rhyme.
Of mourning, the plaster-white dome of Montmartre,
of man in the city and man set apart.
A neutralized palette of carbon and lime
is hemorrhaging clouds from the cold Sacred Heart
to vistas bequeathed by a third Bonaparte,
on steps of the Commune, the pilgrim, the mime.
This morning the plaster-white dome of Montmartre
bleeds into the clouds from a cold Sacred Heart.
Paris, October 3, 2010
by Rick Mullin
Editor’s Note: This villanelle escapes the usual recursive spiral of repetition with carefully chosen imagery.
(Poem Beginning with a Line from Adam Zagajewski)
The city’s towers rise like words of love.
A liquid sun drops honey. On the air,
something like lilac, blooming in a grove
that memory imagined. You were there
when maps had other colors. Here, the light
falls on you strangely; this is not the sky
you had a language for. Above, the flight
of birds you cannot name. The noble lie
of summer still surrounds you, but you keep
the knowledge of what follows: twilit snow,
the clouds where the forgotten gather sleep.
You travel in that quiet world below,
its constellations offering no chart,
with no companion but the secret heart.
by Rebekah Curry
Editor’s Note: This sonnet captures images as if they were treasures. The close is soft, but no less emphatic emotionally.
Poem Only Half About Myself
I can smell
the melancholia in the bedsheets,
Rumpled feelings all around,
Everyone looking down at mouth.
The dog still licks her wound,
Hidden in the shadow of the desk.
There is no sense of release,
Yet we look around and hope.
“Go in fear of abstractions” of course, but what then?
I can’t expect the clock to stop as if it were my father’s heart.
The hedgerow stands with its roots unearthed,
Somewhere my mother calls and I bring my shovel.
I expect I will still rebel long after I cover them.
I expect I will still obey them.
Everything that happens to me happens to my friends.
After all that, we sit back and wonder
What the doctor will say about our liver
Or some other piece of the infernal apparatus
That wasn’t even hurting when we walked in.
The doctor still walks through the door,
Your mother’s hand, venial and soothing,
Comforts you and the tendencies of middle-age
Yet after a while she tears at your shirt
And you become her Confessor.
from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, April 4, 2017 — by J. Rod Pannek
photo by Christine Klocek-Lim