Recession by Sydney Lea


A grotesquerie for so long we all ignored it:
The mammoth plastic Santa lighting up
On the Quik-Stop’s roof, presiding over pumps
That gleamed and gushed in the tarmac lot below it.

Out back, with pumps of their own, the muttering diesels.
And we, for the most part ordinary folks,
Took all for granted: the idling semis’ smoke,
The fuel that streamed into our tanks, above all

Our livelihoods. We stepped indoors to talk
With friends, shared coffee, read the local paper,
Heavy with news of hard times now. We shivered.
Our afternoons were gone. At five o’clock

—Once we gave the matter little thought—
Our Santa Claus no longer flared with light.

by Sydney Lea

Editor’s Note: This sonnet expertly describes how easy it is to feel that the present moment is the worst, but nostalgia teaches us otherwise.

Two Pawns by Irena Pasvinter

Two Pawns

Your pillowcase is white and mine is black.
Our heads are resting, pieces on a chessboard:
Two pawns, one fast asleep and one awake,
Recuperating after daily labors.

The pawns, what do they dream of? Do you know?
To fall in battle? To delay the deadly fate?
I bet they long to reach the final row
And morph into a queen — then check and mate.

And we, what do we dream about tonight?
There are no magic rows in our game.
I’m not a queen, you’re neither king nor knight.
Life has no rules it cares to explain.

Let’s just enjoy the play. Forget the ending.
I dream not to remain the last standing.

by Irena Pasvinter

Editor’s Note: Personification and metaphor drive this poem’s narrative until the closing couplet where the speaker’s vow reflects a very personal wish to cling tight to those we love while we can.

Timpani in the Time of Coronavirus by Jean L. Kreiling

Timpani in the Time of Coronavirus

They always bellow, they’re always commanding,
their voices drawn out by the mallets landing
precisely on the drum heads, tuned and taut
above the wells of air. But in these fraught,
infected days, the timpani’s dark boom
sounds darker, bigger. Does it signal doom,
or lead the battle? Does it frighten you,
or brace you for the fight? How you construe
its hefty, hollow rumble may depend
on which thunder you hear. I recommend
the second movement of Beethoven’s last
and bravest symphony, the ninth. It’s fast,
and full of stirring noise. The strings begin,
but timpani aggressively leap in,
and their insistent octave sets the tone;
its power vibrates in the blood and bone.
A vigorous orchestral conversation
ensues, the timpani’s determination
its measured, mighty pulse. Each copper bowl
holds only air, and for all his control,
the timpanist extracts only a sound,
no cure—but his touch lets the drum expound
on how to lead, how to be resolute.
Sometimes that means the timpani is mute:
it waits for word from one who knows the score,
patient until the time is right for more
well-crafted clamor. Though the timpani
could lead you elsewhere—gloom, anxiety,
or anger might live in its resonance—
I hear both discipline and confidence,
judicious vigor we might emulate,
undaunted mettle that might animate
our own. Beethoven often seems to know
what we require; his will from long ago
still sings to us. And in this movement’s grit
and grace lives triumph; at the heart of it—
the beating heart—the timpani exude
a strength that feeds my hope and fortitude.

by Jean L. Kreiling

Editor’s Note: The alliteration and rhyme in this poem beautifully mirror the sonics of a symphony while the words bring a glimmer of hope to the reader during these trying times.

The Art of Freezing by Martin J. Elster

The Art of Freezing

The art of freezing isn’t hard to master.
For tiny frogs as tough as I am, snow
or frost on naked skin is no disaster.

Winter’s icy fingers do not fluster
me in the least. Since I’ve no place to go,
the art freezing isn’t hard to master.

I am a frog-cicle. When blizzards bluster
and icicles’ long fangs begin to grow,
their nudge on naked skin is no disaster.

My ticker, as if made of alabaster,
stops beating. Then when runnels start to flow,
I melt, for melting isn’t hard to master.

While thawing, though I’d love to do it faster,
my heart once more starts ticking. I’m a pro
at freezing and defrosting. No disaster!

And you, by probing me, will come by vaster
knowledge of saving organs. You will know
the art of freezing isn’t hard to master,
that snow on naked skin is no disaster.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: Anyone fond of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” will find this villanelle an absolute delight.

When We Learned This Truth by Edward Hack

When We Learned This Truth

It’s odd about the winter sun. Plain light.
No heat. That’s it. A bare bulb glow that’s weak
and white. A Harbor Freight shine barely bright.
Let’s say Ok, just competently bleak.
It doesn’t show what isn’t there, not one
pale shadow on the snow, no subtlety
of autumn’s fire, or spring’s delicious fun
with tones, or summer’s fierce intensities.
Today’s a room with primer on the walls,
one chair, a naked window like an eye
that cannot blink, a room where every flaw’s
an argument that says don’t even try
to wish for more, that’s not what winter’s for.
We learned this truth a long, long time before.

by Edward Hack

Editor’s Note: The opening lines of this sonnet emphasize the subject matter with perfectly short sentences; as if to say: this is the truth. Believe it.

Predawn, Winter by Edward Hack

Predawn, Winter

The predawn snow glows dull and dark, a snake
asleep against the bushes black with night,
tree skeletons, tall, twisted, bony shapes,
the sky a gray the opposite of light
a half tone lighter than the black. This is
an ancient time we feel deep in our bones
that have no memory of spring, the bliss
of warming sun. Our bones know we’re alone
with this, the dark and frozen time is here,
a nothingness come due, the slate wiped clean.
This is the reckoning, stripped down and clear,
the knuckled fact, the balanced beam.
Stay warm and understand. Stay close to fire.
This is the other side of all desire.

by Edward Hack

Editor’s Note: Chilling, clear imagery and perfect rhymes animate this sonnet beautifully. Maybe we should all stay inside the next time it snows, eh?

The Gathering by Joyce Ritchie

The Gathering

Now, in the dark months of the year,
the child appears, unbidden,
slipping through shadows of memories,
slightly anxious, striving to please,
an invisible presence in the brightly-lit kitchen,
and later at your right elbow when you sit at the dining room table.

Look carefully at the faces around the festive table.
The ghostly gathering changes year to year,
spirits alive in laughter and aromas drifting from the kitchen,
familiars carried throughout the house, unbidden.
Now raise a glass to toast unpresent friends, please,
who all, for good or ill, have shaped our lives and memories.

The distance between the child and today is measured in memories:
the year young cousins copied heirloom recipes around the table,
the year the child abandoned all pretense of attempting to please.
The child—the keeper of secrets year to year—
knows time turns memories to legacies unbidden,
and the real stories are told among the women in the kitchen.

Old and new are blended in the kitchen,
each stirring a spice-scented swirl of memories.
But will it measure up? The hovering child’s fear, unbidden,
dissipates amid the happy chatter at the table.
Now sons become the fathers year by year,
and daughters hear a mother’s voice in every please.

Come gather by the fire if you please.
The crackling hearth now draws us from the kitchen.
We’ll share stories that will mark another year
and make another child’s memories.
The ghosts have gathered from the table
and dance in flickering shadows, unbidden.

And now the child appears again, unbidden,
to take the measure. Be forgiving, please.
Look back again around the empty table
as evening’s light glows golden in the kitchen.
Be still and hear in silence, memories
old and new, another year.

Another year and the ghosts arrive, unbidden,
a gathering of memories. Please stay awhile,
come sit a spell with me and talk like we used to at the kitchen table.

by Joyce Ritchie

Editor’s Note: This sestina moves delicately through time while touching on how the relationships that make up a family can be both complicated and precious.

Happy New Year!

Chestnuts on Pushkin Street by Irena Pasvinter

Chestnuts on Pushkin Street

Remember the giant chestnuts
Along our Pushkin Street,
And how we adored in the autumn
To hunt for them, brown and sleek?

My chestnuts would go into battle
In rows on the floor in my room,
And yours — I don’t know where they settled.
Remember the chestnuts in bloom?

No chestnuts like these in my country:
New home, new trees and new ways.
I picked up a few in Milano,
These gemstones of childhood days.

In Paris they are not the same,
The edible kind, you know.
Madrid — found some, but too lame —
The good ones still needed to grow.

There are no more chestnuts, I hear,
These days along Pushkin street.
In dreams they still bloom, never fear…
I gather them, brown and sleek.

by Irena Pasvinter

Editor’s Note: The rich narrative lines of this poem support a somewhat somber tone, especially evident in the closing line.

Evacuated (December 25th) by Martin J. Elster

Evacuated (December 25th)

The cars, which dripped their grease across the fields
of tar, have left, thick bands of altostratus
above the western ridge and coming at us
the only traffic now, whose gray conceals
the foundering sun. Past sycamores and pines
we tread along the empty roads and walks,
lamps recently switched on by unseen clocks.
My hound runs free as a fox and no one minds.

This roving through the dusk lessens the chill.
No guards to hassle us. They are all gone.
White textured paint will peel and fall at dawn
to overspread this campus on a hill
where a man and a dog can wander without worries—
till school resumes with its own brand of flurries.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: Winter comes softly in this poem, but always with the understanding that it won’t last forever.

Caught Between by Edward Hack

Caught Between

Third train since 5am. The first one’s call
was loud and cracked the ice of night, the horn
a warning and an omen too that all
for which we don’t yet have a name is born
and on its way. We’re caught between the now
and then, and though the world is frozen cold
Time ticks its endless round through every how
and why and if, the questions that are old
as eyes that first saw weather change and knew
before words told the news that this is all
there is. We hunkered down near fire, lips blue
from cold, and huddled close before the fall
of day to stars, those silvered and indifferent lights
that glowed throughout the long and brutal nights.

by Edward Hack

Editor’s Note: This sonnet reminds the reader that humans are both mortal and fragile despite the seeming inevitability of each new train.