Bastard by Robert Nisbet

Bastard
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?
Ecting?
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.

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.

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.

Near the Airport of Kabul, 16 August 2021 by Jane Blanchard

Near the Airport of Kabul, 16 August 2021

“. . . the dreadful martyrdom must run its course . . .”
—W. H. Auden, Musée des Beaux Arts

And so it goes, another fall—
Of those who thought themselves too small
To fight against the mighty clan
Now moving through Afghanistan,
Where fear has long kept hope in thrall.

The images—the plunge, the sprawl—
At least are able to appall
Some there, elsewhere without a plan,
. . . . . . .And so it goes.

If only such a shock could stall
The suffering to come to all
Opponents of the Taliban
Let loose by one American
Who failed to follow protocol,
. . . . . . .And so it goes.

by Jane Blanchard

Editor’s Note: The lyricality of this rondeau chillingly belies the utter disaster of its subject matter.

Slow River Waltz by Matt Quinn

Slow River Waltz

Come and walk with me down by the river
where it’s winding its way from the town,
where it whispers of woodland and pasture,
and it wants us to follow it down

to the bridge where the brambles are growing,
to the track where the steam-trains once sang,
to the hedgerow that edges the meadows,
to the tree where the rope-swing still hangs.

Let us drift our way down to the weir
where the silkweed lets down its green hair,
to the pool where our childhoods are swimming.
Come and rest for a while with me there.

by Matt Quinn

Editor’s Note: Sometimes we just need a poem that will bring us a little bit of ease.

Powers of Ten by Ciaran Parkes

Powers of Ten

The richness of our own neighbourhood
is the exception,
the calm voice over says
at the point when the imaginary cameraman
has swung out to a distance from the earth

where galaxies appear as distant stars,
small and far apart. This loneliness
is the norm,
he says, then turns
the camera round, heading back again

to where the film started out, the lake side
in Chicago, the couple sleeping
after a picnic, their blanket on the ground.
The camera zooms in on the hand

of the man but doesn’t stop there, goes
deeper in, sliding like a beam
of radioactive light to show the worlds
that wait inside. Finally we come

to the heart of an atom, two electrons
dancing in a circle, in a tight embrace
of mutual attraction. Deeper down,
chaotic darkness swirling, empty space.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: The closing lines brilliantly highlight the central image of this poem, where loneliness and an eternal longing for connection keep pace with the insistent reality of space.

You Turn the Page by Jean L. Kreiling

You Turn the Page

“Whenever I see someone reading a book . . ., I feel civilization has become a little safer.” Matt Haig, How to Stop Time

You turn the page because you have to know—
because the youthful wizard is in trouble,
because the wife’s about to pack and go,
because you just like living in this bubble
of graceful prose and other people’s ills
and joys, because turning the pages makes
you see things from a new perspective, fills
your mind with more than you, and maybe breaks
your heart or your routine, or breaks apart
what’s rusted shut, or else draws a connection
where you thought there was none. And once you start,
the pages lead you to the intersection
of art and life and your own empathy;
the pages turn you toward humanity.

by Jean L. Kreiling

Editor’s Note: This sonnet lays bare the truth that every bookworm knows.

Roadless by Elizabeth Maxey

Roadless

after Robert Frost

With all the gaps in the yellow wood
there could have been a thousand roads
or none—indeed, not one I could
feel sure of. All roads may be good
enough, but what of episodes
of stumbling through the brush?

. . . . . . .A self-made man can make a way
. . . . . . .through anything. It only makes
. . . . . . .sense. Those who wait for something stay
. . . . . . .as if submissive to the day
. . . . . . .because they do not know mistakes
. . . . . . .are always someone else’s.

But what if forward movement fails
to equal virtue? What, among
the trees, does “forward” mean? The trails
imagined by impatient males
may not be triumphs to be sung
by poets.

And aren’t the visions of the lake
and well-curb, though a doubtful gift,
some recompense for what it takes
to circle back in your own wake
and settle for another shift
in an uneasy place?

by Elizabeth Maxey

Editor’s Note: The rhyme scheme in this poem arrests the attention not so much with the parts that rhyme, but with the words that don’t, asking the reader to question easy perception with more difficult themes.

Secret Adages by Barbara Lydecker Crane

Secret Adages
“Write nothing down in ink” is the secret’s first rule;
“You promise not to tell?” said the secret’s first fool.
A secret’s likely safe if entrusted to a stranger;
one who knows no English will further lessen danger.
Secrets may be sweet, too delicious not to share.
To savor them together might double tempting fare.
Don’t hide a guilty secret no other person knows;
like mold behind a ceiling, a spreading fester shows.
Revealing every secret, a link to each regret,
will drain away a soul to an empty fishing net.
“Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”
(But more about the bodies, Ben Franklin never said.)

by Barbara Lydecker Crane

Editor’s Note: This clever poem uses rhyme and meter to effortlessly lull the reader with amusing advice right up until the killer last line.

From the archives — “Upon Waking to Find a Sparrow Loose in My Room” by J. Brian Long

“Upon Waking to Find a Sparrow Loose in My Room”

I dreamed again the ghost of you.
I dreamed again the folds and the heat
of you sudden in my sleep, I dreamed you wet

against the salt of my want. This is a thing a dream,
a muse, becomes: a flutter whispering about
the dust of the drape, a shadow tangling

must webs in high, hard corners,
the flit, the rasp, of wings tattering
against the pane, against the false, baring light.

I pen you to the sheets, your song
against the dark of my palm; this
is a thing a dream, a poem becomes.

by J. Brian Long

from Autumn Sky Poetry, Number 1, June 2006

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim