To a Six Year-Old on Fifth Avenue: A Sonnet by Betsy K. Brown

To a Six Year-Old on Fifth Avenue: A Sonnet

The coldest winter in a hundred years.
You weave your small pink scooter through the mob
Of coats and shouts and shoppers. I chase you,
Ice in my lungs, city-din in my ears.

We watch the Christmas windows flash and dance
Like bright ballet upon your wind-burned cheeks—
Your mittened hand takes mine. You stop, entranced;

And then I turn my head. Across the street
Saint Patrick’s cathedral looms silently
And stares with unlit windows, dim and peaked.

And from our clasped hands on this crux of street
Two roads branch out—one into shadows tall,
The other into fairy-light, but both
Into the place where sound and silence meet.

by Betsy K. Brown

Editor’s Note: This sonnet’s lively imagery provides the perfect backdrop to the sublime, quiet joy of the last two lines. 

The Cost by Edward Hack

The Cost

The birds work all day long. No holidays,
no birds’-day-off, no time to read or write
a note to birds in other states, no way
to just relax, catch up on news, get tight
with dear old friends. Set free to roam the skies,
they do not roam but hunt familiar turf.
They aren’t free but starving all their lives;
instinctual, they live to scan their earth
for food from dawn to dark. What grace, their glides,
their arabesques. But truth to say, it’s all
to hunt, escape from predators, survive
to search again for food. We stare, enthralled—
imagination’s angels on their course—
then pause at the exaction of the cost.

by Edward Hack

Editor’s Note: This sonnet pointedly reminds us that there isn’t much difference between us and the birds, despite what our overgrown brains might think of their beauty.

Sestina for the Time of COVID by Tiel Aisha Ansari

Sestina for the Time of COVID

Let’s interrogate this plague:
let’s take a look under the mask.
Who would be marked for death,
who for a grave uncovered?
Who worked to save lives
and who gave up their own?

It’s been a hard year, I own.
We’ve all struggled with the plague,
doing our best to go on with life.
We try to be diligent about masks,
only go out with faces covered
to save others from the risk of death.

Every day there’s a new count of deaths—
every day a sprouting forest of headstones.
Some who are sick have recovered
but find no peace: they’re plagued
by those who speak through cruel masks,
soundbites posing as real life.

You see, it’s so fragile, life.
You see, it’s so close to us, death.
Both are illusions, Maya’s masks
but we call them ours, our own
realities. In this time of plague,
we still hide our heads under the covers.

And you’ve become an undercover
agent leading an assumed life.
You accept that a mismanaged plague
can lead to five hundred thousand deaths
(as long as none of them is your own)
and declare your freedom from masks

until your mirror shows you a death mask.
This isn’t a pop song you can cover.
This isn’t a video game you can own.
You could be saving a life.
You could save someone from death
here in this time of plague.

This is not the Masque of the Red Death.
The name of this plague is COVID.
God owns all of our lives.

by Tiel Aisha Ansari

Editor’s note: The repetition in this sestina moves through the lines with purpose until the close where the reader is left holding enough emotion to fill the entire world.

Birds in the 21st Century by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Birds in the 21st Century

They were not necessary. We regarded them as we did sequins on a sweater or the movement of rickrack around a hem. Birds were doodles in the margins of our pages. They were not essential like air and water, but they filled the trees with music, added color to winter and amazed us with their tiny powers of flight. They were always busy pulling worms from the ground, sleeping with one eye open while balancing on a wire. You try it. Their motley nests in ivy, in corners, in trees, on the ground hid them from us and smaller predators. Their eggs wore the tartans of different country sides or opted for sky blue, but birds stopped being necessary when we moved inside. Once we read the weather in their migrations, but now there’s tv. Sometimes a warbler thumped into a window and dropped stunned or worse. Children buried them with beloved pets; some birds weighed less than a penny. The birds needed to hear each other sing so they stayed up later, rose earlier because of human din. Illumination everywhere all the time wore them out. No one found long jewels of blue jay feathers in the grass. Bird baths grew moss. Bugs thrived, even less reason to go outside. People who remembered birds were asked again and again to describe how ducks landed feet first on a pond, how hawks snatched sparrows from the air, how, with a great deal of fluttering, the cardinal mates landed on the windowsill to feed each other seeds, and about the wren who lined her nest with rabbit fur. Unbelievable that such small, inventive creatures so unlike us lived in our lifetime, magicians of the air, sign of spring, what I hang around my neck in shame.

by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Editor’s note: The heartbreaking message of this prose poem is delivered through the repetition of denial—adding more and more impact to a difficult theme.

Sankta Lucia and Crows by Van Anderson

Sankta Lucia and Crows

The coldest time of year is just the time
to seek a mate, or so the crows divine.
They’re seeking food as well in city parks
and streets, but consorts fill the air—they’re stark
as black against the snow, obsidian angels
that squawl across a sky as grey as steel.
This is a hard time of the year, when night
devours the sun and swallows our brief light.
Still, dawn-clad St. Lucia wears her crown
of candles, flickering hope throughout the room.
They tried to torch her centuries ago;
she would not burn, became a saint, so now
the exegetic crows caw versions of
the fire and heat of her December love.

by Van Anderson

Poet’s Note: Lucia’s feast day is 13 December, though it used to coincide with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It is a festival of light celebrated in Sweden and Norway and features a young girl, wearing a white dress and a red sash (as the symbol of martyrdom) who carries palms and wears a crown or wreath of candles on her head. Other girls dressed as Lucia sing songs as they carry rolls and cookies in a procession. The festival helps relieve the long, dark winter days with light.

Editor’s Note: This sonnet’s main message of optimism and light is sorely needed this particular December.

A Conversation About Daughters by John Newson

A Conversation About Daughters

The white plastic bag still clings to the tree,
contorted by two years’ of winds
and traffic, turned by the air movement
of trucks and buses. Now it hangs
like the empire line flower girl dress
I haven’t started making for my daughter.

She tells me that she had a daughter
once, a branch snapped from the family tree.
My mouth dries up, I have no redress,
no response. The thought of it winds
me, knocks the air from my lungs. Silence hangs
like the mists of our breaths. The movement

of the bag catches my eye, its movement
is a dance, like the sway of my daughter
as she swings to Fats Waller; her hair hangs
across her face, the branches of a willow tree,
and I cannot help but smile as she winds
the bobbin up or laughs at the twirl of her dress.

She tells me that her daughter liked to dress
in white, belonged to a movement
that intended to save the world; The Winds
of Change. She says her daughter
was as strong as an oak tree.
I notice that her head hangs

the way my daughter’s hangs
when she is told she cannot dress
as Spider-Girl for church. The tree
is stronger than the sapling, but its movement
is less – I wonder if her daughter
bent too far in the strong winds.

As the bus arrives the plastic bag winds
itself around the branch, hangs
tangled in itself. She says her daughter
hanged herself in a white dress
that fluttered in the breeze, the only movement
save for the apples dropping from the tree.

by John Newson

Editor’s Note: Although this sestina lacks the traditional closing three lines, the repetition throughout is enough to support the emotional framework of the narrative. Form should always serve the heart of the poem rather than itself.

The Roomba by Kevin Ahern

The Roomba

Oh how I love my Roomba
Sucking dirt off of the floors
Cleaning up the living spaces
And carpets here indoors

It zigs and zags the housing scene
Could you use one? Of course
Cuz no doubt it would help you clean
Up yours

by Kevin Ahern

Kevin on Facebook

Twitter: @ahernk1

Editor’s note: Because this editor has finally (this year) purchased a robot vacuum, this poem seemed particularly apt.

Bewildered by Susan McLean

Bewildered

The lilacs are confused. They don’t remember:
has winter come and gone now? No, a drought
has crisped their leaves like piecrust. Some, in doubt,
hold out flambeaux of blossom in September.

Their swoony fragrance pierces like remorse.
Did we not let them frizzle in the sun?
And now they’ve come deliriously undone,
throwing bouquets out as a last recourse.

The bees, too, seem bedazzled. A fall swarm
has settled on our pine. To leave their hive
this late means they’re unlikely to survive
the winter. Hurriedly, while it’s still warm,

we call a beekeeper, who nabs their queen
and lures them to a nucleus box. He’ll bring
it home and feed them sugar till next spring.
They’d die if someone didn’t intervene.

And us? The patterns change and we’re dismayed.
As glaciers melt, lakes dry, and species die,
we flinch and look away from reasons why,
trapped in a minefield we ourselves have laid.

by Susan McLean

Editor’s Note: This poem is an interesting blend of beautiful imagery and sonics and grim narrative. It’s odd how humans can create such beauty amidst destruction.

When Noise Annoys by Kevin Ahern

When Noise Annoys

A pesky mouse
Inside the house
Resides within my wall

It bumps all night
When out of sight
And rumbles down the hall

I’d like to trap
This noisy chap
He’s one enormous louse

Yes, I’ll be pleased
When I have seized
That hippopotamouse

by Kevin Ahern

Kevin on Facebook

Twitter: @ahernk1

Editor’s note: Here’s an extra poem this week, because we can all use a good dose of levity once in a while.

Wedding Dress Ghazal by Sally Thomas

Wedding Dress Ghazal

A girl blooms from a shantung hill that whitens
As sunlight touches it. Come do my buttons?

Her little sister’s thirteen-year-old fingers
Are careful: tiny loops, forty buttons.

Each button slips in through the looping eye
Whose pupil it becomes. She buttons, buttons.

The girl in the dress exhales. It fit last Friday.
Her sister tucks her chin, studies the buttons.

Another bridesmaid holds the illusion veil.
The little sister buttons, buttons, buttons.

Past the hard part now. Now you can breathe.
Breathing’s a good idea. Seven buttons.

The buttons’ blank white eyes regard her coolly.
Today is not her day. These aren’t her buttons.

Outside, something startles the mourning doves
That feed in the church courtyard. Three more buttons.

The girls’ eyes, like windows, flash with wings.
All the future’s fastened with these buttons.

At last she’s buttoned into it: the bride.
The doves, resettling, wink bright eyes like buttons.

by Sally Thomas

Twitter: @SallyThomasNC

Facebook: Facebook


Editor’s Note
: This ghazal seems simple until the seventh stanza when the quiet, emotional framework of the little sister is revealed.