The Nameless Bird by Greg Watson

The Nameless Bird

So often we mistake beauty for the light behind it.
We know better, but it’s one of our favorite lies.

We long for clarity, seen through the lens of unreason.
Love itself walks between, where all hope lies.

I don’t know how the swans find their way back each year,
or what causes two lovers to agree upon the same lie.

These winter crows don’t care to know your name;
but they recognize friend from foe, and they never lie.

The bird in your heart doesn’t understand that it’s caged.
It sings when spoken to, sleeps where its shadow lies.

Death wins the final argument; we understand this.
But that doesn’t make the songs we sang suddenly lies.

It’s true, brother, that I should visit more often than I do;
but the grave is not where any of our memories lie.

It’s no use asking me who is living and who has gone.
If you want the truth, let me begin with this lie.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This loose ghazal’s opening line immediately pulls the reader into the speaker’s world. The repetition that follows cements the emotional journey with more poignant truths.

The Runners by Eric Nelson

The Runners

I’m not a runner but I love to watch them—
their mute glide, raindrop-soft footfalls, arms
rhythmic as wings. And how they bring
the city to a stop with their K’s—the 3’s, 5’s, and 10’s,
the Fun Run, the Jingle Bell, the Firecracker—
everybody wearing red white and blue—
streets blocked, blue police lights for once
not sparking fear, volunteers at tables checking names,
handing out numbers, synchronizing watches.

Young moms in full stride push strollers cargoed
with wide-eyed babies. Dads run beside kids
giving advice, watching for fatigue, ready to swoop
them up and keep running. The old, papery but fit,
move wisely, unperturbed as turtles. The serious
athletes, straight-faced, burst quickly to the front,
their gaze more inward than out, personal best
on their minds. Behind them, the big bunch paces itself,
amorphous as a bulge squeezing through a snake’s length.

Then, for a while, it seems over, the end
come and gone before you know it. Finally, the stragglers
appear, some talking, some alone, limping, likely
to be picked off by cheetahs—those beautiful runners—
if this were the Serengeti. But this is America, so we cheer
for their never-say-die gumption, knowing that some day
the last shall be first. But not today….

The crowd drifts away. Tables get folded and loaded
onto trucks. The police cut their blue lights, give
their sirens a half-whoop, and return to circling the city
returning to itself—loud, clumsy, in a hurry.

by Eric Nelson

Editor’s Note: This poem writes of optimism and community, while also being fully aware that reality often is anything but.

Ode to Spam by Robin Shepard

Ode to Spam

Succulent sweet, pink gelatinous meat squeezed
into a loaf-round can with a key to unlock all
the secrets revealed in recipes known only
to islanders too fat to hunt a pig. Try it fried
until the edges crisp up like baked skin
and the inside soaks with oil. A sumptuous fare
for any lover of potted meat parts and pressed
connective tissue. O Spam! I love you most
in morning, with runny yellow yokes sopped up
by buttered black toast. King of all things made
of meat! I love you at supper, my centerpiece complete!
All meats are equal, but some meats are more equal
than others, according to Spaminal Farm, a literary feast.
Even Spamlet implored of Ophelia, “Get thee to a cannery!”
O rhapsody of salt and fat! Cubed and scrambled
with onions and peppers and last night’s rice, baked
and poached, barbecued on a skewer, boiled and braised
over hot red coals, squeezed into sumptuous spamburgers
and served on spamalicious buns. Today, spamaroni!
Tomorrow, apple spam turnovers! The ubiquitous,
anonymous mystery of its immortality, this immoral
meat stitched up like Frankenspam, one part shoulder,
one part butt, congealed and glued together with a hundred
years of deliciously long shelf life. Twenty-seven grams
of total fat, and enough salt to preserve your soul
for centuries, this dietary democracy, puréed
and pressed into a perfect meal shared across cultures,
food that heals and brings peace, holy and pure,
my transcendental porkorific bliss, I bless you.

by Robin Shepard

Editor’s Note: Any poem that uses a word like “Frankenspam” is a delight, and this one also has clever internal rhymes, alliteration, and additional delicious word gems like “porkorific” and “spamalicious.”

From the archives – There Is Always a Way to Stop Falling by Jan Mueller

There Is Always a Way to Stop Falling

Shake yourself, wake up! And you said yes,
it would be simple enough to leave.
But you stayed, to sweep up
your husband’s rage, even as
your footing slipped, and you
decided to finish the nightmare.
What is it like to plummet,
eyes frozen wide, paralyzed,
the earth rising to break you
like a light bulb on the kitchen floor?

What makes you stand, animal-dumb
on the track with the train blinding you?
You chose your witness carefully;
the moon went full twice that December.
A white paper plate tacked on indigo cloth,
it had earned a second chance to watch
over you as you ended the sentence,
and you were clever about it,
parked in a barren field, in neutral gear,
with a full tank of gas. Period.

Three nights later, a freckled moth
flirted with a hot bright bulb
to distract me from my task of writing
a eulogy on behalf of the neighborhood.
Do you know what he told me, earlier
that day? Obituaries must be purchased,
and he would have no part of that.
While you lay refrigerated in a drawer
that is what he said. Oh! You deserved
so much more than this draining of life.

The final judgment your actions begged for—
sainthood? Damnation? never made it
past the questions. We all went spinning
like whining tops for days, and me,
I could never figure why, except
there was some unsettling pain
that I shared with you, and your absence
rendered it acute and intolerable,
as if we were partners in tug-of-war
and you let go. I do not know

where he shook the contents
of the glossy red box they gave him
“like a goddamn Christmas present.”
Haven’t seen him since. We are
still here though rearranged a bit,
painting over your dark green walls, taking up
your office files, hitting the backhands
fast and low over the tennis net, like you used to.
Me, I struggle at that same end of rope
and I miss your hands being there, helping.

from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 3, December 2006 — by Jan Mueller

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

About Angels by Christine Klocek-Lim

About Angels

If I’d had my way, I wouldn’t have been born so
female. So human. Instead, I’d have emerged
from the world with wings lifting out
behind me like armor, each feather sharp
as confidence. Bright as conviction.
I would not have had to fight for my right to be
smart. To be certain. To be stubborn. To be choosy.
To be alive.

Angels exist as if there are no boundaries.
There are no gates along their ocean. No waves jailed
against their shores. There are no trees maimed
before all their leaves have reached the sky.
No branches broken in a violent wind.
No storms strike them down for speaking
too loud, too much, too fast. They haven’t fallen,
because they are already higher than the atmosphere.
Dirt can’t touch them. Dirt is unimportant.
They are not stupid, not mercurial, not difficult,
not hysterical, not invisible.

Angels do not hate themselves.
They don’t regret their past, or their hunger,
or their tomorrow.
They don’t wish upon a star.
The stars are their playthings.
Their playground is bigger than the world.
Bigger than the galaxy. Their universe is infinite.
Had I been born in a different universe I wouldn’t have been
lost. I wouldn’t be at war. I wouldn’t crave armor or wings
or stories about angels. I wouldn’t need permission
to be anything at all.

by Christine Klocek-Lim.

Editor’s Note: As an editor, I feel it’s important to avoid indiscriminate self-publishing, but on one day a year, perhaps you will forgive me (yes, it’s my birthday).

From the archives – No Place Like by Laurel K. Dodge

No Place Like

Don’t say that my heart is the moon;
you aren’t the earth and my love is not a distant

satellite, pulled. My heart isn’t that sharp curve,
a scythe that rises only under cover of darkness.

My heart is not that hole when the moon
is new and its light, absent. My heart is not full;

it does not call to wolves or signal harvest.
My heart is a witch. My heart is a dog

My heart is a brick. My heart is a tornado,
a wind spinning back on itself. My heart can tear

a house apart. Don’t you get it? My love is oil
and straw. My love is a fear-filled roar. My love

is the red field that lulls. My love is heels. My love
is the road. My love is the impossible journey home.

from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 4, March 2007— by Laurel K. Dodge

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

My Wife’s Back by Sydney Lea

My Wife’s Back

All naked but for a strap, it traps my gaze
As we paddle: the dear familiar nubs
Of spine-bone punctuating that sun-warmed swath,

The slender muscles that trouble the same sweet surface.
We’ve watched and smiled as green herons flushed
And hopped ahead at every bend, and we’ve looked up

At a redtail tracing open script on a sky
So clear and deep we might believe
It’s autumn, no matter it’s August still. Another fall

Will be on us before we know it. Of course we adore
That commotion of color, but it seems to come
Again as soon as it’s gone away. They all do now.

We’re neither young anymore, to put matters plainly.
My love for you over thirty years
Extends in all directions, but now to your back as we drift

And paddle down the tranquil Connecticut River.
We’ve seen a mink scratch fleas on a mudflat.
We’ve seen an osprey start to dive but seeing us,

Think better of it. Two phoebes wagged on an ash limb.
Your torso is long. I can’t see your legs
But they’re longer, I know. Phoebe, osprey, heron, hawk:

Marvels under Black Mountain, but I am fixed
On your back, indifferent to other wonders:
Bright minnows that flared in the shallows,

the gleam off that poor mink’s coat,
even the fleas in its fur, the various birds
–the lust of creatures just to survive.

But I watch your back. Never have I wished more not to die.

by Sydney Lea

Editor’s Note: The sharp longing of the last line focuses the clear imagery of this poem into a difficult realization that any reader who loves and has loved will understand.

A Day Mirrors Itself by Martin Willitts Jr.

A Day Mirrors Itself

1.

It is exactly one minute after midnight; a new day
crawls out the last day like a snail pulling darkness,
after leaving its shell. The town rolls up
sidewalks, the streetlights yawn, fighting sleep,
and the curious dandruff of snow filters the stilled,
patient air. Everyone fidgets with cabin fever.
At eleven, a teenager races to beat curfew.
I sit in a dark room, developing daily snapshots, rising
out of printer’s emulsion of memory. Snow cakewalks
in its finest attire. The music of silence falls on bare branches
like a waitress tips of a few pennies. The clock drags its feet.
Sleep eludes me. Silence teaches me about listening,
and I am a terrible student. Although it feels like an hour,
it is still the same minute of stillness and intention to detail.

2.

It is still the same minute of stillness and intention to detail,
and I am a terrible student. Although it feels like an hour,
sleep eludes me. Silence teaches me about listening,
like a waitress tips of a few pennies. The clock drags its feet
in its finest attire. The music of silence falls on bare branches
out of printer’s emulsion of memory. Snow cakewalks.
I sit in a dark room, developing daily snapshots, rising
at eleven. A teenager races to beat curfew.
Patient air. Everyone fidgets with cabin fever,
and the curious dandruff of snow filters the stilled
sidewalks. The streetlights yawn, fighting sleep,
after leaving its shell. The town rolls up,
crawls out the last day like a snail pulling darkness.
It is exactly one minute after midnight; a new day.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: Beautiful imagery drives the repetition in this poem, offering the reader subtly different views of the speaker’s life.

Name by Mir Yashar Seyedbagheri

Name

I slink through stores
and the narrowest of country roads
my name butchered and battered
carried upon my back
they ask from whence it comes
in starched smiling tones

but what do they mean?

sometimes, I proclaim myself tsar
an imperial majesty to my name
and I imagine the questioners genuflecting
each bow graceful and easy
while Tchaikovsky booms with bombast
over vast marbled floors

they say they’re just curious
it’s so exotic, a name they’ve never heard
am I an Arab? A Greek? An Israeli?
I smile while they guess and try to look beneath their words
is there a grimace there, while they butcher it again?
or am I just imagining?

Of course, they blow up and shoot tsars
but I just want to hold onto that word for a night
or two
tsar, a sharp edge
and speak not of questions or laws, but of edicts, orders
striding not slinking, a beatific smile rising from neat-trimmed beard

I want to speak that word one last time
before I slink down another country road
questioners battering my name

I want to waltz one last waltz
before my back breaks

by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

Editor’s Note: The “exotic” name in this narrative poem is an excellent metaphor for racism, highlighting the inescapable frustration and emotional burden the speaker feels.

Revenant Etudes by Stephen Bunch

Revenant Etudes

She plays piano in an upper room
in the only unhaunted house in town.
Her calloused fingertips caress
the flats and sharps, the keys
like knife blades arrayed before her,
the dried blood long worn off
by hours of arpeggios, staccatos, and trills.

Sometimes she sings, but usually
she listens, mimics with fingers spread
the sound of the oak’s shadow pressing
the window, or the soft turning
of her husband in sleep.

As she plays she works
to see stars through the ceiling,
to reproduce the faces
of her grandchildren behind
the walls of other houses
in other towns, to hit

the note exactly
as the telephone rings,

and when it doesn’t ring, to pause
precisely and sustain.

With hands crossed, she can make
the sun rise, again and again,
never the same, panta rhei,
with the soft hammering of thumbs,
the interval between then and now.
In the angle of her wrists
the pulse of an ovation,
but she continues to play,
refusing to take a bow.

by Stephen Bunch

Editor’s Note: This poem highlights that moment all artists crave—zen, flow, being in the zone—while also delicately speaking of the danger of its call.