Light Sleeper by Greg Watson

Light Sleeper

Nearly anything, it seems, can startle you
awake these days — the faint rustle
of a bedroom curtain, clang and gurgle
of a steam radiator, phantom steps
crossing the hardwood floor,
the thinnest strand of light seeping in.
Hovering between sleep and awake,
you turn from one side to another,
the cool underside of the pillow
reaching downward, while you float
among the surface of things,
neither rising nor falling for hours.
It was not always this way, you think.
You slept like a stone through childhood,
slept through monsters and ghosts,
through colds and dangerous fevers,
slept as though dropped from
a passing plane, limbs positioned
like the most random of stars,
planted in the earth, unmoving.
Your daughter sleeps this way now.
Perhaps this is the gift we pass along,
the naive promise of sweet dreams
kissed into eyes and brow,
the worries we happily take on.
A father must sleep lightly,
every groan and ping of the universe
taken in, held, acknowledged;
while a child must not be bothered
by the trivialities of this world,
even if it breaks apart, even if the pieces
are lost for years and years to come.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This poem is perfectly constructed: regular line lengths, a few startling images, and a conversational tone that almost distracts you from the way it reaches into your heart and squeezes just enough to remind you of why you’re alive.

Wild Bergamot by Martha Deed

Wild Bergamot

You should get a smaller car the woman said
who blocked my exit from the poetry reading parking place
in a field off the grid on Wheeler Hill and rallying to her cause she said
There is no reason for that big SUV and climbed into her puny Kia
that had me turning and backing and forwarding and looking
and considering like the days on West 111th Street
on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, six inches longer than the car
all that’s needed on those streets, but this was a green grass hilltop
and this was poetry and sunshine and singing birds in nearby shrubs
and in all that space the woman with the Kia could find no better place to park
her vehicle than too close behind my car and nothing better to do
than to make an environmental point on a Saturday afternoon in August.
I need this car I said to hold my daughter’s power wheelchair
and continued the backing and turning until I freed myself.
She handed me a tiny pink flower. It’s a Wild Bergamot she said.
Thank you I said, and she left no doubt thanking herself for being kind
but I knew who was kinder that day ‒ I did not say “dead daughter.”

by Martha Deed

Martha on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The rush of words in this poem mirrors the swell of frustration that the speaker feels in a very difficult situation. The contrast of the clearly punctuated last line with the previous ones gives it even more of an emotional punch than it would otherwise have.

Let’s name this afternoon after a Miles Davis song by Julia Klatt Singer

Let’s name this afternoon after a Miles Davis song

Let’s read your tea leaves.
Read them in a language we don’t know—
Persian or Hungarian—even if the tea
is from India and you are drinking it
out of a cup from Sweden.

The one my grandmother gave me
when I moved into my first apartment.
Before I knew you. Before I knew me too.

Your leaves are lush, dappled in sunlight.
Your leaves sing the rhythm of the rain.
Your leaves are shaped like a continent
or a birthmark—and the sheen
of a beloved cello.

I rub my finger
along the cup’s rim, hum
with them.

Let’s read them like braille
with our hands. Let’s read them out loud,
till we can’t help but notice
the sky is drenched
in some kind of blue.

by Julia Klatt Singer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/julia.k.singer/

Editor’s Note: The title of this poem provides a wonderful framework on which the imagery of the narrative can riff, allowing just enough emotional space to sing.

1975 by Patricia Wallace Jones

1975

There was no warning
that New Year’s Day
would change the world, steal tomorrow
and return it old, etched and gray
as February –
no warning in the afterglow
of champagne toasts and fancy clothes,
wishes strewn about the living room floor
that the flag was down,
corners folded to grace the mantle;
no warning that swallows
had built their home in the chimney flue,
that a stuffy nose and simple cough
would come to mean
I’d never wear the red dress again,
dance or dream for years to come.

by Patricia Wallace Jones

Patricia on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This poem’s difficult emotional punch builds slowly, using metaphor and imagery to illustrate the speaker’s experience, until the last few lines reveal a narrative of years of difficulty rather than just a single moment.

From the archives – Beauty and the Beast by Joan Kantor

Beauty and the Beast

Thick with snow
the slope behind my house
rolls its whiteness down
and over a thick sheet of ice
broken only
by shimmering black
long liquid slivers
of river
while out front
cars splash salt and sand
as fluffy drifts morph
into dirt tinged mounds
and careless plows
scrape raw brown scars
into sleeping green.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, January 24, 2018 — by Joan Kantor

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim

Boat by Hiram Larew

Boat

You see
I don’t care if his hair
Is combed bad
He is my son
I love every shoestring of him
Every bit that he thinks he knows
Fifteen years
I don’t care what he becomes
Because he’ll become something
Look at him
He’ll become more than those red ears
Or grinning legs
He’ll become even more important than midnight

More and more I hold him by his shoulder
Less and less
And when I do it’s as if
He can’t be here forever
I think I’ll get him a boat to carry
And then watch him like the minute that just went by

In the long run
Nothing I do will matter
I know that
But look at him
Especially when he’s reaching for something
There must be a whole other world
Out there somewhere
That’s missing him.

by Hiram Larew, first published in Wisconsin River Valley Journal

Hiram on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This poem is a perfect example of how something that seems completely simple really isn’t at all. Repetition, imagery, metaphor/simile, varying line lengths, enjambment, allegory, etc. all add up to tell the reader how crazy it is to be a parent.

Fog by Wade Fox

Fog

It’s cold in the morning
and damp. The kettle
ticks on the stove
as I warm my hands
on a mug of tea.

Beads of water
form on the kitchen
panes. I sit
at the table gazing out
and wipe my palm
across the glass,
revealing a world
dulled to gray.

On the grassy slope
down to the river,
adrift in fog,
dark oaks
claw at the sky
with ragged limbs.
Below, the river,
thick and black,
snakes past.
For a moment, I
feel it tighten
around the house.

From my window,
on clear days,
I can see
his grave, in the flat
expanse of the cemetery,
punctuated by
headstones,
amid the orchards.

How he broke,
became small,
slow, shuffling
down the hall,
his bones pressed
through his skin.
He muttered fearfully
as he lowered himself
into a chair, the man
who could work
in the field from dark
to dark. When he could
not rise from his chair,
how feebly he raged,
raising his shaking
fists, like knotted
branches in the wind.

At night he cried
from the pain, showing
his yellow teeth,
spittle on his lips.
He forgot himself
before he died,

all gone except animal
heat and obstinance,
frail and quiet,
panting, his hands
curled tightly,
dry. I held
them in mine
as he stilled and died,
a weight I couldn’t
carry in the end.

It is early still.
The fog settles
over the earth. Only
the harsh laughter
of ravens in the tops
of oaks breaks
the silence. The land
has a bleak and deathly
beauty, like a battlefield
after the corpses have
returned to the soil.

Across the river,
the crowns of the orchards
rise above
the fog, stones
in a perilous harbor,
and far away, over
the swirling clouds,
the lights of living
homes shine.

by Wade Fox

Editor’s Note: This image heavy poem starts deceptively mild, but then the middle of the narrative rises up and to punch the reader in the gut. Grief is complicated and fierce and inescapable, sometimes.

It Was by Lesléa Newman

It Was

not a stroke
of genius
it was not

a stroke
of luck
it was

a stroke
of misfortune
that befell

my father
leaving him
crumpled

at the foot
of the driveway
next to the garbage

waiting
all morning
to be picked up

by Lesléa Newman, from I Wish My Father

Lesléa on Facebook

Twitter: @lesleanewman

Editor’s Note: Sometimes poems don’t need to be long or complicated to say something utterly true and heart-wrenching. [My apologies for the lateness of the post; the scheduler went wonky.]

My Husband Shoots Me by Jen Karetnick

My Husband Shoots Me

with Botox, 31 times
in my forehead, the shallow dish
of my temples, the nape of my neck
where as a younger man
he’d touch his tongue,
a fencer’s foil.

He does not hold
the syringe like a love letter
or wield it like an apology
although he says a quiet
“I’m sorry” every time
the needle pierces

the cartilage under skin
with an audible crunch;
fat, a loosely guarded prisoner,
has long since escaped my face,
muscles pulled tight
from migraine after migraine.

I follow his directions
to look up, down, wrinkle
my forehead like a chow
so that he can measure
where the nerves are,
avoid making my eyelids

droop more than they
already do. He assures me
the puncture marks will fade,
the medicine diffuse, block
the transfer of pain, lengthen
the staccato of light.

Three decades ago,
he practiced tapping my joints
as if they were ice
with a rubber hammer,
thumped my ribs, dug
under bone for my organs

and lymph nodes. Now I reap
expertise, fanned by
his trajectory as he wasps
around me, and I wait, still
within this vortex, to be stung,
and stung, and stung.

by Jen Karetnick, first published in jmww, from The Burning Where Breath Used to Be

Editor’s Note: The surprising title of this poem immediately grabs the reader’s attention, but it is the last two lines that grab the heart.

Shore of Tago Bay, Ejiri at Tōkaidō by Martin Willitts Jr.

Shore of Tago Bay, Ejiri at Tōkaidō
Katsushika Hokusai, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, picture # 18

Men have cast their fishing nets from the prow. All day, they pull up nets of emptiness, over and over and over. All this hard work in harsh light, and all they catch is sunburn. They will return home at the end of the day, once again, with nothing to show for their efforts. It is not easy catching the nothingness.

On the shore, workers are tiny and insignificant, raking the flats for salt. Some have already gathered the salt, and now they are carrying their bags to the kilns. Inside the kilns, water boils to keep the salt. These workers will have much to show for their efforts. It is not easy boiling down a day into a single moment.

None of them care that they are close to the Tōkaidō highway. That road could take them far from all of this salt and lack of fish and pull of oars. The road is always there, yet these people always stay performing the same tasks as their ancestors. Small details persisted. The more they struggled, the more they failed, like sunlight, like heartbeats, like salt trying to avoid crystalizing in a kiln, like birds circling uncertain where to land, if to land. It is not easy to be so near a road that can take us elsewhere, and stay doing the same meaningless task.

Mount Fuji is always in the background, always with snow on its peak, always below the setting sun. The sense of Always is the only constant we have in this world. Even that is temporary, dissolving like water in the kiln. It is not easy being temporary.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sun is in a net,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .taken to the kiln to bake,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .turns to salt in heat.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This ekphrastic poem (prose and haiku) tells a straightforward story, or so it seems, but the persistent energy of the images resonates with the woodblock print, creating more layers of meaning than is immediately obvious.

Image by Katsushika Hokusai