The Birthmark by Bruce Guernsey

The Birthmark

No matter what he did—
the Silver Cross for valor,
the powder he’d cover
his right cheek with
like gauze on a wound,
his Florida tan—no matter,
his was a mask he couldn’t take off,
rising like flame from the collar
of his tropical shirt
everyone noticed first,

my Uncle Charles
with the map on his face
as he called it,
to not get lost, so he said,
my baby sister giggling,
bouncing on his knee
each Christmas
when he’d come to visit,
his bags full of presents
as he reached to hug me
and I ran away,
afraid to touch it,
the burn from birth
that made Charles different,

though when I did once,
sneaking up
where he slept on our couch,
it felt the same
to my tender hand
as my father’s face
after he shaved, my uncle
like my sister in her crib
sound asleep as I traced
the scarlet coast for his house,
my fingers trembling, barely touching,
not wanting to hurt him anymore.

by Bruce Guernsey, from FROM RAIN: Poems, 1970-2010.

Editor’s Note: Short, narrative poems must function as miniature stories, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The narrator’s adventure arcs from curiosity, through fear, to realization.

Coyote by Bobbi Sinha-Morey

Coyote

The moon leans into our teepee.
Tonight, she is half full and bright
enough for me to see the shape of
my hand in the dark. My sister Coyote
is awake, turning and tossing, her sighs
uneven and loud. I stare across the teepee
through the grey night at the one who
makes tomatoes grow and bees hum,
who calls the stars by name and tells
time using shadows and sun; Coyote
who once gave me a thunderstone and
told me how even though the black
and grey rock outside was strong,
the sparkly purple crystals inside
were fragile and that’s what made
it so special. She is the one who
crouches near the door and stares
through the flap to the world outside.
She is listening to the bees, tucked
into their hives for the night.
A breeze lifts the corner of the flap,
bringing in scents of ripe blackberries
and warm honey. Her attention is
turned to the night meadow. Coyote’s
the one who tells me silver diamonds
rain from the hole in the ceiling; and
she is a fountain, a spray, a rush of
invisible moon-flakes. I remember
her rainbow aura before she had left
by sunrise, how it glowed around her
before evaporating in the cool morning.

by Bobbi Sinha-Morey

Editor’s Note: The imagery in this poem is mostly surreal, but always useful, allowing the question of Coyote’s identity to quietly slip into the reader’s mind.

The Miles Before Sleep by Mary Alexandra Agner

The Miles Before Sleep

inspired by the title of a Martin Willitts Jr. poem

Country singers say they go by truck wheels,
rubber tumbling, lost in Patsy Cline,
and poets, with debated metaphor, and rhyme,
get lost in snow and near forget their horse.
The rest of us walk crosswalks, train tracks, asphalt
between the lot and daycare, food store, work.
Unlike the lyrics, sneakers leave no footprint,
except on melting days we’d just as soon forget,
indeed all roads are laid with just that goal:
to go on without notice of the ones
who go on them, whose tread, tires or tired
feet the only thing which keeps the count:
miles to go before I sleep
recorded one by one in bones, in cracks,
invisible—and numberless as breath.

by Mary Alexandra Agner.

Editor’s note: This poem’s use of image and metaphor are not the only technical delicacies—there is the nod to two different poets, and the perfect use of rhyme in the third line (to emphasize the line’s meaning to the reader).

Blackstone Valley Triptych by Susanna Baird

Blackstone Valley Triptych
Acrylic on steel, 1974

Left Panel
Blue on the back of a beer truck,
metallic mountains rise from the bumper.
A guy rolls the foothills
into the sky.

Right Panel
Sky at night. Bronze stars
form rusted constellations.
The Working Man’s Belt.
The Pot-holed Roadway,
like the highway
leading out of the cement city
past small towns, dead grass,
breed-less dogs,
flakes of paint.

Center Panel
Paint in the middle
muddled bright, like you’re looking
through a smudge in a window
to a room lit by low-watt bulbs;
as if the painter dipped his brush
into beer before sweeping
the canvas, knocking sweaty cans
out of patrons’ hands, swiping
their quarters off the sticky bartop
onto the floor, covered with peanut shells
and soil stomped out of rubber trenches
between boot bottom treads.
Fresh off machinery days,
the patrons grab thirsty
as cans fall.

Their dive makes you ache,
turn away from the bar to a truck
finally emptied of beer,
a mouser hunting dinner
in a scraggly lot,
a pond named after a meadow,
flat and common and blue.

by Susanna Baird

Editor’s Note: This poem uses imagery to create the suggestion of art from ordinary life—Americana’s forgotten places highlighted with blue skies and paint.

From the archives – What Still Matters by Johanna Ely

What Still Matters

The water stain
on the dining room table
still remains,
a perfect circle left
from the vase of irises
I received on my fortieth birthday.
That, and the table,
lined and scratched
like an old man’s face,
remind me
there is a beauty to aging.
All these millions of years,
water tumbling over riverbeds,
the ragged rocks thin and clean,
smoothed into glass stones,
scarab green,
or wind howling in the crevices
of ocean cliffs,
how it erodes and softens them,
dunes of bone white sand, rising.
All that once came
kicking and screaming
into this nascent world,
weakened to a whisper-
the veneer chipped,
worn to a thin gold band,
takes on its own polished patina.
While a voice low, far away,
murmurs what still matters-
how the purple tongued
irises turned
a deeper indigo
in the waning light.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, May 13, 2016 — by Johanna Ely.

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – Languages by Carl Sandburg

Languages

There are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing—and singing—remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago.

by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Sonnet to negotiate peace with your dementia by Tracy Lee Karner

Sonnet to negotiate peace with your dementia

You’re dozing in your rocker, feet planted.
You clutch the chair’s arms, appearing prepared
for the shock of bad news, your neck slanted
head jutting forward. Oh my dear gray scared
bird, while invisible worms still burrow
you stop searching for a table to hold
your reading glasses. And then you furrow
your forehead, begin to snore. You turn old.
The unread want ads lie on your stomach.
They rise and fall between us as we breathe.
Will I tell you? No, I’d rather mimic
you now, observe in silence all that seethes.
I thought I might explain why we’re broken.
But sleep. This, too, will remain unspoken.

by Tracy Lee Karner

Twitter: @TracyLeeKarner

Tracy on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This poem delicately offers a glimpse into the slow loss of a person. It’s all the more poignant because the narrator’s emotions are strong, but kept in check by love.