What the Burglar Left by Greg Watson

What the Burglar Left

The burglar left our apartment
much the same as before,
leaving two uncertain boot tracks
skidding downward from
the kicked-in window screen,
black roads leading nowhere,
thin plumes of smoking reaching up
through the white winter sky;
left the cats skittish but unharmed,
dishes filled, toys scattered;
left the kitchen drawers flung open,
closet doors ajar, the bed
pulled like a raft from its dock
in the corner, drifting;
left your favorite painting,
the books unread, music waiting
to be played; left your simple silver
rings and bracelets, those empty
perfume jars and baubles,
the gaudy brooch your grandmother
had given you many years before;
left the water drip-dripping
in the bathroom sink,
the silence we had collected
over the years, breath by breath;
left a presence that became,
with time, impossible to shake
or to name, this stranger walking
silently from room to room,
picking things up, turning them over,
wondering what might be
worth taking, what held value
and what did not, and not finding
much, moving along.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This poem begins with an easy story and clear imagery, but it’s only as the reader moves closer to the closing lines that one begins to realize that the burglar is likely a metaphor for the entire narrative.

Why I have to sing by Kitty Jospé

Why I have to sing

my song— not the battle hymn
of any republic, nor God Save

any monarch (except
for the butterfly) or notes

about any country called mine—
no… My song, ’tis of a greater

Thee… like a Brother Francis
talking to the birds, his sisters—

a version of mine eyes
have seen the glory of

starlings—at dusk in a swooping some call
an affliction, others a murmuration

or a scourge or constellation—
indeed— a universe of stars

appearing just before twilight to
grace the end of the day…

My song is about untended fields,
banditry of chickadee, chain of bobolink

where no one would dare yank out Indian
Paintbrush, wild morning glory—

and the soft teeth of the yellow dandelion
would lend celebratory notes to necklaces

woven by children all singing God Bless
the Beautiful, in Harmony.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .I need the Navajo prayer
the quiet shepherdess song, the love

songs, the charm of hummingbirds,
and name the gaggle of all manner

of geese, a skein, sung as praise,
for how all of life weaves together.

by Kitty Jospé

Editor’s Note: The allusions threaded through the beginning lines of this poem dissipate as imagery takes over, but the underlying message only grows stronger as the speaker sings the prayers that every living thing knows.

Lessons – December 2020 by Kindra McDonald Greene

Lessons – December 2020

I am a substitute in this last week of school before winter break.
It is fancy dress day and my body sparkles in sequins with tulle

on my hips and shoes clicking bright down the hallway.
I roll this borrowed art cart into kindergarten classes.

I smile with my eyes, shout through thick cotton
and filters to 16 children in princess dresses

and tuxedos, old-man suspenders and shining tiaras.
We play dress up to wish away a year without hugs

and hidden smiles. Their desks: little clear cages of plexiglass.
Their eyes peer up at me for the lesson I’ve been left

by their teacher: artist and caregiver, now patient alone.
I am here telling them to draw an oval in the corner.

An oval is an egg, is an eye, is an avocado.
We draw a larger oval around the first,

which is now a bagel, a sushi roll, Saturn.
Draw a line out from the top of the oval

straight and true, mirror the oval’s curve
on the other side. We see a cylinder, a soda

can, a hot dog bun. We draw a wavy line
down the center of the page: an unfurling roll

a magic carpet unwound, a flag in the wind.
Match the wavy line on the other side, connect

the ends, wait as they laugh, recognize the familiar
toilet paper unrolled and waving goodbye to this year.

Goodbye to missing and distance, goodbye to fear—these
paper squares as symbols, our landscape paper as witness.

This is what artists do, capture this moment now,
as we pretend in our year’s best clothes

our covered face, our careful space. A mask is armor
is kindness, is costume. A belief that a cape will make

us fly. Let’s pretend! We dance and twirl, we substitute,
we draw all the things we have missed, lost, wish.

This week we are hope. We are small circles of light
dancing off sequins shining into new.

by Kindra McDonald Greene

Editor’s Note: The repetition in this poem serves to emphasize the multiple difficulties of 2020: grief and wishes and hugs. The device mimics children’s verse, while remaining firmly rooted in the complex realities of adulthood.

From the archives – Winter Visitation by Peter Vertacnik

Winter Visitation

Although I hurry home as soon
As work is done each afternoon
(Speeding through every yellow light,
Tailgating, passing on the right),
It’s almost dusk when I arrive.
Having parked quickly in the drive,
I scan the birches in the yard
Whose branches look both iced and charred—

And empty. In the house, it’s dark
Already, calm. The birch trees’ bark
Glows through the kitchen window. Here,
Hoping they will reappear
Tonight, as they have for a week,
I sit and wait for the oblique
Descent that’s sudden but quiescent,
Wings flashing black and iridescent.

Their voices peal—discordant, keen—
While they begin to roost and preen.
They’ve been forced to these few cramped trees
(Where, for the moment, they won’t freeze)
Because some woods were felled and sold
For condos that the wealthy old
Will live in only half the year,
Leaving when autumn turns austere.

Meanwhile, the rest of us remain
As light and warmth and color wane,
Then struggle back toward spring in slow
Steps through the salted, melting snow.
These crows are now a part of this,
A presence we cannot dismiss.
One neighbor gripes, “Loud, that’s for sure.”
Another thinks they’re sinister.

To me each one seems an informant
Assuring us we’re merely dormant,
Not dead. If in the trees behind
My house they sometimes bring to mind
Hitchcock’s Birds, or the strange beaked mask
Plague doctors donned for their grim task,
The fractured music that emerges
Resembles dark airs more than dirges.

by Peter Vertacnik

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, January 13, 2017

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim

Evensong by Sally Rosen Kindred

Evensong

At mid-life I dream of Penny, Bridget,
Tillie—the neighborhood dogs, all dead
by the late eighties—pressing their tender

heads into last century’s laps, or racing
us on our wet bikes up Kemp West,
nosing my empty Keds in the grass.

One dusk I left my house
through my brother’s window, sneakers slapping
porch brick. Curled, knee-to-chin, behind

azaleas steaming with moths.
My mother had thrown a book—then
a shelf of books, their blue and brown leathers

fanning. My father back there, laughing—
and her yell still stained the glass
I’d slid shut. Across the street swung

Tillie’s rust-setter head, dark lantern
in the weeds, and dusk-red, she turned
and knew me, her ears rising

when she rose and came to her curb
as if I were a sister or a mercy. She stopped there,
sat. Tongue loose, eyes sorrow-soft. Regarded me

from the other side. After that,
the street was silver-blue.
Now that I am pages and grass inside

and have found her vesper body
again, fur-heavy in the dark, I stand, I step down
into the leaves, I stop

at my father’s Chevy. I’ll say
Tillie. I’ll sing to her (make haste!)
from our drive, I’ll praise (hallelujah!). Grief

is not for standing in the road.
Grief waits at the edge of its yard,
moves its tail when it sees me

still. I want her but I
won’t move. I’ll say Sit, Tillie. Good girl.
I’ll say, Stay.

by Sally Rosen Kindred

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Twitter: @SallyRKindred

Editor’s Note: As this poem unfurls, the enjambment grows increasingly more challenging, mirroring the speaker’s dawning grief.

A New Year Begins: An acrostic sonnet by Mike Mesterton-Gibbons

A New Year Begins: An acrostic sonnet

Adieu to Twenty Twenty! Now it’s gone,
New hopes arise for what we could soon share:
Emancipation from a marathon
Withdrawal of companionship and care.
Yet ending this pandemic with vaccines
Entails their distribution planet-wide——
An end to loneliness in quarantines
Requires the rich to help the poorer side …
Below the radar, or behind the scenes,
Essential workers toil, and in return
Get all too scant support, while those of means
In comfort stay secure with scant concern …
New Year must face a truth the old laid bare:
Society’s most free when it’s most fair!

by Mike Mesterton-Gibbons

Editor’s Note: Hello 2021! Might as well start off with a poem that rhymes ‘vaccines’ with ‘quarantines’—not something you see everyday in a sonnet.

New Year’s Eve on the Moon by Ciaran Parkes

New Year’s Eve on the Moon

You’ve got telescopes. You can see more
than the Great Wall of China. You can measure
the moving coastlines like someone on a train

watching the landscape gliding by, imagining
themselves a tireless runner, leaping hedges,
trees and houses, or in your case, oceans,

continents. The night reveals much more,
like turning a light on, like x-ray. You can choose
a city to focus on. It’s almost New Year’s Day

or it’s already been for hours. For one whole day
you can watch the flare of fireworks in the darkness
as cities come alight and, in the distance,

the brighter sway of sunlight sweeping in
over the horizon. On the moon who knows
what time it is, what day or year or month?

What’s to celebrate? What slow tides are moved
by the earth in all those dried up seas?

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: This delightful poem calls to my mind astronaut Chris Hadfield singing “Space Oddity” on the ISS. And also, the flip of perspective seems strangely apt for the end of this particular year.

The Names of Water by Larry Schug

The Names of Water

There is a name, though I’ve never heard it spoken,
That the roots of aspen cities give to you
When their inhabitants come to drink
With their tongues burrowing into the earth,
All the names peoplekind have given you
Because they don’t know the names you give yourself
Though you speak them in one language or another for all to hear,
Calling yourself a different name when you flow over stones
Or when you wash up on shore,
When you sing in duet with wind,
When you fill a glass with a small waterfall
Pouring from a faucet,
When you bubbledrum, then whistle in a tea kettle,
When fire laps you up in order to die,
When all forms of tongues come to you,
When throats absorb you and blood
Carries you throughout all bodies
And who knows all the names given you
By the myriad walkers and flyers
That come to you in order to live,
Object of earthly thirst
When you change your name from rain to river to rain again.

by Larry Schug

Editor’s Note: The unexpected onomatopoeia in the center of this poem decorates the personification of water with sound. Poems like this are a gift—arriving just when we need them most.

To My Students in the Time of the Novel Coronavirus by Ann E. Wallace

To My Students in the Time of the Novel Coronavirus

I know you are struggling, that you had
already fought and kicked to make it
to spring break, to the week when we would
all come up for air before the final push
of a hard semester. But break week this year
was a last gasp, right before our class was sliced
in two—into before, into after,
when the fragile balance of everything
you were holding together, while holding
your breath, shattered, as if a cat had walked
across the shelf where your most precious
pieces were perched and casually swatted them
one by one, to the floor. We are stuck here
frozen, staring at the glassy shards,
knowing we cannot scoop the thousand
pieces into our hands and mold them back
into January or February, when life was sharp
and fragile but not broken.

I know you are struggling, and though I will
not tell you this, I know you will continue
to struggle. So much has shattered.

But I will not tell you because you are
surrounded by shimmering dust
that reflects off your face in ways
that we could not see before. And for every
piece of you that has broken, a new angle
becomes visible. And what I know
is that you are present and fighting,
and that though you are struggling,
you will not be broken.

by Ann E. Wallace

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Twitter: @annwlace409

Editor’s Note: The repetition of words and images in this poem emphasizes the difficult and frustrating nature of struggle when the crisis is long and seemingly endless.

In the Trenches by Greg Watson

In the Trenches

We tunneled our way through
those long, winding winters of childhood,
crawled and slithered on bellies
made slick by thick poly-thermal
snowsuits, wet scarves trailing behind
like the tattered flags of nations
neither named nor conquered.
The maps we drew we drew within,
our detailed plans of conquest
and exploration unknown to others.
In empty fields, flat and frozen,
we could go on and on, seemingly
for miles, burrowing, inching along
unseen, only to re-emerge somewhere
deep behind enemy lines,
disoriented, studying the silence.
Then, — whap! — a sudden barrage
of snowballs, some coated with ice,
stinging, sent us scurrying back
the way we came, crawling on
padded elbows, the muted crunch
of packed snow beneath us,
while the world above became barely
a muffle, a fog, a rumor of a life
long since fled; then, at long last
a moment of calm repose in the rooms
we had carved out, fistful by fistful,
breathing the secret the air
between worlds, never afraid,
the afternoon sun already descending
on a kingdom that none of us
would ever know again.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: The nostalgia of this narrative poem feels deceptively sweet until the very end, where the closing lines remind us that innocence is both fleeting and necessary.