These mountains were not high enough to have snowcaps
but a toddler tugged on his mother’s sleeve
as a silent plea for safety. The pond was frozen over,
although spring was coming out of its cabin,
carrying a berry-picking tin pail. The boy shivered
in his parka, back-glancing at the junipers
where the all-day bird was singing, knowing weather
was purposely fickle. His mother had pushed off
the latest attempt by another no-account guy
who had stared once too intently at his eight
year old sister. Bone-chills emanated from that man,
like a kind of mean wind blasting them in the face.
He went with his mother, searching with a group
for his sister who had run off into this direction,
into the folds of the mountains. The boy called out
in his small voice, loudly for the lost,
already dreading what he knew must be true and too late.
His mother, biting at her cold sore, seemed serene
at this same awful conclusion, holding one boot
belonging to his sister, strangely smaller,
like hope, like one blue flower in the snow-melt.
by Martin Willitts Jr.
from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, April 27, 2017 — by Martin Willitts Jr.
photo by Christine Klocek-Lim
My father built biceps working for US Steel
smelting iron in heat that humbled men.
Now I could break his arm
over my knee, brittle as kindling.
My father used to let me walk up his body
balancing my hands on his fingertips
till I flew from his shoulders. They began to sag
after my mother passed. Rising at night, no moon out,
she collapsed in the dark and never woke
as once my father fell when a clot in his head
tossed him down. He speaks of my mother
rubbing his back with eucalyptus oil and saves hair
from her brush, strands he wraps in kleenex.
At night with his whiskey, facing Jeopardy, my father
drifts off to Kargasok.
In the Russian mountains women live to be 105.
So do their men, eating dried cod with mushroom tea,
making love last forever.
by Chella Courington
Editor’s Note: The title of this poem carries the weight of multiple meanings, but this is not apparent until the emotional punch of the last few lines.
Mike is not my name,
I told you.
I borrowed it from Bible
to roam the land of Uncle Sam.
It’s my tuxedo and pasta,
behind which the I hid and ate,
slept, woke and educated.
swallowed like an esophagus glide,
peppered and festered,
like when he cheated on the red and yellow stripes
with a pure lady of your kind,
and everything will be fine if no one tells, right?
But when the sun goes down at night,
something must’ve been left behind.
You tell me it’s alright.
Girls borrow clothes from mothers
to appear mature for one party night.
Boys borrow advice from fathers
to become good doctors for two lifetimes.
Sod borrows blankets from snow
to cover debris in their plowed skin.
Water borrows momentum from winds
to dance atop sky like an elegant Jackson Mike.
Uncle Sam borrows Earth from everybody
so more borrow titles from that book of Holy.
Your name is Mike.
You want to borrow my language
even if it’s just for a night
so that you can communicate with my heritage.
He tells you it’s alright.
Your white skin, paler than rice paper in his printer,
constitutes the most proper mandarin smoked in my homeland.
by Mike Yunxuan Li
Editor’s Note: This poem’s keen imagery steps into racial truths not always apparent to the majority’s eyes—survival asks many things of some people, even the denial of identity and the pain that arises from such borrowed necessities.
when the woods are still pastel
and the air is damp with April,
I need to feel the river’s pull
I haven’t felt all winter,
this longing I have for water
that leads me here where cutbanks swell
with spring from every hill,
and into that fullness I enter,
myself no longer
but one with the shifting gravel,
and, like these mayflies hatching in swirls,
from rain I’ve come, will spinning fall
as once and ever,
both son and father,
eternal and ephemeral
while the current around me curls
and I lift my line in this ritual
of rod and river, of Adam and lover.
by Bruce Guernsey, from FROM RAIN: Poems, 1970-2010.
Editor’s Note: The long, single sentence of this poem strings together the imagery and idea of water as a ritual that can tie us to our past, our present, and our future.
Lost, fluorescing with the ferry’s glow
across the pleasure sea from San Francisco,
tripping lightly into Sausalito,
I found myself inside a stranger’s yacht
and joined him waxing floorboards. Then his smile
burst like sun through dangling seaweed—our eyes,
deep underwater lips, entangling, blurred.
The gravity of ties now in my hold,
I think of consequence, the darkening wake
where love has sunk—how to care so deep
and yet retain what hums, what radiates
a raw blue edge on every passing thing
as neon burns above the ocean freight,
to buzz the midnight air like wasps in heat.
by Siham Karami
Editor’s Note: This sonnet’s imagery is almost surreal, leading one to believe that the story told is a dream, but the final lines are all too real.
Swimming in Antarctica
How she accepts it. How she enters willingly
into the cold. How her skin, almost immediately,
becomes cold as the water is, her body’s heat
pushed deep down under, to protect
her internal organs, that flush with blood, that float
like fish in some warm Mesozoic ocean
as her heartbeat thunders round them, as they move,
just for now, companionable, together.
She see penguins on the dipping, rising shore
and people bundled up who look like penguins,
black against the snow. Her back up team
lean from their inflatables as she threshes water
up like bed sheets, speeding, swimming faster
than she ever swam before, to generate
more warmth, to stay alive, then something
shifting inside her as she starts to swim
straight out to sea, moving so fast they
can do nothing now but watch her slip away.
by Ciaran Parkes
Editor’s Note: The opening line of this poem hooks the reader with a fragment—tension is immediately established. The imagery supports the narrative, and the lines support the movement of the swimmer. This is one of those perfectly written poems that linger in the mind for a good long while after reading is done.
The Prince of Egypt and the Sphinx
On the northern and the southern roads,
He reveled, shooting at a bronze target,
Pursuing lions and vast herds of beasts
Until his chariot was a gold blur
And horses changed to coursers of the wind.
At noon, the young prince napped between the paws
Of Horus-in-the-horizon, the Sphinx
Who guards the sun and gates to the beyond.
And there he dreamed the carved stone spoke to him
And promised him the kingship of the earth,
Both the White and Red Crowns of the Two Lands,
If he would only, grain by grain, remove
The sands that choked the limbs of the Great Sphinx.
And though he wasn’t next in Pharoah’s line,
These things promised in dream did come to pass.
Some say this was the first recorded dream
In all our wayward human history,
Some say this is the way ambitious men
Have always spoken of themselves as dream:
The chosen of the race, the mystery.
by Marly Youmans
Marly on Facebook
Editor’s Note: The iambic meter in this poem is just consistent enough to establish a rhythm, but not enough to lull the reader into a false sense of security.