Vintage verse – A Bird came down the Walk by Emily Dickinson

A Bird came down the Walk

A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his Velvet Head

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.

by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Sonnet: Uncertainty by Martin Willitts Jr.

Sonnet: Uncertainty

Think of rain. Think of it bringing a message. Think
of the rain singing, and how its melody is getting closer.
Notice how the rain is smiling. It is thinking.
Think of the rain as a guest. Treat it kindly.
Think of rain catching in a deer’s antlers. Think of rain
being as large as forgiveness, but also as less
than a gram. Think of small, wounded words.
Think how rain can start with tiny baby-steps.

A person receiving a transfusion, lays near roses
someone delivered, and now the patient is too tired
to notice their bloom, fading. It’s a kind of courage
to watch a calendar change while minutes
become less abundant, more uncertain.
Rain concludes on the windows.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

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Editor’s Note: Once again this poet’s sonnet series presents a lack of meter and rhyme that nevertheless supports the meaning of the title. Careful imagery and enjambment show that even free verse can be formalized into an emphatic emotional metaphor.

Moving Day by Alan Walowitz

Moving Day

She finishes the sweeping in front of the house
and moves on to the side. There the hose is in the way,
wound and wound in uneasy arcs on the cement path,
from just before when her husband–tired now and in to rest–
had been using it in the way of the suburbs,
powering into the street the smaller debris—cigarette ash,
blades of grass from a final cutting,
and Polly Noses from the old maple which leans now,
so many years later, out over the path.
When dry they tend to stick to the walk,
even clean as she works to keep it,
though it shouldn’t much matter moving day.
In fact, I note to her, from my own driveway
next door where I’m trying not to watch too close,
but afraid I’ll never see this scene again:
Millie, it’s pretty damn clean.
Alan, I know. It’s just . . . and her voice trails off.
Last thing I mean is to discourage her
and she goes to the back, now dragging her broom,
leans against the gate, sighs, as she looks at the place
her kids and neighbor-kids and grandkids played.
There had been a swing set, screams of joy
and sometimes pain, a plastic pool, grass
now covered over in concrete, less to maintain,
and says, only partly to me, turning to go,
I guess it’s clean enough. For now.

by Alan Walowitz

Editor’s Note: This poem’s narrative seems simple on the surface, but hiding beneath the characters’ actions lies an emotional wallop emphasized by the closing line. Scattered rhymes and random iambic meter soothes the reader even as the story grows more emotional.

Vintage verse – At Last by Christina Rossetti

At Last

Many have sung of love a root of bane:
. . . . . . .While to my mind a root of balm it is,
. . . .For love at length breeds love; sufficient bliss
For life and death and rising up again.
Surely when light of Heaven makes all things plain,
. . . .Love will grow plain with all its mysteries;
. . . .Nor shall we need to fetch from over seas
Wisdom or wealth or pleasure safe from pain.
Love in our borders, love within our heart,
. . . .Love all in all, we then shall bide at rest,
. . . .Ended for ever life’s unending quest,
. . . . . . .Ended for ever effort, change and fear:
Love all in all; —no more that better part
. . . . . . .Purchased, but at the cost of all things here.

by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim.

Vintage verse – Songs for the People by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

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Songs for the People

Let me make the songs for the people,
. . . .Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
. . . .Wherever they are sung.

Not for the clashing of sabres,
. . . .For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
. . . .With more abundant life.

Let me make the songs for the weary,
. . . .Amid life’s fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
. . . .And careworn brows forget.

Let me sing for little children,
. . . .Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
. . . .To float o’er life’s highway.

I would sing for the poor and aged,
. . . .When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
. . . .Where there shall be no night.

Our world, so worn and weary,
. . . .Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
. . . .Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.

Music to soothe all its sorrow,
. . . .Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
. . . .Girdle the world with peace.

by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

[Editor’s Note: Though I posted this poem last year, it seems appropriate to post it once again.]

Sonnet: Disquieting by Martin Willitts Jr.

Sonnet: Disquieting

This present moment — is gone, gone
like sparrows into the disquieting sky. Gone
white as sycamore branches before memory
releases their leaves. Gone as flattering light.
Gone as bliss and recognition of bliss. Gone,
taken away, the way rivers take silt,
depositing elsewhere. Moments are dissonant
and gorgeous, then — gone.

The pristine rains never last. It cannot rain
metaphorically everywhere with consistency.
Gravity cannot hold wind, even if wind
kisses our faces, even if it sheds sycamore leaves,
even if light folded, even if sound was shaken,
even if we clutched every moment to our chests.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

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Editor’s Note: This poem’s lack of meter and rhyme contradict its title while also emphasizing the meaning of it. This poem is an uneasy testament to the power of words used to describe difficulty.

The Snare Drummer’s Plight by Martin J. Elster

The Snare Drummer’s Plight

The highlight of the evening is Bolero.
The snare drummer begins the famous beat,
the marrow of the land of the torero.

The players, who have sprayed themselves with Deet,
ignore the insects swarming in the light
or lighting on the scores. The music’s bite
and lyric passion build each bar, with singing
strings, winds, and brass — while buzzing bugs seek meat.
One gently touches down and starts to eat
blood from the snare drum player’s nose. The stinging
clings like a picador’s sharp lance of worry.

How can he stop to scratch? His part must never
cut out. Time’s poky arrow will not hurry.
Bolero! May it live — not last — forever.

by Martin J. Elster, first published in Verse Wisconsin.

Editor’s Note: The poet included the name of the form for this poem, Stefanile triadic sonnet, and it is quite complex. This poem’s lighthearted narrative is an excellent example of how the best formal poems transcend their form, and speak to the reader despite the strictness of meter and rhyme.