From the archives – Blessed Are Those Who Hunger — Tania Runyan

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger

On the day that 27,000 children died,
my dishwasher flooded its basin. I cradled a bowl,

running my finger around a yellow shroud of curry.
I mourned the scrubbing I would have to endure,

the salesmen with their litany of buttons,
the snake’s nest of disconnected tubes.

Mothers embalmed their children in wet sand.
Fathers folded skeletal bodies in sheets.

The mosquito nets and vaccinations were still
en route, stalled in cargo holds, legislation, hearts.

I did not remember. I opened the dishwasher again
and felt my blood quicken at the sour soup

of food and water, the marinara-flecked plates,
and—Jesus help me—oatmeal stuck to the whisk like bone.

by Tania Runyan

from Autumn Sky Poetry, Number 14, July 2009

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Treat by Marjorie Maddox

Treat

Shadows bloom and wilt across the patio,
our new home sheds flakes of bright paint,
and, of course, it is October; the neighbors we don’t know
hang pumpkin lights like lamb’s blood over the threshold,
and from their porch rocking chairs stare at us, the strangers.

We disguise ourselves with smiles and wave.
And why not? Let the leaves fall and the grass grow high,
our new life floats around us in the frost-free air,
and we own the chaos of autumn; the weeds
would grow between our toes if we’d linger

into another two seasons. We are giddy enough
for a picket fence or a pink flamingo
and bring out Baby to see the splendor.
“Here,” we say like good parents, “is the color red
and over there, the irrepressible orange of joy.”

by Marjorie Maddox, from Local News from Someplace Else

Editor’s Note: Imagery and movement are in every line of this poem, such that by the final line, joy is the most convincing emotion.

What to Save by MJ Werthman White

What to Save

Once you start you won’t be able to stop; there’s no room anyway
for baby pictures, grandmother’s quilt, for the novel
you never got around to finishing; let them go.

Let smoke, water, and mold have at them; finally you will understand
ephemeral. People? Animals? Start with the irksome,
the difficult. Start with yourself, your ex,

include his spooky blue-eyed Persian cat, the one who hisses at you.
Drive. Away. Don’t look back; keep going. Refugee
enters your vocabulary. The sky burns orange

in your rearview mirror and rising water covers the hubcaps,
while a wind fells giant trees in your path like
the moving hand of God.

by MJ Werthman White

Editor’s Note: This poem’s plethora of punctuation serves as a metaphorical wall between the “irksome” past and the future that could hold freedom, if only the reader listens to the speaker’s hard-won advice.

An Ear-Full of Waxwing by Martin Willitts Jr.

An Ear-Full of Waxwing

—(An “ear-full” is the name for a collective of Waxwings)

Waxwings are not easily coaxed to a feeder.
I include cranberries,
sliced half-moons of grapes,
and pieces of apples.

Grandmother suggests
if I am quiet,
I can creep closer, see them nesting.

Her words challenge me to see which is quieter:
me, or the waxwings in flight,
or the sigh of a loose floorboard,
or a chicken feather coming loose.

I have seen them up close,
plump white bodies like a prototype baker,
a crest like a shark,
nesting in the edges
of woods where light hangs around
a long time past dark, near the fruit trees.

I almost don’t see them,
or recognize their high-pitched sseee call.

I almost stumble upon an ear-full of them:
yellow bellies, grey heads,
short, wide beaks, yellow tips on grey tails,
black masks around their eyes.

I can almost touch one,
maybe
hold one.

But I don’t.

I see a cup-shaped nest woven with silence,
using twigs, tugged-loose grasses,
cattail down, white blossoms,
string from a kite, black horsehair.
Their nest is about the size of my hands.

I could collect it,
bring it back to my grandmother,
a prize.

But I don’t.

The nest is perched,
teetering on a vine tangle.
It is about three inches deep, like a tea cup
on my grandmother’s shelf,
where she would stare into one cup,
seeing the future in tea leaves.

The nest is decorated on the outside
with fruiting grasses, oak and hickory catkins
like the floral pattern on the tea cup.

I want this nest,
its fancy designs,
to offer to grandmother,
knitting her silence into psalms and prayers.

But I don’t.

There is a clutch of six eggs
with black spots
like my summer freckles.
There is a silence within the silence.

I hold my breath,
gentle
as an egg.
The pale blue eggs match the cloudless skies.

There is a way to gently enter the world:

it takes patience to move so slowly
that you are unnoticed,
blending in.

You must exit
the same way, like slow grace at supper.

I take back my memory to grandmother,
tell her about what I had learned:
the meaning of stillness.

There are some lessons one must learn the hard way,
the plain-spoken way,
the unspoken way of flight,

the way one turns a page in life like it is a book.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The conversational imagery of this poem gently guides the reader into an understanding of life, growth, and silence.

We Live Under The Night by Shiyang Su

We Live Under The Night

I wake
from another empty dream. 1. am.
cold air slithered through my window.
Yesterday

my friend and I did our covid test in the nearby
community center. two days ago, she said
on the phone that she had a new boyfriend and I thought
we would talk about him, but she
had just broken up.
in only two days? I asked, surprised.

Silent in darkness, I listen to my window breaking
down in the hushed wind.
When was the last time I saw her?
We haven’t seen each other in years,
three years, probably. I don’t remember.
These days we lose track of the time it is easier
than we thought, to get lost in a rootless
world.

I realized she was different.
Her smile was unfamiliar, her dimples
were shallower. We all changed.
she went to one of the best universities
in the country, I took a year off,
now she was trapped by a relationship and got out
so quickly. Everything

is different.
we walked and talked.
She said she was really into that guy, they met each other in Chengdu,
everything was great, she was just
scared.
How could that even be possible? I asked.
I don’t know. She shrugged and turned her head slightly
to the opposite of mine; cars and masked crowds
bustled through us. it was 7. pm.
The world slowly closed itself like a balloon.
She babbled something about Avoidance Attachment.
It’s just that you are scared, so scared when you commit
yourself to anything.
.. . . . . .Scared of what?
the ending.
She looked at me, sadly.

Earlier that day, I read the news
covid was again spreading in our province
and another region was already in lockdown.
My mom called me to get more food from the store
I bought too much stuff, bumped, they almost
buried me.
I wrote a poem,
unfinished.

I walked her home, the night shadowed
gently on us.
I waved her goodbye in the doorway,
knowing that we won’t see each other in a long time
with her in China and me
in the US and the covid
loomed.
She almost sobbed. her dimples appeared
again disappeared in the shaded
light.

And when the night becomes softer in my window
I realize
at times like this
some of us are trapped, some of us
are falling apart, some of us are
dying
But still, we live unfinished and always retreat to the same
quiet night.

by Shiyang Su

Editor’s Note: This poem makes excellent use of enjambment and imagery to describe the precarious uncertainty of the speaker’s situation in the midst of isolation and pandemic.

Trying To Read The Gulag Archipelago On My First Hundred Degree Day by Christine Potter

Trying To Read The Gulag Archipelago On My First Hundred Degree Day

Married to my first husband for one year, in our
apartment with only its bedroom air conditioned,

I waited until someone on TV announced it was
really one hundred degrees outside and walked

to the courtyard through our hall’s airless murk
with the sole book on our shelves I hadn’t read.

I sat under a crabapple tree on brown grass and
watched the afternoon sun spattering the ground—

bits of white heat that wobbled a little. There was
a breeze somewhere but I couldn’t feel it. I wanted

to know what a hundred degrees felt like and this
was it: a desiccated leaf next to me that I crumbled

in my fingers and blew away. Sweat at the back of
my neck, under my hair and my breasts, even in

the shade. An icy mountain of a book I could not
manage to read and still haven’t. Luminous green

bottles of beer inside, in the noisy refrigerator with
the chicken for dinner and a marriage that showed

no signs of failing, yet. Everything for the first time,
trying to make it all part of me, to breathe in and hold.

by Christine Potter

Christine on Facebook

Amazon Author Page

Editor’s Note: This poem’s oblique suggestion of doom is offered via clear, concrete imagery, offering the reader an ominous future with studied resonance.

August 9, 1952 by Paul Bernstein

August 9, 1952

Eighty years old today!! So much
time spent, what’s it worth?
Can I match up with
eighty-year-old wines
at a thousand bucks a bottle,
forty bills a glass? Alas,
a careless life in low places
soured my grapes, leaving
a vinegar taste in the mouth
of anyone who cared enough
to take a swallow.
I need to sweeten up, find
a universe where time
goes backward, knock off
a few score years to when I was 10,
the Dodgers were in Brooklyn,
I had all my teeth and no worries
over girls, back to summer camp
on August 9, 1952, when I homered,
made a great catch, passed my swim test,
never guessing at the wreck
all the rest of the way.

by Paul Bernstein

Editor’s Note: Sometimes the most perfect day in a life isn’t recognized until most of the rest of the days have walked on by.

In Gratitude by Madhav Ajjampur

In Gratitude

I thank him who set my splintered bone
and gave life back to flesh around my thumb
that I might once more hold hands with the world.
Who, with his dexterous hands and whetted eye,
gave back the fulcrum to my hand
so it could once more spin and twirl
and summon forth, perhaps, a swirl
of words that glide and curl
like fragrance from some unseen flower.
.. . . .Three years have passed now
.. . . .since the accident, three years
.. . . .since he with so much care reset
.. . . .those broken shards of thumb,
.. . . .the injury seems like a dream of day.
.. . . .So though I seldom think of him
.. . . .(for who holds memory in a thumb?),
.. . . .I sometimes spread and look unthinkingly
.. . . .upon the webbing of my hand
.. . . .where, within the vein that rivers down
.. . . .between the index and the thumb,
.. . . .I see once more the gratitude I owe to him.

by Madhav Ajjampur

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/madhav.ajjampur/

Editor’s Note: Personification is used with a light touch in this poem, complimenting the imagery that allows the reader to experience a difficult injury from the flip side of trauma: gratitude for what is instead of what might have been.

The Landscapes of our Bodies by Julia Klatt Singer

The Landscapes of our Bodies

Green covers anything stone sky or dirt it can take hold of. Only the clear water moves quick enough to keep it from taking root in it too—although from here, from the bridge, we see the greens reflected in it, swimming swiftly down to the bend—a curve like a woman’s hip—and another that takes it out of our view. I remember standing near my mother, how she’d talk and laugh, laugh and talk, and how the material of her skirt, cool and cotton, beckoned me to slip under. Standing with her legs, I felt like I’d enter a forest world all my own. How old was I? One and a half? Two? It hadn’t been that long since I’d left the world of her body. You tell me this is your landscape, this oak and grass and wildflower dotted rolling hill terrain. Black raspberries. Sumac. Mullen. Thistle. Ash. Somewhere a stream that leads to a river that leads to a bigger river that leads to a sea. Somewhere toads hatch and crayfish hunt. You pluck a black walnut, hold its hard green body to my nose. It smells astringent, like something my mother used to clean. I remember the smell of her blood. How she left a pool of it on the kitchen floor. Even after it’s been cleaned up, I picture the thin line, like the outline of a new continent, on the parquet floor. I lean against the iron railing, I lean against you. You smell like wood, something hard and true. Its been thirteen years and still it feels so new. I remember her favorite color was green.

by Julia Klatt Singer

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

Editor’s Note: The imagery in this prose poem slowly creates an emotional landscape that starts with the world outside, and ends with the indelible ties that bind us together within ourselves.

Near the Subway Station and the Highway Exit Ramp by Hilary Sallick

Near the Subway Station and the Highway Exit Ramp

Walking home, I pause
to survey the pond.
There’s a man down there
on the unsteady piled-up
rocks of the bank, a clutter
of shards deposited
to shore up this road.
He’s busy with something intricate
in his hands.
Earlier, I counted turtles, five of them,
sun-stunned, on an ancient
curl of root, beside the orange
No Trucks sign half-floating
with the scum and other
bits of trash,
and I photographed the greening willows,
how they trailed over the pond
almost touching it.
What is that man doing?
He holds a stick, broken
from one of the leafless bushes
or small trees straggling up
this side of the pond, and he’s working with it,
maybe tying a line
to one end. It takes time.
Two children slow to look at him.
Keep going, their mother says.
A couple in running gear
watches a while, then continues on.
I am full of curiosity
as I lean over the rail.
The man is so absorbed
he doesn’t seem to notice us,
as if he’s in another world
in this environment.
He picks up a rock, heaves it
toward the water, then
another rock, and another.
I see he’s making a jumbled
pile, an outcropping, and he stands on it.
Now he opens the plastic bag he’s brought.
Inside, something is folded
in newspaper. What is it?
I watch the steady angle
of his gaze, the motion
of his arm. Something
is being drawn through
something else. He finishes,
straightens, edges a half-step
closer to the water.
Then his arm with the stick
draws back, and he launches the line.
It can’t go far,
just a few short feet.
The bait sinks down, dangles
long seconds in the liquid sway.
He draws it out, flings it again,
gesture of grace.
Where and when did he learn that?
A breeze comes running
over the water,
precise ripple of widening light.
He’s utterly focused,
so relaxed. His line falls, sinks,
hangs. We’re both watching.
What is about to happen?
He pulls it up, casts again,
and again.

by Hilary Sallick

Editor’s Note: This narrative poem draws the reader in with a question, but at the end, the answer isn’t as important as the journey.