la vita nuda by Christos L. Hadjigeorgiou

la vita nuda

Apple orchards in bloom, treacle tart: oily malt arrives first
on the palate followed by smoked pineapple, summer
berries, pine nuts and almonds, a very soft hint of sulphur
. . . . . . . . . . . . . as in the baths of Davlos,
my father’s and grandfather’s
and great-grandfather’s village, Davlos, a torch
under the castle of Kantara, a craggy lime ghost
and the bray of donkeys tied
in 1973 on the capstan of the well still
rings in my ears and the bones of the dead, Greeks
and Turks, Phoenicians and Crusaders whirl
at its bottom for centuries.

Now Wolf moon over Kantara; a voyage; incoming; a boy’s legs
disappear into the wine-dark water
and although Auden is not
wrong about human suffering,
. . . . . . . children cram into inflatable boats
only to end up in concentration
camps and women plunge into the cold, their bodies
heavy with weeping as men carry infants on their
backs their feet, their tired
. . . . . feet . . . . . bare on beach
pebbles, ζωή . . . . . not βίος, bare life first
shot with military-grade cameras, bare life
incoming: and Mosse zoomed in
on a curious . . . . . little . . . . . girl holding onto a smart
phone and we fail to understand that poverty and despair have many
dimensions just as displacement and the sense
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . of home
and the white bodies are trapped in limbo
forever, la vita nuda masked as protracted refugee situations
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . intractable-

Cyprus cyclamen and pink
Anatolian orchids still carpet the pine forest in Davlos
. . . . . . . and I am told that as a small
boy, I tumbled down that slope into the turquoise sea,
looking for pearls, sea urchins, and turtles
and tonight we drink Craigellachie in small Limoges
cups but what started as an excuse
. . . . . . . . . . . .to discuss poetry and voyages over whiskey
turned into libation
. . . . . . . . . . . . and remembrance
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and horror.

by Christos L. Hadjigeorgiou

Editor’s note: The complicated enjambment and spacing of this poem mirrors the complex grief/anger/sorrow of the speaker.

From the archives – Picture of a House by Paul Hostovsky

Picture of a House

There are several V’s in my daughter’s drawing.
One is a gable and the rest are birds
flying off into a spiky yellow
sunset she’s coloring in on the kitchen table.

From where I sit across from her, writing
a check to the Hartford Federal Mortgage
Corporation, the birds are houses
and the house is a large bird, a vertical triangle

from eaves to ridge, ready to take off
at the drop of a letter, rooftop flapping
over the treetops to Hartford, Connecticut. . .

I sign the check as she signs the picture
in the bottom right-hand corner, and the birds
migrate softly into my hands as she gives me
the house. For keeps. No strings attached

to the birds which could also be houses,
or the sun which could also be time
running out, going down like a diminishing
crayon stub still eking out, incredibly,
enough yellow to warm a house 30 years.

from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 7, December 2007 — by Paul Hostovsky

The Compass by Julian Matthews

The Compass

Tears are an ancient compass
constantly pointing south
for the Sabina Nessas of the world:
Muslim, Brown, South Asian descent,
and for the 700 indigenous women missing—
from the same area Gabby Petito was found

Tears are an ancient compass but
N-E-W-S without the N is only ews to you
Your compass is a screen coloured with your flighty bias
You are not lost—just feathering your nest with your fears
Your needle is magnetized by “influencers” who flock together
and never fly south,
nor east nor west,
every winter of our lives—
as if we even needed a winter to remind us
of all the seasons of killing

Our tears are an ancient compass
the tracks of which
lead to an ocean that will never wet the cheek
of you

Your compass is broken.

by Julian Matthews
(from the prompt “Tears are an ancient compass” from Taylor Mali’s @metaphor_dice broadcast on IG)

Editor’s note: Metaphor, enjambment, and unexpected punctuation keep the reader off balance in this poem, emphasizing the underlying theme of grief/horror quite well.

I Write in the House of Her Narrative by Risa Denenberg

I Write in the House of Her Narrative

Don’t ask me about my mother.
Don’t tell me to lean towards joy.

Would you tell a dog barking for bone,
a babe bawling for breast to be jubilant?

My mother was not. And so I am not.
She of the gilded mask and robe,

inscribed with molasses and tobacco. Here,
where sunlight is rationed, I’m the ugly ingrate.

When I pull on the pink slippers and shout:
Look, Ma. I can pirouette, she taps ash.

When I show her my first poem, she
upstages me with her own version.

Body from body. It’s just too fucking intimate.
My infant form faltered, crowned once,

drowned twice. Nearer now to my own line break,
I lean towards the volta. The mother still inserts herself

between couplets. A third foot.
We did our little dance.

I was not chosen. Such a blessing
the dead have no memories.

by Risa Denenberg

Editor’s note: This poem’s speaker recognizes how trauma can linger the way cigarette smoke stains everything around it, until the only freedom that seems possible is death.

Love Under Threat of Cancer by Larina Warnock

Love Under Threat of Cancer

1. The Night of the Call Back

We lay facing each other, smothering
ourselves by ticking off things we know
and things we don’t want to
suspect. Whatever they’ve seen is small yet.
It could be nothing; statistics provide
hope, genetic testing an educated guess.
We start to talk about the family history, but instead
fall into silence, as if our voices might carry the violence
of a positive diagnosis even before biopsy.
We start to talk about my random fevers, my fatigue,
other symptomology we’ve not seen in the normal
course of autoimmune disease. Tears take over
like tangible, existential philosophy. We make
love, every touch ten times as powerful
as radiation. You are more present to me
than you have ever been, your hands upon my skin
caressing cancer away.

2. The Night Before Ultrasound

We have held ourselves together by threads made
more of magic than science. We have repeated
the reasons it cannot be a tumor a thousand times.
I breathe you in as if this one intake of breath
can hold me upright through chemotherapy or whatever
waits on the other side of tomorrow. Our lovemaking
echoes with sorrow, what we’ve already lost together
so present twe don’t dare hope and we don’t dare not to.

3. The Night of the All Clear

Somewhere in the back of our minds, we are cautious.
Family history has shown it’s just a matter of time
before time catches up. You cup my breast in your hand
and kiss me the way you did the first time, nervously,
as if afraid I might slip away. But I am present tonight
and will be tomorrow. We burrow into each other
knowing hope is a hoax for people like us.
Knowing hope is all we’ve ever had.

by Larina Warnock

Twitter: @thedocnock

Editor’s Note: People who live with a chronic illness know deep in their bones that another terrible diagnosis is always a possibility. This poem deals with what life is like with that monolithic dread looming just over the horizon.

From the archives — The Prospector by Dennis Greene

The Prospector

A long day I’ve had of it,
and a tiring one,
and little to show
but this loose scree of words
like dinosaurs;
the fossilized remains
of once great moments.

They tell me beauty’s truth,
but still I fail—what use is it to me
that Keats once wrote,
thou still unravished
bride of quietness,
and tore
the language from God’s living
throat. I fossick, find, make space
back of the truck—say virgin girl
lets go. It’s time to fuck.
. .

by Dennis Greene

from Autumn Sky Poetry, Number 3, December 2006

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

From the archives — broken open in history by Brion Berkshire

broken open in history

It was the hinge of a door
when you left me. A door
closing down like a small fire
that has come to know destiny
in its own intricate unraveling,
a fire which is cold and burns
like the infamous past
and what are we made of
but curiously glowing embers
frozen out and locked in place?
Still, there’s that perfect hinge
that says here, here is where
your life swung unhinged
magically, a screen door afloat
on a gyring river, the same one
that escapes twisting through
the sacked and abandoned
landscape, scarred and sacred
as a burned out trailer park
where a fat lady with a cane
and glass eye knows exactly
the price and cost of every
known and necessary thing,
and wouldn’t I care for some
sweet tea?
-as she pirouettes
gracefully for one painfully
useless eternity and opens
just a bit as if I had been
expected all along
to pass through

by Brion Berkshire

from Autumn Sky Poetry, Number 2, September 2006

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

From the archives — So Near by David Ayers

So Near
for M

First love’s best, love.
You, days from the womb, already master
of the long jaw-movement; me,
near thirty, still seeking where I might fit
in every bone of your face.

I watched
over the sterile blue drape—
that first startled breath, before the blue
body’s rest slipped out of her
slit belly. Then, you cried,

but where the cord wrapped
twice around that ox-like neck,
there’s not a mark to show.

As if life hadn’t hung
on a strapped
piece of flesh. As if, floating in the dark,
those eyes hadn’t first
opened and grown wise.

by David Ayers

from Autumn Sky Poetry, Number 1, June 2006

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Traveling Back to the Heart by Hafsa Mumtaz

Traveling Back to the Heart

The metal-stiff bubbly palm of cobbles in
The terrace rebel against my calcaneus
As I saunter under the cyan sky where
Streaks of clouds frisk and fumble for vapour
Thrushes chant to the waking sun as
Their beaks osculate the wedges among the
Humid stones searching for beads of millet
The damp metal of the railing from between
Cracks and tatters of the knife-thin varnish
Feels arctic like the water under an iceberg,
And looks like the skin under a crisp scab
My eyes alight on a fungus-hued plant clad in
A not-so-exact domino of a cactus—
The needles stuck on its face remind me of
The mornings when mom would quickly stitch
A button on my uniform shirt that had been hanging loose
Like a marcescent leaf waiting to fall
The delicate thread in the needle was like a ligament
Holding our love intact for the love of a mother is infinite and matchless
These needles—pricking the green oblong balloon
Look sharp like the ramified fingers of a fork from which
My friends and I, on birthday parties, would burst birthday balloons
My eyes traverse through the mornings before school
When my mom would use a hairbrush that looked like this plant
To style my hair lovely; I was sixteen-year-old child who
Couldn’t decide which hairstyle to make for I knew none
These needles—poignant as the nib of my sketching pencils
With which I’d draw mom’s sketches on the mom’s day cards
I’d make for her, sticking on them her favorite chocolate
These needles—long as raindrops falling from the sky at midnight
When mom, my sister and I would stroll the lane
With ice-cream cones in our hands, dark umbrellas above our heads
These needles—thin like the borders of kohl around my mom’s eyes
In the mirror as I stand alone making up my face for a party
These needles—attenuated like the intricate designs of henna
On my hands on every Eid
These needles—the scarf pins I bought when I started Hijab
These needles—
A tender knock at my aperture leading to my mind
And scenting of warm feelings in my heart

by Hafsa Mumtaz

Editor’s Note: The meandering imagery at the start of this poem mirrors the way nostalgia tugs gently at the heart before arrowing sharply to those memories most poignant and stubborn.