The Red Forest by Janice D. Soderling

The Red Forest

They are the enemy
and we are sworn to hate them,
rapers of women, looters,
invaders, drunken swine.
Born for this destined purpose:
to dig a lonely trench in a foreign country
among trees strangely dead.

Regard them, retching.
That foot lately on the shovel,
lately on the skateboard,
a trembling lip, lately fuzzed.

Somewhere a mother is praying
that god will keep her boy safe.

by Janice D. Soderling

Editor’s Note: This chilling epitaph is written on the hearts of mothers everywhere.

Litany for Melted Snow by Janice D. Soderling

Litany for Melted Snow

I remember the sky, gray as an iron cupola over the cobblestone square.
I remember the cobblestones glistening with a pure patina of frost.
I remember the snowflakes suddenly turning cartwheels, giddy as my heart.
I remember the fountain, empty as my heart the month before.
I remember icicles on the eaves of the buildings and a sign that read
Danger. Cross to the other side
I remember cathedral bells ringing as they had done for seven hundred years.
I remember them ringing as if for the first time.
I remember the lights going on in the windows around the square.
I remember your eyes as doors opening to the future.
I remember I had known you one week and one day.
I remember your letter, folded in my pocket.
I remember people hurrying to and fro across the ancient square.
I remember that to all intents and purposes, we stood there alone.
I remember where you stood, where I stood.
I remember every time I pass by there.
I remember it was December, a season for giving.
I remember you saying I have to go now but you stayed.
I remember you saying again I have to go but you didn’t move.
I remember you saying I’ll miss my train.
I remember bells pealing, snow falling.
I remember it was like coming home after a long arduous journey.
How could I not remember?

by Janice D. Soderling

Editor’s Note: The heart always knows what to remember, as this poem so beautifully reminds us.

Boogeyman by Janice D. Soderling

Boogeyman

Little girl, are you afraid
of the sharp-fingered branch shadows
reaching through the window,
stroking your moonlit face,
your long, dewy lashes,
your rosebud lips,
your soft hair flowing over the pillow like water?

This is only practice fear, dear child.
A warm-up, a drill, a dry run.
Preparation for the real deal.
There are worse things waiting.

An empty bus approaches,
wheezes to a halt.
The tall man emerges from the umbra of the fig tree,
clambers aboard behind you,
pressing.
He settles himself close by,
one immobile hand resting at his crotch.
The other rhythmically strokes his thigh
and he stares, not at you,
but at your reflection in the window.
You glance around
dry-mouthed, anxious,
look away.

The candy wrappers on the dirty floor say nothing.
The twin rows of vacant seats
—smeared, torn, sticky—
watch carefully,
waiting for the stop where you will step off,
hardly daring to breathe.

Be brave, child. Sleep now.
There are worse things waiting.

by Janice D. Soderling

Editor’s Note: The dread in this poem builds slowly and surely, until peak horror manifests with the personification of used candy wrappers. The following lines ease the reader back down, but only slightly, because fear isn’t easy to forget.

Cairn by Phil Wood

Cairn

The tarn shivers. A ribbon of rooks
blister the quiet. Here, the half-light teases
with rumour, stones melting to shadows,
melt into stones. The climb beckons.
I ascend, back bent, bone cold, trusting
a thinning path of inclines, crones
of crag and cleft bearded with myth.
My straying ways have led me here—
without a map, compass, no signpost
but this cairn — a stubborn wart.
A sullen wind comes prowling, conjures
the chant of hands that lay the stones.
Cuiridh mi clach air do chàrn,
sang the clansmen, but none did return.
Chant and prayer, prayer and chant,
at the end, do we all clutch at words?
I scrawl your word cwtch. The stone
listens, waits and weighs my purpose.
I lay hope on the cairn, a gesture
to stray with you and bring warmth
to cold places. Your laughter will be coffee.

Our secret joy will be a clear sky.

by Phil Wood

Editor’s Note: Surreal imagery brings the speaker’s loneliness into vivid focus in this poem, where the search for connection is hauntingly elusive despite the hopeful close.

Poet’s Note: Cuiridh mi clach air do chàrn, “I’ll put a stone on your cairn”. 
The clansmen, if they survived the battle, would return for their stone.

Arrival by Janice D. Soderling

Arrival

Destruction was our goal
and now we stand, bronze-greaved
and bewildered, at the threshold of the city
we marched so far to subdue.
Our trek was long and arduous
and not without sacrifice.

Here we stand now, spears at the ready,
at the gate they claimed was gold.
But it is hollow wood, and flimsy.
The breath of time alone would bring it down.

For this we left our homes,
lost our young years. For this?
For fresh grief and an old man’s mumblings.
For the plague-stricken streets of an empty city.

by Janice D. Soderling

Editor’s Note: The ambiguity of this poem is both frustrating and intriguing—one wants to know what city, what time this happened, but after further reflection, the narrative can be applied to so many moments in history that the true scope of human nature finally becomes apparent.

White Paper on Blue Stationery by Janice D. Soderling

White Paper on Blue Stationery

Thanks for your note received on Aug. the first.
The time you chose to send was not the worst
of times but neither was it quite the best.
I read most carefully griefs you addressed,
enumerations of your discontent
and understanding of where our love went
when it turned up its heels and flew the coop.
So let me say you are a nincompoop,
first class. Your reasons echo hollow.
More like Koalemos than like Apollo.
Here’s my reply: please find enclosed from me
your shriveled heart. And please return my key.

by Janice D. Soderling

Editor’s Note: These epistolary couplets draw the reader into the narrator’s world with an intimate and unexpectedly humorous portrayal of a failed relationship. (Koalemos is the god of stupidity. 😂)

[PS: My apologies for the previous typo in the headline.]