In morning’s chill, you watch your own hot breath
with doubt: its pale, ephemeral display
of life will fade fast on this heartless day
when frosted grass and downed leaves hint of death.
You hug yourself against the cold’s intrusion,
as if you could contract into a sphere
of self-perpetuating heat; you fear
that sunrise was a well-rehearsed illusion.
You envy winged escapees as they sail
toward southern skies, their flight propelled by lack
of faith or tolerance; they don’t look back
as solar furnaces appear to fail.
But you can see your breath—the evidence
of your warm-blooded, well-rehearsed defense.
by Jean L. Kreiling, first published in Snakeskin 212.
Editor’s Note: The volta of this sonnet belies the frozen despair of the preceding lines with classic sonnet form.
(The Head of the Charles Regatta, Cambridge, MA)
October’s weekend-long ballet of boats
outdoes the Charles itself in fluid grace:
each slender vessel flows as much as floats,
an eight-armed river creature born to race.
One year my teenaged nephew pulled an oar,
his muscle part of the machinery
of limbs and blades, advancing a rapport
that fueled liquid choreography.
Although “regatta” conjures privilege
and wealth, his role had more to do with sweat
and sinew: through each mile, beneath each bridge,
he labored. He still works hard, but he set
the oars aside last year to join the Corps;
our own Marine, he pulls his weight and more.
by Jean L. Kreiling
Editor’s Note: If you’ve never seen a regatta, this poem may help you understand the sheer beauty of these boats as they fly along the water. Imagery and affection drive this sonnet much as determination drives an oar into the water again and again.
The jealous maple steals the incandescence
of summer blossoms, which soon disappear,
deferring to the famous luminescence
of fiery trees that light the aging year.
And from warm-weather clouds, fall borrows breezes,
transforming them into a gusty rigor
that forcefully refreshes all it seizes
and soon revives our summer-slackened vigor.
This explication willfully misreads
the facts of chemistry and climate change,
but not the symbiosis of the season:
the metamorphosis of gifts and needs
as summer meets with autumn, to exchange
their wealth in bargains unexplained by reason.
by Jean L. Kreiling, first published in The Lyric 80/4 (Fall 2000): 129.
Editor’s Note: The first line of this sonnet is particularly interesting—personification immediately energizes the imagery of seasonal change.
The downward slope of summer modulates
the angle of our pleasures as it trains
reluctant eyes upon the lower plains,
where imminent nostalgia coolly waits.
Still coddled by a kind and lofty light,
we toast the sunset earlier each day,
like open-faced sunflowers that betray
a naïve over-ripeness in their height.
We’re past peak season for the kind of heat
that met with merciless humidity
in waves that drained our bodies and the land—
but this deliverance is bittersweet:
we clutch our sweating glasses of iced tea
as tightly as we’d grasp a mother’s hand.
by Jean L. Kreiling, first published in 14 by 14, Issue 4 (June 2008).
Editor’s Note: After this past week’s heatwave, I find the hope for cooler weather so eloquently expressed in this sonnet appealing. Of course, the pivot at the end belies such easy wishing. It’s still hot and it’s still August here in Pennsylvania.
This heat, too thick and sticky to be shaken
from fleshy creases, saturates your brain
until your stupor might well be mistaken
for cool, come-hither posing—but hard rain
is now your favorite fantasy by far:
no dalliance or drink or swimming hole
would satisfy as well as clouds that spar
in loud electric downpours. Thunder’s roll
seduces like a love song; you would gladly
forget fair weather—and when merely teased,
you languish like a lover treated badly,
your sluggish lust for lightning unappeased.
Although you mop your brow and bare your feet,
July still clings with enervating heat.
by Jean L. Kreiling
Editor’s Note: The fourth line is such a tease… the enjambment tosses readers from the possibility of cool back into summer’s heat with nary a break in the meter.
We feast on color, ravenous for red,
devouring violet, savoring sky blue;
we swim through fields where buttercups are bred,
awash in waves of grass and dirt and dew.
Inhaling trills that flutter from the throats
of robins, we join in the wild gavotte
that breezes blow, and bask in sunny notes
of bagatelles the winter ear forgot.
Indulging in a pagan’s wanton passion,
our games undimmed by caution or by shade,
we try to prove, in humble human fashion,
our fitness for the glittering parade—
and neither doubt nor reason can infect
the holy foolishness we resurrect.
by Jean L. Kreiling
Editor’s Note: Sonnets are one of the most widely written forms of verse, but few attain the natural grace of this month’s offering. The rhyme is effortless, but never cliché (gavotte/forgot).
The tiny lilac buds just barely bloom:
they affably unwink their pastel eyes
at brasher blossoms, emanating sighs
of self-assured but delicate perfume.
Reliable, requiring little care,
companionably clustered lilac flowers
attest to understatement’s heady powers,
as neatly gathered nuance fills the air.
And while the compact purple clouds expand
and multiply, their swoon-inducing scent
persuades a jaded world that it was meant
to bow before brief beauty’s mute command.
The lilac’s life of small perfections poses
a challenge rarely met by men or roses.
by Jean L. Kreiling, first published in 14 by 14, Issue 11 (December 2009).
Editor’s Note: Just today my lilac shrubs finally bloomed and the sweet scent drifted across my back deck. The blooms will only last a little while, as this poem so perfectly states: “brief beauty’s mute command.”
A bit of green pokes up through stone-cold dirt,
and petals start to open here and there,
but it’s a struggle; timid thaws will flirt
with freezes all month. April doesn’t care.
Cadenzas on the wing proclaim good news,
then disappear for days, confused or peeved
when blue skies beam, then darken like a bruise,
the atmosphere itself unsure or grieved.
We put away our shovels, on the chance
that spring will stick—the calendar can’t lie,
we think—but we join in the fickle dance:
we keep at least one pair of gloves nearby.
The cruelest month, short on civility,
will teach us patience and humility.
by Jean L. Kreiling, first published in The Lyric 95/1 (Winter 2015): 27.
Editor’s Note: “it’s a struggle” is the perfect description of the extremes of April weather. This sonnet carefully constructs the season within its perfect iambic pentameter, yet the meaning is never overshadowed by the form.
Tenacious winter, like a guest who stays
too long, repeats his tired tales of snow
while spring approaches, like a bride, with slow,
shy footsteps; soon she’ll toss her bright bouquets.
The cold, once crisp and fresh, turns merely trite,
exhausted by the circling of the year
that starts to tilt the sun-starved hemisphere
politely towards its source of heat and light.
As tolerant terrain reciprocates
the sky’s attempt at warmth with the debut
of unripe grass and intermittent mud,
the snow, now powerless, procrastinates—
piled high at curbs and corners, melting too
reluctantly to pose a threat of flood.
by Jean L. Kreiling
Editor’s Note: “intermittent mud”—how well I know the tenacity of it. And the curl of black snow along the edges of the roadways is perfectly described in this lovely sonnet. How interesting to read such pretty sonics about such an annoying time of year!
From leafless branches etching crooked lines
against the sky—scars coldly cut across
a bloodless cheek—some poets weave designs
of desolation, stories laced with loss.
They find in webs of winter-blackened limbs
the shapes of emptiness and elegies—
but those who see the stuff of requiems
miss what another eye obliquely sees:
the rugged grace of living filigree
that scrawls a promise on the open air,
a craggy silhouette of constancy
that tacitly rebuts boot-deep despair.
Though darkly drawn, these etchings may impart
the vital signs at winter’s still-warm heart.
by Jean L. Kreiling
Editor’s Note: This sonnet is so perfectly constructed that the volta at the end of the poem slips into the mind quietly, but with great effect.