That Bitter Night by Martin J. Elster

That Bitter Night

We could have driven but hiked to the drugstore—
for a lark—on the bitterest night
spring ever whipped up. You held my hand
the whole way. A skin of ice as slick
as Teflon shellacked the streets and sidewalks.

In a coat as heavy and huge as a house,
you led the way as I helped you along.
As for myself, I felt as light
as a snowflake, for our bond seemed strong,
way stronger than this Baltic weather!

Did the old pharmacist assume
we were homeless when our noses were dripping?
The cashier, too, acted toffee-nosed,
seeing us so bundled up.

Elated we’d made it back alive,
we’d cuddled on the couch and laughed
about that bumptious bloke, lulled
by the whimseys of the wind, our shivers
melting away like frost in May.

Now it’s summer. We laugh no longer.
You’re the glaze that glassed the roads,
and I’m the heavy coat you bore
that bitter night you held my hand.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: Lovely alliteration and careful imagery carry the reader through this poem’s heartfelt narrative.

The Art of Freezing by Martin J. Elster

The Art of Freezing

The art of freezing isn’t hard to master.
For tiny frogs as tough as I am, snow
or frost on naked skin is no disaster.

Winter’s icy fingers do not fluster
me in the least. Since I’ve no place to go,
the art freezing isn’t hard to master.

I am a frog-cicle. When blizzards bluster
and icicles’ long fangs begin to grow,
their nudge on naked skin is no disaster.

My ticker, as if made of alabaster,
stops beating. Then when runnels start to flow,
I melt, for melting isn’t hard to master.

While thawing, though I’d love to do it faster,
my heart once more starts ticking. I’m a pro
at freezing and defrosting. No disaster!

And you, by probing me, will come by vaster
knowledge of saving organs. You will know
the art of freezing isn’t hard to master,
that snow on naked skin is no disaster.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: Anyone fond of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” will find this villanelle an absolute delight.

Evacuated (December 25th) by Martin J. Elster

Evacuated (December 25th)

The cars, which dripped their grease across the fields
of tar, have left, thick bands of altostratus
above the western ridge and coming at us
the only traffic now, whose gray conceals
the foundering sun. Past sycamores and pines
we tread along the empty roads and walks,
lamps recently switched on by unseen clocks.
My hound runs free as a fox and no one minds.

This roving through the dusk lessens the chill.
No guards to hassle us. They are all gone.
White textured paint will peel and fall at dawn
to overspread this campus on a hill
where a man and a dog can wander without worries—
till school resumes with its own brand of flurries.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: Winter comes softly in this poem, but always with the understanding that it won’t last forever.

Arcturus by Martin J. Elster

Arcturus

Arcturus sparks the night
when croci spring from the earth.
Light left its stellar berth
years, years, and years ago.
On seeing its face (the glow
as orange as the fruit),
we know our planet’s flight
has brought the robins to root
for grubs in parks, backyards,
and along those strips of lawn
that split our boulevards.
They trill a tune at dawn,
hunt angleworms at noon,
and slumber when the moon
comes up and greets the Bear,
which bright Arcturus follows
as it glisters through the air
ringing with the swallows
by day and, in the dark,
the singing of the lark
till Vega, overhead,
says, “Time to go to bed!”

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: Skillful rhyming illuminates this poem’s imagery into a tight constellation of nature—star to planet to personification at the end of the story.

Steve Jobs, From Beyond the Grave, Pitches the Flag Elevation App by Samuel Prestridge

Steve Jobs, Addressing a Joint Session of Congress from Beyond the Grave, Pitches a Technology that America Most Needs to Address the Aftermath of Mass Shootings, the Universal Flagpole Elevation / Suspension App

The flag goes down to half-mast, raises back up
at the click of an icon. It’s automatic:
no debate, no crafting statements of support,

or prayers, or debating gun laws, no muss,
no fuss. The horrific happens, and with a click
the flag goes down to half-mast, raises back up

after a span for grieving determined by consensus—
or algorithm: say x days per y victims.
With no debate, no crafting statements of support,

we’re greasing the skids. The shooter gets comeuppance—
his ass in jail or dead—but we’re spared the usual shtick:
the flag goes down to half-mast, raises back up

after proclamations, deliberations, air-time to envelope
the tragedy’s minutia, the names of the dead, a mimic
of debate, of crafting statements of support.

No discussing remedies, no blame, or changes to oppose.
User friendly: you can even be a dick,
and still, the flag goes down to half-mast, raises back up
with no debate, no crafting statements of support.

by Samuel Prestridge

Editor’s Note: This villanelle uses the repetition of lines to great effect, emphasizing the absurd, inherent cruelty of death becoming just another talking-head soundbite.

Dodo by Martin J. Elster

Dodo
(Raphus cucullatus)

Maybe you chuckle at the sound
of my name or weep at hearing a word
that calls to mind the song of a bird
so round, I couldn’t leave the ground.
Yet I matched my patch like comfy clothing.
You came ashore one day and, loathing
my curious countenance, bludgeoned, bashed
and smashed my clan. Our numbers crashed.
(Had the once-lush forests of Mauritius
ever seen a beast so vicious?)
We roosted in the woods, ate fruits,
and shrank from none, not even the boots
striding toward us. We were no beauts—
in your eyes—though our feathered suits
were snazzy as a CEO’s.
Unlike most other birds, the nose
inside our epic bill was keen,
helping us locate our cuisine,
helping us find the bulbs and roots,
seeds, nuts and crabs and other shellfish
we relished. The dodo tree, unselfish,
nourished parrot, bat, and tortoise,
the gifts it gave so darned delightful
we licked our beaks at every bite-full.
Paradise! Yet you abhorred us—
our face, our grace, our trendy style.
Now you hear our name and smile.
I wish, instead, you’d just ignored us.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: This poem’s inventive rhyme is perfectly suited to its subject, with neither too much levity, nor too little.

Waiting for Dawn atop Butterfly Mountain by Martin J. Elster

Waiting for Dawn atop Butterfly Mountain

A dilapidated lepidopteran
dying atop The Mountain of Butterflies
holds out her wings to the darkness—wings as thin
as the mist that swirls beneath monsoonal skies—

and pictures the tea farm women, who often glow
like painted sawtooths dotting the plantation;
and, wallowing in the Mahaweli’s flow,
trumpeting in carefree conversation,

elephants plashing, washing away all worry.
Unlike them, she’s alone here on this rock,
a decent rock on which to dream. No hurry
to flee the fleeting memories that flock

like the birds of Sinharaja: the cunning jackal,
the whistling thrush, the fish in every lake
(which lure the hungry to come with boats and tackle
and float on magic molecules that slake

the roots of rice), the din of Devon Falls
reverberating through a green expanse
where a muntjac barks, a magpie calls and calls,
and footsteps crack the chrysalis of her trance—

men climbing toward her haven. Soon the sun
will oust the night. Slowly she beats her wings,
wings like frozen wood as, one by one,
they gain the hilltop, quicker as someone sings

a hymn to dawn, then darts away as a bell
blossoms like an orchid on the height
and, rising with the most resounding knell,
fades like the constellations at first light.

by Martin J. Elster, first published The Society of Classical Poets

Poet’s Note: The title alludes to a mountain in south-central Sri Lanka, rising to 7,359 feet (2,243 m), which is variously known as Adam’s Peak (the place where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out of heaven), Sri Pada (Sacred Footprint, left by the Buddha as he headed toward paradise), or perhaps most poetically as Samanalakande (Butterfly Mountain; where butterflies go to die). Some believe the huge “footprint” crowning the peak to be that of St. Thomas, the early apostle of India, or even of Lord Shiva.

Editor’s Note: The imagery in this poem is so rich and detailed it feels like a painting, but the beautiful meter (iambic pentameter) and rhyme take this poem beyond mere image and into meaningful narrative.

No Whiners by Martin J. Elster

No Whiners

Gratitude is a leaf that laughs
. . . .and falls up toward the sun
and glides and soars like a red-tailed hawk
. . . .whose heart won’t be undone

by clouds as inky as the jaws
. . . .of a giant carnivore.
It never wants to land on earth,
. . . .in oak or sycamore,

but keeps ascending, drifting, wheeling
. . . .over the hills and fields
and thinks a cyclone sounds as fine
. . . .as a thousand glockenspiels.

It laughs with the glee of a major key,
. . . .though the world’s so full of minor,
and goes on hovering and gliding
. . . .beyond the last airliner.

Gratitude is not a whiner.
. . . .Gratitude will not moan.
While awestruck by the universe,
. . . .how can it feel alone?

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: This poem seemed rather apropros for the day after Thanksgiving.

The Woolly Bear by Martin J. Elster

The Woolly Bear

Along a silvan lane, you spy a critter
creeping with a mission, a woolly bear
fattened on autumn flora. So you crouch,
noting her triple stripes: the middle ginger,
each end as black as space. Her destination
is some unnoticed nook, a sanctuary
to settle in, greet the fangs of frost,
then freeze, wait winter out—lingering, lost
in dreams of summer, milkweed, huckleberry.
Though she’s in danger of obliteration
by wheel or boot, your fingers now unhinge her.
She bends into a ball of steel. No “ouch”
from bristles on your palm as you prepare
to toss her lightly to the forest litter.

She flies in a parabola, and lands
in leaves. Though she has vanished, both your hands
hold myriad tiny hairs, a souvenir
scattered like petals. When this hemisphere
turns warm again, she’ll waken, thaw, and feast
on shrubs and weeds (the bitterer the better)
then, by some wondrous conjuring, released
from larval life. At length she will appear
a moth with coral wings — they’ll bravely bear
her through a night of bats or headlight glare,
be pulverized like paper in a shredder,
or briefly flare in a world that will forget her.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: The rhyme scheme in this poem is a delight, as is the story, but it is the last line that really resonates and opens the door to allegory.

Poet’s Note: The rhyme scheme in the first stanza is a chiasmus.

Matches by Martin J. Elster

Matches

It only takes a couple of small matches
to torch a total forest to the ground.
A flick of the wrist, and kindling quickly catches
and palms and rubbers hiss and soon the sound
grows louder as they crackle, snap, and sputter
as lizards skitter, hummers rise and flutter,

and sloths, absurdly slow, stay put and fry.
One match. A million matches. Same effect
for anaconda, frog, or butterfly.
The lungs of Earth are now ablaze, unchecked
as our encroachment on the last pristine
preserve—when nothing will again be green.

But then there is the match of CO2
heating the homeland of the kangaroo,
koala, wallaby, and flying fox
imprisoned in a broiling greenhouse box
where plucky firefighters fight and fight,
where even the sun can’t match this matchless light.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: Iambic pentameter is always pleasing to the ear, but this poem’s content is unfortunately more grim than pleasant. A lament, however, is still a poem, and this one is beautifully constructed.