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.

Your Abstract Body by Martin J. Elster

Your Abstract Body

Hon, you breathe the very same air the ginkgoes
breathed as brontosauruses lumbered past them,
bending them as blusters of wind will riffle
meadows of barley.

Ancient as the galaxies, old as space-time,
hoary as the sea, but as fresh as rollers
riding bareback over the brine to borrow
some of its water,

flung from dazzling suns that have spent their rations,
cycled through the eons, your precious body
must be worth, what, hundreds of thousands, millions,
billions of dollars?

Estimate: far less than a lunch at Denny’s.
You, pet, are the atoms of moons and mountains,
rushing rivers, thunderstorms, plants and planets—
common as comets.

Who, then, plays your melody? Why, the cosmos
coursing through the energy you are made of,
through the living cells of your corporation.
You are a blueprint.

Dare I fall in love with an abstract template?
Dare I not? What curious magnetism—
strong force, weak force, gravity, cosmic laughter—
draws us together!

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: This syllabic ode (ll and 5 syllable lines) uses dazzling wordplay and imagery to convey the narrator’s fervor for his love.

A Tufted Titmouse Braves a Cold Spell by Martin J. Elster

A Tufted Titmouse Braves a Cold Spell

Peter-peter-peter cries my voice
echoing through the trees. Flakes fall to test
my stamina and patience. It is cold.
Tomorrow will be chillier still, fresh rime
glazing flower and fence. My whistles chime
like piccolos to pierce the stale and old
that clings as lichen to a larch. I rest
in a nest in a lifeless oak. I have no choice
but to sing and to hole up in this secondhand
woodpecker’s dimple, no alternative
but to twitter to my better half, to live
in my feathered fashion. Oh, but it is grand
and it is hard and it’s both work and play
and — peter-peter — it is cold today.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: This sonnet is a delight to read, and one any birder would love.

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

The Snare Drummer’s Plight by Martin J. Elster

The Snare Drummer’s Plight

The highlight of the evening is Bolero.
The snare drummer begins the famous beat,
the marrow of the land of the torero.

The players, who have sprayed themselves with Deet,
ignore the insects swarming in the light
or lighting on the scores. The music’s bite
and lyric passion build each bar, with singing
strings, winds, and brass — while buzzing bugs seek meat.
One gently touches down and starts to eat
blood from the snare drum player’s nose. The stinging
clings like a picador’s sharp lance of worry.

How can he stop to scratch? His part must never
cut out. Time’s poky arrow will not hurry.
Bolero! May it live — not last — forever.

by Martin J. Elster, first published in Verse Wisconsin.

Editor’s Note: The poet included the name of the form for this poem, Stefanile triadic sonnet, and it is quite complex. This poem’s lighthearted narrative is an excellent example of how the best formal poems transcend their form, and speak to the reader despite the strictness of meter and rhyme.

Spring Peepers by Martin J. Elster

Spring Peepers

Spring peepers trill and whistle in between
the avenue (where drivers rush toward shops),
construction site, the woods, the putting green.
No one stops to listen to these drops

of sentience small as buttercups and shrill
as piccolos. They hide amid the stalks
that rise up from a liquid eye as still
as a spyglass pointed at the equinox,

unblinking for eternity. The first
of April. The environs dance and ring
with notes from frogs who, though they’re unrehearsed,
belt out a song precisely tuned to spring.

These lusty soon-to-be inamoratos,
iconic crooning harbingers, will soon
be silent. You who ride inside your autos,
roll down the windows! Do not wait till June!

by Martin J. Elster, first published in The Centrifugal Eye.

Editor’s Note: Every year I await these frogs with great anticipation. Swerving around them on country roads at night can be quite unnerving!

From the archives – Spring Will Leave You Behind by Martin J. Elster

Spring Will Leave You Behind

The thaw has drawn the robins, ravenous, eager
for things that creep, while terra firma teases
with wafts of geosmin, hints of the hocus-pocus
that brought the thundershower, woke the crocus,
and coaxed the chorus frogs to call, which breezes
convey like news. They’ve lived through winter’s meager

provisions, trilling the nip out of their blood.
A cattail pond I walk by every day
already stirs with cyan, orange, gold
and reddish shapes. Your hypothermic hold
diminishes with each and every ray
that touches fur and feather, flower and bud.

I watch a balancing act above as chill
as were your rime-caked eyes: a soaring hawk,
its wings as motionless as your emotions,
scans the fields for mice. No magic potions
will bring you back. You’ve vanished in the talk
of the towhee and the whistling whip-poor-will.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, March 23, 2016 — by Martin J. Elster

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

The Barking of the Dog by Martin J. Elster

The Barking of the Dog

Why is the world so focused on the barking of the dog
. . . .when the cosmos quakes with rattling station wagons,
huge mowers moaning, blowers droning, tools that cruelly dig,
. . . .motorbikes that scream like raving dragons,

rigs rumbling over potholes, doors maniacally banging,
. . . .jackhammers gouging roads that throb and rock,
jet aircraft booming, sirens yowling, railroad crossings clanging,
. . . .the ice-cream trucks that drift down every block

repeating “Turkey in the Straw” or “Do Your Ears Hang Low”?
. . . .While mobs engage in age-old sports like shouting,
while firecrackers burst and chainsaws roar and roosters crow,
. . . .while gangs wage war upon the ghetto, shooting,

there comes a more abhorrent noise, a din without cessation,
. . . .begun at dawn and going even now,
a strange and strident racket causing serious vexation—
. . . .the voice of misery, going “bow-wow-wow.”

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: A list of frustrating sounds almost masks the central theme of this poem, so eloquently presented in the final line.

Pushcart Prize Nominations – 2016

logoborderlite

I am happy to announce the following poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize:

In Sicily, On the Road to Gela by Carol A. Amato
American Numerology by Stephen Bunch
June Twenty-First by Bruce Guernsey
Slack Traffic by Martin J. Elster
Visitation by Jo Angela Edwins
Hurricane by Bayleigh Fraser

Congratulations and good luck!

An Early Autumn Chill by Martin J. Elster

An Early Autumn Chill

Though bit by bit the mullein blossoms wither
and daisy fleabane slowly turns to seed,
white cabbage butterflies still sip the liquor
of clover — skipping, capering, keen to breed.

While sunflowers hang their heads to catch the murmur
of bumblebees, and pumpkins put on weight,
woolly bears, fueled up on summer’s flora,
seek a secret place to hibernate.

Vast hordes of them are crushed on roads and highways,
quite out of harmony with human haste,
their bristles useless, too, against the sparrows
which love them (though it’s an acquired taste).

Should they cocoon, they will emerge next April
and roam the night when bats are on the prowl,
yet few will fill the bellies of those mammals
which dare not fiddle with a bug so foul.

Fields team with asters mimicking the sun god
with myriad rays of brilliant blue or pink
and eyes of gold to charm the pollinators
as day by day the region’s rations shrink.

Gone are the cardinal’s whistle, the hummer’s hustle,
the robin’s comical hops across the lawn,
the mockingbird’s adroit impersonations.
So deafening, this quietude at dawn!

Black-eyed Susans drop their lemon petals,
Sol is sinking fast behind the hill,
milkweed down is hovering and dancing,
and chickadees fluff their feathers against the chill.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: I confess to having a great fondness for iambic pentameter. In this poem, the slow groove of the meter highlights the descriptive imagery and brings the reader into the narrator’s autumn.