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.

Slack Traffic by Martin J. Elster

Slack Traffic

This is the slackest traffic I have been in.
And yet I’m fairly confident I’m winning
the battle between ecstasy and languor,
the deathmatch between sanity and anger.
I drive so slowly, I could fall asleep
but, gazing at a Shangri-La of sheep
grazing tranquilly across the street
is good as savoring a frozen treat.
Though tentacles of heat from every car
try murdering my mood, the finches are
so free and high above this hellish jam,
I’ve almost lost the sense of where I am —
some planet parallel to this old sphere,
a world where horns don’t blare, the air is clear,
where narrow tracks of asphalt don’t confine us,
where fumes which spew from rigs don’t plague my sinus.
So long have I been loitering in this mess,
I’ve missed my own recital. I can guess
my guzzler will keep guzzling for some time.
So I reach for a book. Is it a crime
to read while driving? Yes. But this ain’t driving!
I haven’t a notion when I’ll be arriving
to where I’m headed. Reading is the thing
to do, or drum the dashboard while I sing
Rodolfo’s aria from La Bohème.
At least I haven’t drifted into REM,
though that may happen soon, for dusk has laid
its copper wings upon this slow parade,
which now has gone from turtle-speed to sloth,
my windshield host to a heedless hulking moth.

Editor’s Note: The trauma of traffic is deftly (and somewhat amusingly) described in this poem. Don’t poem and drive, people.

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.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: This poem’s abccba rhyme scheme echoes the Dream Songs of Berryman, but without the uneven stresses. The form gives the poem a sense of structure not immediately apparent on the first read. Spring is always caught between winter and summer: a balancing act, much like the rhyme balanced between lines.

A Prayer for the Prayer by Martin J. Elster

A Prayer for the Prayer

While straightening the tail end of October,
. . . .I step across my rug
. . . .of turf and see a bug
as slender as a drinking straw, a sober

pea-green, and unassuming as a nun.
. . . .Perhaps she is entreating
. . . .the god who has been heating
her body the whole summer not to run

away and strip the trees too rapidly
. . . .and leave her in a blizzard.
. . . .Now, basking like a lizard,
she doesn’t try to flee but studies me

with eyes that nearly dwarf her swivel-head.
. . . .I stroke her back. She races
. . . .away. Yet what she faces
is not my finger but the milky spread

that, by and by, will glaciate this lawn.
. . . .She stops as if she’s caught
. . . .my thought. Now on this plot
she’ll ambush flies till she and they are gone.

When will the mandibles of winter take
. . . .her spirit like some prey?
. . . .Who knows? But now, today,
she’ll revel in the sun — until I rake.

— Martin J. Elster

by Martin J. Elster, first published in The Flea.

Editor’s Note: It seems appropriate that this poem is an elegy of sorts because it first appeared in The Flea (which deserves an elegy). Rhyme and autumn seem to go together quite well.

The Mist by Martin J. Elster

The Mist

We danced that day as two who knew the mist.
As evening cooled the meadow drew the mist.

Orion shyly peeked above the ridge.
Cygnus, spread your wings, pursue the mist!

Each evening the red foxes roam the valley.
Like them, there was a time you knew the mist.

One night the moon came up, unrolled its rays.
A screeching raptor woke and slew the mist.

I called your name, called loud a thousand times!
A katydid responded through the mist.

Far-off, the owls tu-whit tu-whoo the mist.
They infiltrate my mind. I rue the mist.

The songbirds have all gone, the leaves have dried.
Only bats that dimly view the mist.

The breeze picked up across the distant hills.
None can remove the breath from you, the mist.

I watched a flock of martins heading south.
Then, clean away, a blizzard blew the mist.

by Martin J. Elster, first published in Lucid Rhythms.

Editor’s Note: The use of mist as a repetitive device in this ghazal emphasizes the emotional yearning of the narrator. The clever use of the bird in the second to last line to meet the ghazal’s name requirement is delightful.

The World by Martin J. Elster

The World

Unlike the azure that protects the world,
the sky-dome’s plexiglass reflects the world.

A spherical lab experiments for eons.
Slowly, the life it bears perfects the world.

Billions of bits of sparkle whirling, whirling.
Something’s alive among these specks: the world.

A robed astronomer sees a curious glow
light up his globe as he dissects the world.

You shut the greenhouse windows one by one,
then wonder who it is that wrecks the world.

With a writ of attachment in its curved appendage,
the alien says it must annex the world.

Amphibians, mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, insects—
two by two a ship collects the world.

“Farewell,” she said, and fled to a new planet.
He shrugs when queried, “Was your ex the world?”

Tumefied into a scarlet monster:
the sun. Nobody resurrects the world.

The astronaut, though warned she’ll turn to salt,
glances back and recollects the world.

A cosmic magpie spies a blue-white marble,
then, comet-like, swoops down and pecks the world.

by Martin J. Elster, first published in The Chimaera.

Author’s Note: About the makta (poet’s name) in the final sher: “magpie” is “elster” in German.

Editor’s Note: The interweaving of biblical and mythological references within the context of science and science fiction is impressive in this ghazal. Hopefully the author will forgive my video link; it seemed appropriate.

Cherry Blossom Reverie by Martin J. Elster

Cherry Blossom Reverie
On Hearing Keiko Abe Play the Marimba

As mallets frolic, leap and fall
and blur into a cloud of flowers,
the rosewood fills the spacious hall

with dazzling white sakura showers
borne from the tree we picnicked under,
all our minutes, all our hours

passing like this tuneful wonder
quickening my memory
and, wild as taiko-drumming-thunder,

we danced beneath that floral tree
that shook the garlands from its hair.
That night I dreamed a glorious sea

of petals washed ashore, the air,
the land, our very souls in thrall
to blossoms blowing everywhere.

I see you whirling in the squall,
as mallets frolic, leap and fall.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: This terza rima is particularly apt—the flourishes and acrobatics Ms. Keiko Abe uses as she plays the marimba are perfectly suited to the form’s interlocking rhyme scheme.