la vita nuda
Apple orchards in bloom, treacle tart: oily malt arrives first
on the palate followed by smoked pineapple, summer
berries, pine nuts and almonds, a very soft hint of sulphur
. . . . . . . . . . . . . as in the baths of Davlos,
my father’s and grandfather’s
and great-grandfather’s village, Davlos, a torch
under the castle of Kantara, a craggy lime ghost
and the bray of donkeys tied
in 1973 on the capstan of the well still
rings in my ears and the bones of the dead, Greeks
and Turks, Phoenicians and Crusaders whirl
at its bottom for centuries.
Now Wolf moon over Kantara; a voyage; incoming; a boy’s legs
disappear into the wine-dark water
and although Auden is not
wrong about human suffering,
. . . . . . . children cram into inflatable boats
only to end up in concentration
camps and women plunge into the cold, their bodies
heavy with weeping as men carry infants on their
backs their feet, their tired
. . . . . feet . . . . . bare on beach
pebbles, ζωή . . . . . not βίος, bare life first
shot with military-grade cameras, bare life
incoming: and Mosse zoomed in
on a curious . . . . . little . . . . . girl holding onto a smart
phone and we fail to understand that poverty and despair have many
dimensions just as displacement and the sense
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . of home
and the white bodies are trapped in limbo
forever, la vita nuda masked as protracted refugee situations
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . intractable-
Cyprus cyclamen and pink
Anatolian orchids still carpet the pine forest in Davlos
. . . . . . . and I am told that as a small
boy, I tumbled down that slope into the turquoise sea,
looking for pearls, sea urchins, and turtles
and tonight we drink Craigellachie in small Limoges
cups but what started as an excuse
. . . . . . . . . . . .to discuss poetry and voyages over whiskey
turned into libation
. . . . . . . . . . . . and remembrance
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and horror.
by Christos L. Hadjigeorgiou
Editor’s note: The complicated enjambment and spacing of this poem mirrors the complex grief/anger/sorrow of the speaker.
Picture of a House
There are several V’s in my daughter’s drawing.
One is a gable and the rest are birds
flying off into a spiky yellow
sunset she’s coloring in on the kitchen table.
From where I sit across from her, writing
a check to the Hartford Federal Mortgage
Corporation, the birds are houses
and the house is a large bird, a vertical triangle
from eaves to ridge, ready to take off
at the drop of a letter, rooftop flapping
over the treetops to Hartford, Connecticut. . .
I sign the check as she signs the picture
in the bottom right-hand corner, and the birds
migrate softly into my hands as she gives me
the house. For keeps. No strings attached
to the birds which could also be houses,
or the sun which could also be time
running out, going down like a diminishing
crayon stub still eking out, incredibly,
enough yellow to warm a house 30 years.
from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 7, December 2007 — by Paul Hostovsky
Tears are an ancient compass
constantly pointing south
for the Sabina Nessas of the world:
Muslim, Brown, South Asian descent,
and for the 700 indigenous women missing—
from the same area Gabby Petito was found
Tears are an ancient compass but
N-E-W-S without the N is only ews to you
Your compass is a screen coloured with your flighty bias
You are not lost—just feathering your nest with your fears
Your needle is magnetized by “influencers” who flock together
and never fly south,
nor east nor west,
every winter of our lives—
as if we even needed a winter to remind us
of all the seasons of killing
Our tears are an ancient compass
the tracks of which
lead to an ocean that will never wet the cheek
Your compass is broken.
by Julian Matthews
(from the prompt “Tears are an ancient compass” from Taylor Mali’s @metaphor_dice broadcast on IG)
Editor’s note: Metaphor, enjambment, and unexpected punctuation keep the reader off balance in this poem, emphasizing the underlying theme of grief/horror quite well.
Two strange creatures Who and Whom
Emerged from primal grammar doom—
Mischievous twins without means,
With lust for complicating things.
Who stuck to He and Whom to Him.
It proved to be a perfect scheme:
Nobody knew if Whom is Who
And how to tell between the two.
They married, on the same day,
The Ever twins, as grammars say.
Two fine monsters they begot,
The Whoever-Whomever lot.
Since then life is forever tough
For those who deal with grammar stuff:
The dynasty of Who and Whom
Delights in breeding mess and gloom.
by Irena Pasvinter, first published in Every Day Poets
Editor’s Note: What better poem than this one to remind us that language is always moving into more interesting, bothersome, confusing, helpful, and surprising directions?
I Write in the House of Her Narrative
Don’t ask me about my mother.
Don’t tell me to lean towards joy.
Would you tell a dog barking for bone,
a babe bawling for breast to be jubilant?
My mother was not. And so I am not.
She of the gilded mask and robe,
inscribed with molasses and tobacco. Here,
where sunlight is rationed, I’m the ugly ingrate.
When I pull on the pink slippers and shout:
Look, Ma. I can pirouette, she taps ash.
When I show her my first poem, she
upstages me with her own version.
Body from body. It’s just too fucking intimate.
My infant form faltered, crowned once,
drowned twice. Nearer now to my own line break,
I lean towards the volta. The mother still inserts herself
between couplets. A third foot.
We did our little dance.
I was not chosen. Such a blessing
the dead have no memories.
by Risa Denenberg
Editor’s note: This poem’s speaker recognizes how trauma can linger the way cigarette smoke stains everything around it, until the only freedom that seems possible is death.
Love Under Threat of Cancer
1. The Night of the Call Back
We lay facing each other, smothering
ourselves by ticking off things we know
and things we don’t want to
suspect. Whatever they’ve seen is small yet.
It could be nothing; statistics provide
hope, genetic testing an educated guess.
We start to talk about the family history, but instead
fall into silence, as if our voices might carry the violence
of a positive diagnosis even before biopsy.
We start to talk about my random fevers, my fatigue,
other symptomology we’ve not seen in the normal
course of autoimmune disease. Tears take over
like tangible, existential philosophy. We make
love, every touch ten times as powerful
as radiation. You are more present to me
than you have ever been, your hands upon my skin
caressing cancer away.
2. The Night Before Ultrasound
We have held ourselves together by threads made
more of magic than science. We have repeated
the reasons it cannot be a tumor a thousand times.
I breathe you in as if this one intake of breath
can hold me upright through chemotherapy or whatever
waits on the other side of tomorrow. Our lovemaking
echoes with sorrow, what we’ve already lost together
so present twe don’t dare hope and we don’t dare not to.
3. The Night of the All Clear
Somewhere in the back of our minds, we are cautious.
Family history has shown it’s just a matter of time
before time catches up. You cup my breast in your hand
and kiss me the way you did the first time, nervously,
as if afraid I might slip away. But I am present tonight
and will be tomorrow. We burrow into each other
knowing hope is a hoax for people like us.
Knowing hope is all we’ve ever had.
by Larina Warnock
Editor’s Note: People who live with a chronic illness know deep in their bones that another terrible diagnosis is always a possibility. This poem deals with what life is like with that monolithic dread looming just over the horizon.
And This Remains
I heard your mother found you
in your bed as if asleep,
your affairs all tidy, neat.
The glass sat in the sink, clothing
folded at your feet.
And this remains
your mother’s final memory of you,
one she has to keep.
You waited until spring,
thought the timing would be right
and planned it just as carefully
as how you threaded skis through
tight white-mantled trees.
Why antifreeze, I wonder?
Wouldn’t sleeping pills suffice?
As your gut disintegrated,
did you think it might keep ice from
forming in your soul,
a man who so loved winter, only snow
could keep him whole?
I have to think I’m lucky;
my last memory of you
is a swirl of snow in vortex
behind a disappearing back,
sweeping, swift down Cowboy Mountain
in the trail of your deep tracks.
from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 4, March 2007 — by Cynthia Neely
Empty Nest Ghazal
After lunch, she moves from room to room,
To sidestep the tail-twitching afternoon.
Someone’s left a sock behind the door,
First furtive ambush of the afternoon.
Crusted mascara wand beside the sink:
Dry bones, the dessicated afternoon.
All useless spoor of time she sweeps away.
Still time stalks her through the afternoon.
Always the silent house, and hours till dinner –
Too many simmering hours of afternoon.
She sits to write. Love, Mother. She can sign
An unsent letter every afternoon.
by Sally Thomas
Editor’s Note: This poem uses the repetition of the ghazal form to great effect, mirroring the endless hours of missing a loved one who has gone away with delicate (but also relentless) sorrow.
we take the afternoon off work to visit the nuclear
medicine department at the hospital
and in the evening I try to access some feeling and I ask myself
if I cry, will that help flush the radiation out of my body?
or will it just give the bags under my eyes a buttercup glow
as if my pupils had become suns
It was just a CT scan, just a tiny amount of radiation
and you are just melodramatic
you are just a girl, not spiderman
and nothing is happening
but that’s what burns
by Sam Rose
Editor’s Note: The fractured lines and words of this poem perfectly encapsulate the uncertainty inherent in dealing with illness and the medical treatment that can feel more like a machine than healing.
From ivied stage a robin serenades,
while in the meadow grass his broody hen
hops among the boulders and invades
a crevice, moulding lichen for a den
to lay her brood. The parasite’s near call
provokes the bubbling chuckles of his mate;
she spies the moss concealed within the wall
and sneaks an egg inside to incubate.
Her chick emerges, fluttering to prise
all redbreast babies out. Instinctively,
it simulates their empty bellied cries.
Poor surrogate is hoodwinked by its pleas
and forages for worms, to satisfy
that constant gaping beak. Thriving it grows
to thrice the foster’s size. Ready to fly,
behemoth baby quits the crib and crows
cu coo. . . .cu coo. . . .cu coo
by Eira Needham
Editor’s Note: Enjambment and rhyme skillfully illustrate the ruthlessness of the season in this spring poem.