Feathers by Lorette C. Luzajic

Feathers

Woman, you who never wore a bra, you who never guzzled wine, now have dark birds and their shrouded nest in your tit, swollen stone eggs you thought were nothing until they were something. We were at the brink of gravity when we met, our blooms long spent. Still, we were radiant with that independence of women “coming into their own.” Hell’s din and swell had dimmed down to a dull roar. The struggle had found formidable and seasoned foe. Well, I watched you carry the skinny drunk chick upstairs from the building backyard, holding your favourite shawl over her wet jeans on behalf of her dignity. I watched you fight like a lion for me when I made a wrong turn, and gave all my love to the wrong man. I took up your flag when a mutual friend you thought could love you, could not love you, after all. It cut us both to pieces. You boiled water until it was hissing spit, tossed tea into the cauldron, mothered my wounds with theophylline and honey. I sheltered you when her door was locked, when things turned mean. We would stake out the city from one end to the other in the caustic cold of February, or hike to Spadina to slurp spicy pork bone soup like starved and frozen explorers. And here we are, now, face to face, after everything, taking on the inevitable. It is now, or it is later, but it is what is. This wild unwinding, this unknown known. Now we await the results of scans, configure charts, see signs in winter flight, in the shrill shudder of fate and her unmoored mutterings. I can’t imagine you sick or not there, beg you to stay. You tip your feathers to the wind, say what will be, will be.

by Lorette C. Luzajic, first appeared in Pretty Time Machine (Mixed Up Media, 2020).

Editor’s Note: This prose poem uses startling imagery to press the gravity of a desperate medical diagnosis into the reader’s mind. Like life, the end of the narrative is not quite grief nor certainty, but rather the ongoing struggle put in words.

The Acquisition by M.R. Williamson

The Acquisition

“The European robin is one of our most familiar birds, commonly known as the gardener’s friend due to its propensity to accompany gardeners as they dig the ground. Despite its friendly nature it can be aggressive towards other birds and is one of the few species to sing throughout the winter.”

Out on the concrete I see in front what looks like a bundle of fabric,
wrapped and discarded on my property;
indignant thoughts surface of how? And how dare you? desecrate my holy ground
with this foreign, careless act, this unfamiliar, unapproved thing,
but upon further inspection realize the small body—
perfect in its repose, feathers smoothed, beak closed,
eyes half-opened as if entranced.
I glance upward toward the clouds, jagged branches bare slicing
dishwater sky into fractals searching
the cause of this corpse’s plummet,
but the side-woods refuse to share any secrets
so I am left to feather my own deductions: an icy song
sung in key foul; untoward advances on neighboring mate;
a wrong-place-wrong-time flight. Whatever the case, there is no blood,
no matted down, no insects lining up to swarm. I take pictures.
I revel in its perfection. I inhale the muted line between worlds
as I scoot its still soft body onto cardboard with another as my implement.
I examine the exquisite auburn breast and its cerulean wings:
Such a specimen deserving a respectful rest.
I gather my shovel and make my way to the place where earth dips
and vertical stone juts: The Headstone, it has been named, waiting for this moment.
I dig in the soft December dirt which will not be frozen for some time, if at all.
The body slides off board and into hole, sideways landing, eye still staring, rim copper-brown.
I try to manipulate the body to sit properly on its feet,
to give it one last chance to take flight,
but it is too fresh to give into any prodding
so I cover it with soil and pat it down with my foot
and think: now we have something.

by M.R. Williamson

M.R. on Facebook
Instagram: @juxtaposed_art_studio

Editor’s Note: The entrancing narrative of this poem is broken only by the startling imagery and closing lines.

Self-Portrait in the Future, A Letter for the New Year by Shei Sanchez

Self-Portrait in the Future, A Letter for the New Year
after J. Michael Martinez

On that day and on days
the world you inhabit
feels uneven, you

will place both hands
on solid ground and lift
the rest of your self

up. Fear will chase
your breath. Still,

you’ll touch the sky.

With the weight
of you on your hands
and shoulders, how many

shades of dark did you hurl
to the sun? When
did you gather

the kindling, blow fire to it,
tend the passion
beneath your skin?

Remember running
to your mama, hiding
under her dress
when a car commercial on TV came on?
Running
to your kindergarten
classroom window, crying for her
to come back
on your first day?

Your shoulders buckling,
but your heart kept mouthing

puede, puede, puede

Steady your gaze. The drishti
lives inside you. The breath,
your flame. The dragon,
a friend. If you fall,

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .the earth will catch you.

Yesterday, you warriored roots
on fallow land. You pressed flint
in your curled fist, exhaled everything.

by Shei Sanchez

Instagram: @sheishimi

Editor’s Note: The enjambment of this poem echoes the uncertainty introduced in the first stanza, but the ending denies that idea with its emphasis on hope.

What the Burglar Left by Greg Watson

What the Burglar Left

The burglar left our apartment
much the same as before,
leaving two uncertain boot tracks
skidding downward from
the kicked-in window screen,
black roads leading nowhere,
thin plumes of smoking reaching up
through the white winter sky;
left the cats skittish but unharmed,
dishes filled, toys scattered;
left the kitchen drawers flung open,
closet doors ajar, the bed
pulled like a raft from its dock
in the corner, drifting;
left your favorite painting,
the books unread, music waiting
to be played; left your simple silver
rings and bracelets, those empty
perfume jars and baubles,
the gaudy brooch your grandmother
had given you many years before;
left the water drip-dripping
in the bathroom sink,
the silence we had collected
over the years, breath by breath;
left a presence that became,
with time, impossible to shake
or to name, this stranger walking
silently from room to room,
picking things up, turning them over,
wondering what might be
worth taking, what held value
and what did not, and not finding
much, moving along.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: This poem begins with an easy story and clear imagery, but it’s only as the reader moves closer to the closing lines that one begins to realize that the burglar is likely a metaphor for the entire narrative.

Why I have to sing by Kitty Jospé

Why I have to sing

my song— not the battle hymn
of any republic, nor God Save

any monarch (except
for the butterfly) or notes

about any country called mine—
no… My song, ’tis of a greater

Thee… like a Brother Francis
talking to the birds, his sisters—

a version of mine eyes
have seen the glory of

starlings—at dusk in a swooping some call
an affliction, others a murmuration

or a scourge or constellation—
indeed— a universe of stars

appearing just before twilight to
grace the end of the day…

My song is about untended fields,
banditry of chickadee, chain of bobolink

where no one would dare yank out Indian
Paintbrush, wild morning glory—

and the soft teeth of the yellow dandelion
would lend celebratory notes to necklaces

woven by children all singing God Bless
the Beautiful, in Harmony.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .I need the Navajo prayer
the quiet shepherdess song, the love

songs, the charm of hummingbirds,
and name the gaggle of all manner

of geese, a skein, sung as praise,
for how all of life weaves together.

by Kitty Jospé

Editor’s Note: The allusions threaded through the beginning lines of this poem dissipate as imagery takes over, but the underlying message only grows stronger as the speaker sings the prayers that every living thing knows.

Lessons – December 2020 by Kindra McDonald Greene

Lessons – December 2020

I am a substitute in this last week of school before winter break.
It is fancy dress day and my body sparkles in sequins with tulle

on my hips and shoes clicking bright down the hallway.
I roll this borrowed art cart into kindergarten classes.

I smile with my eyes, shout through thick cotton
and filters to 16 children in princess dresses

and tuxedos, old-man suspenders and shining tiaras.
We play dress up to wish away a year without hugs

and hidden smiles. Their desks: little clear cages of plexiglass.
Their eyes peer up at me for the lesson I’ve been left

by their teacher: artist and caregiver, now patient alone.
I am here telling them to draw an oval in the corner.

An oval is an egg, is an eye, is an avocado.
We draw a larger oval around the first,

which is now a bagel, a sushi roll, Saturn.
Draw a line out from the top of the oval

straight and true, mirror the oval’s curve
on the other side. We see a cylinder, a soda

can, a hot dog bun. We draw a wavy line
down the center of the page: an unfurling roll

a magic carpet unwound, a flag in the wind.
Match the wavy line on the other side, connect

the ends, wait as they laugh, recognize the familiar
toilet paper unrolled and waving goodbye to this year.

Goodbye to missing and distance, goodbye to fear—these
paper squares as symbols, our landscape paper as witness.

This is what artists do, capture this moment now,
as we pretend in our year’s best clothes

our covered face, our careful space. A mask is armor
is kindness, is costume. A belief that a cape will make

us fly. Let’s pretend! We dance and twirl, we substitute,
we draw all the things we have missed, lost, wish.

This week we are hope. We are small circles of light
dancing off sequins shining into new.

by Kindra McDonald Greene

Editor’s Note: The repetition in this poem serves to emphasize the multiple difficulties of 2020: grief and wishes and hugs. The device mimics children’s verse, while remaining firmly rooted in the complex realities of adulthood.

From the archives – Winter Visitation by Peter Vertacnik

Winter Visitation

Although I hurry home as soon
As work is done each afternoon
(Speeding through every yellow light,
Tailgating, passing on the right),
It’s almost dusk when I arrive.
Having parked quickly in the drive,
I scan the birches in the yard
Whose branches look both iced and charred—

And empty. In the house, it’s dark
Already, calm. The birch trees’ bark
Glows through the kitchen window. Here,
Hoping they will reappear
Tonight, as they have for a week,
I sit and wait for the oblique
Descent that’s sudden but quiescent,
Wings flashing black and iridescent.

Their voices peal—discordant, keen—
While they begin to roost and preen.
They’ve been forced to these few cramped trees
(Where, for the moment, they won’t freeze)
Because some woods were felled and sold
For condos that the wealthy old
Will live in only half the year,
Leaving when autumn turns austere.

Meanwhile, the rest of us remain
As light and warmth and color wane,
Then struggle back toward spring in slow
Steps through the salted, melting snow.
These crows are now a part of this,
A presence we cannot dismiss.
One neighbor gripes, “Loud, that’s for sure.”
Another thinks they’re sinister.

To me each one seems an informant
Assuring us we’re merely dormant,
Not dead. If in the trees behind
My house they sometimes bring to mind
Hitchcock’s Birds, or the strange beaked mask
Plague doctors donned for their grim task,
The fractured music that emerges
Resembles dark airs more than dirges.

by Peter Vertacnik

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, January 13, 2017

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim

Evensong by Sally Rosen Kindred

Evensong

At mid-life I dream of Penny, Bridget,
Tillie—the neighborhood dogs, all dead
by the late eighties—pressing their tender

heads into last century’s laps, or racing
us on our wet bikes up Kemp West,
nosing my empty Keds in the grass.

One dusk I left my house
through my brother’s window, sneakers slapping
porch brick. Curled, knee-to-chin, behind

azaleas steaming with moths.
My mother had thrown a book—then
a shelf of books, their blue and brown leathers

fanning. My father back there, laughing—
and her yell still stained the glass
I’d slid shut. Across the street swung

Tillie’s rust-setter head, dark lantern
in the weeds, and dusk-red, she turned
and knew me, her ears rising

when she rose and came to her curb
as if I were a sister or a mercy. She stopped there,
sat. Tongue loose, eyes sorrow-soft. Regarded me

from the other side. After that,
the street was silver-blue.
Now that I am pages and grass inside

and have found her vesper body
again, fur-heavy in the dark, I stand, I step down
into the leaves, I stop

at my father’s Chevy. I’ll say
Tillie. I’ll sing to her (make haste!)
from our drive, I’ll praise (hallelujah!). Grief

is not for standing in the road.
Grief waits at the edge of its yard,
moves its tail when it sees me

still. I want her but I
won’t move. I’ll say Sit, Tillie. Good girl.
I’ll say, Stay.

by Sally Rosen Kindred

Sally on Facebook
Twitter: @SallyRKindred

Editor’s Note: As this poem unfurls, the enjambment grows increasingly more challenging, mirroring the speaker’s dawning grief.

A New Year Begins: An acrostic sonnet by Mike Mesterton-Gibbons

A New Year Begins: An acrostic sonnet

Adieu to Twenty Twenty! Now it’s gone,
New hopes arise for what we could soon share:
Emancipation from a marathon
Withdrawal of companionship and care.
Yet ending this pandemic with vaccines
Entails their distribution planet-wide——
An end to loneliness in quarantines
Requires the rich to help the poorer side …
Below the radar, or behind the scenes,
Essential workers toil, and in return
Get all too scant support, while those of means
In comfort stay secure with scant concern …
New Year must face a truth the old laid bare:
Society’s most free when it’s most fair!

by Mike Mesterton-Gibbons

Editor’s Note: Hello 2021! Might as well start off with a poem that rhymes ‘vaccines’ with ‘quarantines’—not something you see everyday in a sonnet.

New Year’s Eve on the Moon by Ciaran Parkes

New Year’s Eve on the Moon

You’ve got telescopes. You can see more
than the Great Wall of China. You can measure
the moving coastlines like someone on a train

watching the landscape gliding by, imagining
themselves a tireless runner, leaping hedges,
trees and houses, or in your case, oceans,

continents. The night reveals much more,
like turning a light on, like x-ray. You can choose
a city to focus on. It’s almost New Year’s Day

or it’s already been for hours. For one whole day
you can watch the flare of fireworks in the darkness
as cities come alight and, in the distance,

the brighter sway of sunlight sweeping in
over the horizon. On the moon who knows
what time it is, what day or year or month?

What’s to celebrate? What slow tides are moved
by the earth in all those dried up seas?

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: This delightful poem calls to my mind astronaut Chris Hadfield singing “Space Oddity” on the ISS. And also, the flip of perspective seems strangely apt for the end of this particular year.