. . .a distance / not yet thought of by Ed Hack

. . .a distance / not yet thought of
—Norman MacCaig

Inside the light, beyond the wind, far past
a child on a bike whose joy is go
and go and go, are distances that last
as long as hope, the only prayer we know.
No unbelievers in the crowd, logic-
ians in the anteroom. No saints to
sanctify a minute’s grace. No magic fish
to feed a crowd, for everything is new,
and that’s enough. There is no argument
or policy, diplomacy or war.
What’s there is one long road whose sole intent
is what-comes-next, an ocean or a star.
The only mantra is a child’s laugh,
which lasts because it simply cannot last.

by Ed Hack

Editor’s Note: This sonnet’s graceful meter and slant rhymes beautifully frame the sentiment within—a child’s joy is both ephemeral and priceless.

Winter In The Soul by Ed Hack

Winter In The Soul

The birds are singing in an afternoon
as green as emeralds from days of rain.
The sun lets go, the light a vast balloon
that lifts the eye, the world become a flame
that quickly dims. An outburst, nothing more,
as silvered-white and gray resume, the spring’s
new palette for a time of bloody war.
And yet, and yet, some birds begin to sing
their sweet, brief songs, two notes or three. They pause.
they start again. And much it grieved my heart
to think / What man has made of man. . . . What cause
but madness, evil playing its old part?
What is this ice within the human soul
that hates, that kills, that does what it is told?

by Ed Hack

Editor’s Note: Wordsworth said it first, but this poem’s mourning of human folly (even as spring arises) serves to emphasize the everlasting futility of “bloody war.” 

Myrmidons by Ralph La Rosa

Myrmidons

After and with Thoreau

Ants battled on my Walden woodpile,
Small reds against much larger blacks.
The wood was strewn with dying and dead:
Imperialist blacks and republican reds.

A red clamped on a black ant’s chest
Was shaken till a back leg broke.
I watched another red assault
The black ant’s back and gnaw his neck—

An Achilles avenging his Patroclus?
The black destroyed all the reds’ limbs,
Lopped off their heads and left with them.
Who won this internecine bellum?

Most warrior Myrmidons soon dead,
Ant squads claimed corpses, black and red.

by Ralph La Rosa, first appeared in New Verse News

Editor’s Note: Even the lovely alliteration in this poem can’t disguise the brutality of war.

Poet’s Note: This is meant to be a microcosm of Thoreau’s discussion in Walden, Chapter 12: “Brute Neighbors.”

Broken Ice by Edward Hack

Broken Ice

She stared out at the ice collapsed upon
the thawing, stony shore. Thick slabs that Time
had broken off, a sledge that pounded stone.
Be warmer soon, the one thought in her mind.
She turned away to finish work she’d just
begun—not endless, but enough of it.
The folding, putting things away, the fuss
of domesticity…things have their niche,
a simple truth that keeps the world intact.
When sunset bled onto the lake, she thought
about that ice, how life is freed or trapped—
of all, what brought her life the peace she sought?
She thought, A life is lived as best one can.
And that’s enough, she knew, to understand.

by Edward Hack

Editor’s Note: Sometimes the simplest aphorism can save a life.

Not As Cold As Threatens by David L. Williams

Not As Cold As Threatens

The streets are emptying, car sounds exhausted.
Stiff branches squirming widely won’t obey.
Vapors and smoke, seething from our houses,
Get whisked and yanked, but not out of harm’s way.

Snow drizzles pockmarks on the patio,
Ices over halfway frozen grounds;
A strong wind’s whining, like a high pitched vacuum,
Eerily mimics background furnace sounds.

To say it’s freezing outside may belie
Thermometers’ show of rising degrees,
Resembling when a futile keyboard try
Yields only pixelated snowy scenes.

On nights like this harsh winter hacks right through
The season’s normally less welcomed view.

by David L. Williams

Editor’s Note: Subtle personification threads through the imagery of this poem and resonates with many of us still caught in the end-of-winter season’s whiplash of warm/cold broken promises.

Where There Had Been by Edward Hack

Where There Had Been

Birds chirp the morning in
the clouds revealed by light
gray wind-shaped forms
from which this new day’s born

The stream is filled with shadow trees
black beneath green otherness
Pink the morning’s first surprise
points to a Truth that cannot be denied

Three friends have died in the last three years
One smiles the way he always did
from the card his family sent
Cancer ate his life till it was spent

The sky feels troubled though it’s blue
Too many clouds with sun shot through
are fretted like a criss-crossed mind
stunned by a glimpse of its dasein

An old friend writes that she has Parkinson’s
as bright and fierce as she’s always been
lists her symptoms asks when all the fun
begins stares at a future pinned

a specimen where there had been a life
of purposes and foreign lands
teaching as delight
a bone-deep drive to understand

to change the game
And now she snorts ironically
consoles me for the tsurus I had named
and helplessly is driven to her knees

Next day the water’s oiled ink
the sky inside it gray metallic rippling
Above a bruise of blue and pink and black
though clarity is slowly coming back

as if that makes a difference
The sun’s a golden broken disk
uncanny as all nature is
beyond what we can wish

and we wake into miracles
that babies and the wise can know
while we get through on guess and hope and gall
as seasons turn from seed to bud to snow

by Edward Hack

Editor’s Note: This poem’s meter and rhyme push against the missing punctuation and enjambment—form against formlessness. This tension reflects the poem’s narrative with great skill; moving from clarity and confusion to joy and grief, and further, as the human condition insists.

Two Pawns by Irena Pasvinter


Two Pawns

Your pillowcase is white and mine is black.
Our heads are resting, pieces on a chessboard:
Two pawns, one fast asleep and one awake,
Recuperating after daily labors.

The pawns, what do they dream of? Do you know?
To fall in battle? To delay the deadly fate?
I bet they long to reach the final row
And morph into a queen — then check and mate.

And we, what do we dream about tonight?
There are no magic rows in our game.
I’m not a queen, you’re neither king nor knight.
Life has no rules it cares to explain.

Let’s just enjoy the play. Forget the ending.
I dream not to remain the last standing.

by Irena Pasvinter

Editor’s Note: Personification and metaphor drive this poem’s narrative until the closing couplet where the speaker’s vow reflects a very personal wish to cling tight to those we love while we can.

Timpani in the Time of Coronavirus by Jean L. Kreiling

Timpani in the Time of Coronavirus

They always bellow, they’re always commanding,
their voices drawn out by the mallets landing
precisely on the drum heads, tuned and taut
above the wells of air. But in these fraught,
infected days, the timpani’s dark boom
sounds darker, bigger. Does it signal doom,
or lead the battle? Does it frighten you,
or brace you for the fight? How you construe
its hefty, hollow rumble may depend
on which thunder you hear. I recommend
the second movement of Beethoven’s last
and bravest symphony, the ninth. It’s fast,
and full of stirring noise. The strings begin,
but timpani aggressively leap in,
and their insistent octave sets the tone;
its power vibrates in the blood and bone.
A vigorous orchestral conversation
ensues, the timpani’s determination
its measured, mighty pulse. Each copper bowl
holds only air, and for all his control,
the timpanist extracts only a sound,
no cure—but his touch lets the drum expound
on how to lead, how to be resolute.
Sometimes that means the timpani is mute:
it waits for word from one who knows the score,
patient until the time is right for more
well-crafted clamor. Though the timpani
could lead you elsewhere—gloom, anxiety,
or anger might live in its resonance—
I hear both discipline and confidence,
judicious vigor we might emulate,
undaunted mettle that might animate
our own. Beethoven often seems to know
what we require; his will from long ago
still sings to us. And in this movement’s grit
and grace lives triumph; at the heart of it—
the beating heart—the timpani exude
a strength that feeds my hope and fortitude.

by Jean L. Kreiling

Editor’s Note: The alliteration and rhyme in this poem beautifully mirror the sonics of a symphony while the words bring a glimmer of hope to the reader during these trying times.

When We Learned This Truth by Edward Hack

When We Learned This Truth

It’s odd about the winter sun. Plain light.
No heat. That’s it. A bare bulb glow that’s weak
and white. A Harbor Freight shine barely bright.
Let’s say Ok, just competently bleak.
It doesn’t show what isn’t there, not one
pale shadow on the snow, no subtlety
of autumn’s fire, or spring’s delicious fun
with tones, or summer’s fierce intensities.
Today’s a room with primer on the walls,
one chair, a naked window like an eye
that cannot blink, a room where every flaw’s
an argument that says don’t even try
to wish for more, that’s not what winter’s for.
We learned this truth a long, long time before.

by Edward Hack

Editor’s Note: The opening lines of this sonnet emphasize the subject matter with perfectly short sentences; as if to say: this is the truth. Believe it.

Predawn, Winter by Edward Hack

Predawn, Winter

The predawn snow glows dull and dark, a snake
asleep against the bushes black with night,
tree skeletons, tall, twisted, bony shapes,
the sky a gray the opposite of light
a half tone lighter than the black. This is
an ancient time we feel deep in our bones
that have no memory of spring, the bliss
of warming sun. Our bones know we’re alone
with this, the dark and frozen time is here,
a nothingness come due, the slate wiped clean.
This is the reckoning, stripped down and clear,
the knuckled fact, the balanced beam.
Stay warm and understand. Stay close to fire.
This is the other side of all desire.

by Edward Hack

Editor’s Note: Chilling, clear imagery and perfect rhymes animate this sonnet beautifully. Maybe we should all stay inside the next time it snows, eh?