All posts by BLR Staff

David Greenstone

David Greenstone is a trial lawyer and a poet. He insists there is no contradiction.  His poetry has been published, or publication is forthcoming, in Poetica Magazine, The Blue Lyra Review,  and The Mizmor L’David Anthology.  David is also co-author of the book Appropriate Apothejims: A Collection for Life, which was self published in 2014. David was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, where he still lives with his beautiful wife Joanna  and their three precious daughters, Caroline, Olivia and Emma. He graduated from the University of Texas in 1995 with a BA in Government and Philosophy. He obtained his JD from the University of Texas School of Law in 1998.

 

Family Vacation

The first part of every trip is spent complaining,
If it’s not the car, it’s the drive, or who sits where or why do you even care.
And the drama turns up a notch as the house just wasn’t what we expected,
Not enough rooms, or not enough space, or too old or too quaint or too whatever.
But after about 15 minutes, none of it even matters.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that peace breaks out. It’s just that the volume turns down.
And I can see now the memories of their childhood.
Repeated back in endless photos of dancing on the beach and fighting at dinner
and all three of them stuffed together in one tiny room that desperately needs a paint job.
This is not my memory. It is what will be theirs.
These moments spent together when the world was kind enough to allow it
Before the other more painful memories drew near.

Aleksis Rannit

Translator’s Note:

In the third line of this poem, lehekuiselt (nom. lehekuu) could be translated simply as “May.” But its root meaning (lehe, leaf + kuu, moon, month) is “the month of leaves.” Similarly, in the last line, the root meaning of küünlakuu, February, is “the month of candles”: (küünlal, candle + kuu, moon, month).

 

Aleksis Rannit (poet) was born in 1914 in Kallaste, Estonia, and served as curator of Slavic and East European collections at Yale. He is the author of seven poetry collections as well as numerous essays on poetry, art, and comparative aesthetics. His selected poems, Valimik, appeared shortly before his death in 1985.

 

Henry Lyman (translator) has published his translations from Rannit’s work in Poetry, The Nation, and other periodicals, and in two selections brought out by The Elizabeth Press. A collection of his own poems, Late Fire, Late Snow, was published by Open Field Press in 2016.

 

Winter      

Winter with no trees.
Touch me
as a month of leaves
would bless a month
of quiet candles.

 

 

Talv

Puudeta talv.
Puuduta mind
lehekuiselt
vaikinud küünlakuu auks.

 

Ron Rash

Above the Waterfall
by
Ron Rash
Press: HarperCollins
Pages: 253 pages
Copyright: 2015
Reviewed by: Kathleen Brewin Lewis

 

The Poetry of Petrichor

A year or two ago, on Facebook of all places, I ran across a word I’d never heard before: petrichor.  Its definition moved me: the good scent that accompanies the first rain after a long dry spell. I had such a crush on this word that I wrote and published a poem about it and occasionally recite it at my readings. But it’s not the sort of term you see or use on a regular basis. I hadn’t encountered petrichor again—until I read Ron Rash’s rich novel, Above the Waterfall. You might say that Rash “had me at petrichor.”

Above the Waterfall is Rash’s sixth novel, a multi-layered book that showcases his considerable skills as storyteller, poet, naturalist, and chronicler of Appalachian life. (He has also published six short story collections and five volumes of poetry.) The story is told from two alternating points of view: that of the pragmatic sheriff, Les, who at 51, is just a few weeks away from an early retirement made possible by years of payoffs from local pot growers, and that of the socially-awkward, poetic park superintendent, Becky. Both characters have been damaged by tragic events in their pasts, Becky even more so than Les. “I’m not autistic,” Becky tells Les, “I just spent a lot of my life trying to be.” They care for and are attracted to each other, but can’t seem to overcome their accustomed loneliness and years of pain to become a couple.

Through Les’ voice, Rash shows the reader his talent as a storyteller; with Becky’s voice, he evinces his gifts as a poet. “As evening’s last light recedes, a silver birch glows like a tuning fork struck,” Rash has her recount. And this: “Honeysuckle vines twine green cords, white flowers attached like Christmas lights.” So it’s no surprise that petrichor would appear in one of Becky’s chapters. “Petrichor,” she writes in her naturalist’s notebook, “the smell of first raindrops on long-dry land.”  Mmm.

At the center of Les and Becky’s shared story is Gerald Blackwelder, an elderly, embittered man with a heart condition, who has lived alone for years after losing his wife and son, the latter in the Iraq war. Becky checks up on him regularly and solicitously, as if he were one of her beloved grandparents. Gerald’s land adjoins a fancy new fishing and golf resort. Gerald occasionally cuts through the resort to visit a place he cherishes, the still, clear waters above the waterfall, where the native speckled trout thrive.

After the resort owner complains that Gerald is scaring the visitors to his resort and poaching fish, and orders him to stay off the land, the trout below the waterfall are poisoned. Gerald is suspected of the deed. Les is pressured by the developer and his public relations director, childhood friend C.J., to arrest him, and by Becky to leave Gerald alone. Les’ final task before retiring becomes solving the mystery of who-actually-done-it—and why.

Because Above the Waterfall is written by Ron Rash, the reader can expect to find bleak depictions of the devastation that crystal methamphetamine is causing in Appalachia; Rash writes consistently of the horrible scourge of the drug on the region. He also evinces a deep appreciation for the natural world in his work. Becky may be the naturalist and poet, but Les is similarly appreciative of the flora and fauna of his native land.  When he drives into the national forest to look for evidence of meth production at one of the campsites, he can’t help but notice the rare lavender wildflower, Blazing Star, blooming amid the empty Sudafed packets, the syringes, the used-up Bic lighters, and the plastic Mountain Dew bottles.  He takes the time to spot five more of the endangered plants.

The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the paintings of Edward Hopper figure into the novel to highlight Rash’s themes of spirituality in the natural world and a sense of isolation in the modern world. The cave art in Lascaux makes an appearance as well.  But it is Becky’s (Rash’s) poetry that sets this novel apart: “If not today then soon, gray clouds will gather. Let it come so I might hear leaf splats, watch the wet blotch, taste on my tongue, feel on my face the pentecost of petrichor.” The book ends with a gorgeous poem and Les’ hope that he and Becky can forge a way to be “alone together.”

––––––––

Kathleen Brewin Lewis is the author of two poetry collections, Fluent in Rivers and July’s Thick Kingdom, both published by FutureCycle Press. Her poems, short stories, and essays have also appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Still: The Journal, Cider Press Review, and The Southern Poetry Anthology Vol. V: Georgia, among other publications. An avid hiker, Kathleen’s writing focuses on the natural world. A graduate of Wake Forest University and of the MA in Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State, she is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for the Ron Rash Poetry Award.

Stevie Edwards

Stevie Edwards is the founder and editor-in-chief of Muzzle Magazine and senior editor in book development at YesYes Books. Her first book, Good Grief (Write Bloody, 2012), received the Independent Publisher Book Awards Bronze in Poetry and the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Her second book, Humanly, was released in 2015 by Small Doggies Press. She has an M.F.A. degree in poetry from Cornell University and is a Ph.D. candidate in creative at University of North Texas. Her writing is published and forthcoming in Indiana Review, TriQuarterly, The Offing, Ploughshares Blog, Nano Fiction, Redivider, Yemassee Journal, Baltimore Review, The Journal, Rattle, Verse Daily, Nashville Review, and elsewhere.

 

Against Desire

Bury me in a sexless parka and floral smock. Maybe khakis and clogs. I ask a man for a stick of gum and he asks, How does it feel to want? I guess a lot like it feels to run on a treadmill. I guess an electric hurting. I guess I need more support in my sports bra. Maybe an albuterol prescription. Maybe Obamacare. I’ll give you a thousand dollars to never touch my hair. That’s not true. I don’t have a thousand dollars. I like my hair too much to shave it off like my youth wants. I like the idea of my youth too much to quit birth control, online dating, contact lenses, shaving my shins, skirts above the knee when the spring tries at sun. I give my knees to the driveway to feel what gravel can do for me. The answer’s not that much. A nick on an old night  scar. No blood running away from me. No me running into the wet wind. Nothing wet running inside of me. I am all callous and motor. All calcium and rawhide. Not the girl in the music video licking her cherry chapstick. Never be the girl if you can help it.

Miriam Mandel Levi

Miriam Mandel Levi’s essays have been published in Creative Nonfiction’s anthology Same Time Next Week, Brain, Child, Literary Mama, Under the Sun, Poetica, Sleet, Tablet and bioStories. She lives in Israel with her husband and three children.

 

My Gaza War

People have asked me whether, when I immigrated to Israel twenty-four years ago, I imagined that my sons would one day be soldiers risking their lives to defend the State. I did not. Even after the Second Intifada, the 2006 Lebanon War and two Gaza wars, even after watching my friends’ sons, one after the other, join and fight in the Israel Defense Force (IDF), I still did not imagine that either son of mine would go to war.  

But when I walked by the dining room table on July 17th, 2014 and read the evening headline on the computer screen: Israel Begins Ground Invasion, I imagined it.  My knees buckled and I extended an arm to the table’s edge to brace myself. The operation for which my son Ariel had been training was underway; he would enter Gaza to fight Hamas. Two weeks earlier, on July 8th, in an attempt to halt months of missile attacks on Israeli communities, Israel’s Air Force had begun air strikes on Hamas facilities in Gaza. Sirens wailed across the country sending us running to bomb shelters and diving into ditches.  When Hamas’ missile attacks did not abate, we all knew a ground invasion was inevitable.

Though I didn’t envision future soldiers, I knew my sons would one day be put through fire when they came with me to a routine medical appointment.  My boys, then four and two, were enticed by the shiny instruments on the silver tray and moved closer to investigate.

“Don’t touch,” the doctor roared. They simultaneously burst into tears. “Don’t you yell at them?” the doctor asked me, flabbergasted. I didn’t. Yehuda, my eldest, was so sensitive he would pick up fallen autumn leaves from the sidewalk to return them to their mother branches. Ariel was always last in line to receive anything in nursery, pushed back by his more aggressive peers or allowing them to go ahead.  How would my boys, raised by genteel Canadian parents become prickly Sabras, much less warriors?

When Yehuda received his draft notice, I asked my friends how they coped with having sons in the army. How did they sleep at night?  “Head in the sand,” said one. “I don’t think about it,” said another. “Don’t ask any questions,” said yet another.

I followed their lead. When my sons were conscripted and came home in their uniforms toting guns, it all seemed about as real to me as the Jedi fighting the forces of evil with light sabers in a distant galaxy. Finding bullets in the pockets of their uniforms before I washed them was no different than finding loose change. Helmets and bullet-proof vests strewn on the living room floor were indistinguishable from knapsacks and shoes.  It was run-of-the-mill for me to say, “Get your rifles off the kitchen table so I can set it for supper.” 

Yehuda, drafted first, served in a combat support position in COGAT– Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories. Most of the time, his job kept him out of harm’s way.  He issued transit and work permits to Palestinians at a checkpoint during the first half of his service and met with representatives of consulates and human rights organizations during the second half. Once, a terrorist wielding a knife ran amok at the checkpoint. Another time, angry Palestinian villagers surrounded the Border Police he was accompanying on a late night house demolition.  But these were stories I heard days or weeks after the incidents occurred when the perilous realities had become rollicking tales of adventure.

 Ariel, drafted two years later, was a soldier in Kfir, a unit trained in urban combat.  As fortune had it, he spent the first year and a half of his service in training or training others. Basic training was followed by a medic course, and then advanced training in a commander course. At the end of the commander course, he stayed on base to train the next group of recruits.  There also was intermittent guard duty, search patrols and arrests, but whenever I conjured an image of Ariel, there he stood, whiteboard marker in hand, at the front of a classroom.

All this adaptive distancing and denying came to an end when Ariel prepared to enter Gaza.  As the prospect of danger loomed, I played the only card I had – the sprained ankle card. Ariel had sprained his ankle in a navigation exercise then re-sprained it while on a mission in the West Bank to find Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, who had been kidnapped and then murdered by Hamas terrorists.   He wore a brace to stabilize it.

“You can’t go into Gaza with a sprained ankle,” I said.

“Yes I can, Mom. I have a responsibility. My soldiers are counting on me.”

“You’ll re-injure it. You won’t be of help to anyone.”

“Mom, soldiers fight with injuries all the time. You know I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t go in. Try to see the bigger picture. It’s my turn to let other kids be safe at home with their mothers.”

I thought back to the days when he was a kid, safe with me. The second Intifada began in 2000, seven years after we immigrated to Israel, when my children were nine, seven and four. We lived in a sleepy suburb of Jerusalem where most of the time I was able to shield them from the violence – kidnappings and suicide bombings – raging across the country.  We didn’t own a TV so they didn’t see frightening screen images. My husband and I were their sole source of information about the outside world and we used parental censorship liberally.  On one occasion, when a terrorist infiltrated the city in which we lived, the police ordered inhabitants to lock the doors and close the shutters. The children and I `huddled in a fort of pillows and blankets and brandished our Lego swords as the helicopters hovered overhead sweeping the hills with searchlights.

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and Israel was under threat of chemical attack, the Home Front Command instructed every citizen to carry a gas masks at all times and prepare a sealed room. I covered the windows of my bedroom with polyethylene sheeting and sealed it with duct tape. Then I furnished the room with a battery operated radio, flashlight, bottled water, and snacks and games for the children. They couldn’t wait for the chemical warheads to fall so they could tear open the bags of Bamba and play Twister.

I wished I had Ariel safe with me in that sealed room.  I wished we could move back temporarily to enemy-less Canada where he would work a summer job cleaning swimming pools and enjoy Blue Jays games on weekends. I wished I could march into Gaza instead of him and give those terrorists a piece of my mind.

We Israeli mothers are supposed to be proud of our brave, idealistic sons. We’re supposed to be courageous like they are. But as my son readied his gear for the offensive, all I felt was a fierce instinct to protect him and desperation that I could not.

The morning after the headlines announced the beginning of the ground invasion, Ariel called to say he would be out of phone contact. I tried to put on a brave front but broke down. I told him I loved him; I told him to come home safely, each word embedded in a sob, then I passed the phone to my husband. “May God watch over you and your soldiers,” he said, steady and strong.

After that conversation, mothers of soldiers told me how important it was not to break down on the phone with your son. “They have enough to worry about,” one mother told me. “You don’t want them worrying about you too.” When the war ended, I asked Ariel about the hardest moments. Though he had been in the heart of the fighting in the Shuja’iyya neighborhood of Gaza City, a Hamas stronghold, he recalled the moment we said goodbye on the phone. “It was harder than anything else.” 

With the start of the ground invasion, I joined the community of Israeli mothers, wives, sisters and daughters who have sent their loved ones to war. There is hardly a woman in this county who hadn’t experienced what I was experiencing for the first time. I felt nauseous, faint, short of breath. Innocent sights, sounds and smells were suddenly threatening. The rustling of leaves was the enemy hiding in the bushes. Toast burning recalled the smell of destruction.  I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. Completing a simple task, like paying a bill at the post office, was daunting.

That Friday morning I forced myself to stay in routine and do my usual errands. With dark sunglasses and a wad of tissues, I headed to the stores. Everywhere I went, I cried. “My son is in Gaza,” I explained to the store clerks.  They nodded sympathetically, took my hand or uttered a prayer, “May he return safely along with all of our sons.”

While shopping, a thought occurred to me.  If I bought gifts for Ariel, he would come back to get them. The gifts would guarantee his safe return. Momentarily buoyed by this notion, I bought a bag of his favorite chewy fruit candies and the latest Eshkol Nevo novel. Over the coming days, I doubled my efforts by washing the sheets on his bed, taking his pants to the seamstress to be hemmed and ironing his shirts.  My fear ebbed but only slightly.

On the way home from my errands, my cousin Rivka called. I knew her son-in-law was also in Gaza; he served in the 669 Combat Search & Rescue Unit. She was calling to see how I was managing.   “I can’t do this Rivka. I can’t.  I’m falling apart,” I said between gasps. “I’m buying candy for Ariel to lure him home. I’m losing my mind.” She told me that when her husband fought in the Yom Kippur war she heard no word from him for five weeks.  I could hardly fathom enduring the uncertainty for that length of time. She told me she found ways to cope and assured me that I would too.  She said that some people need to follow a constant stream of news, while others impose a news blackout; some prefer to be alone while others seek the company of family and friends; some pray; some do good deeds; some seek distraction. She told me it would take time but I would find my way and her words reassured me.  

Friday afternoon I busied myself with Sabbath meal preparations, my hands chopping and mixing while my mind jumped waves of panic.  My laptop was next to me on the kitchen counter open to three English newspaper sites and two Hebrew ones.  Reshet Bet blared over the clanking pots. Another soldier wounded. Another infiltration. Another soldier killed. It wasn’t just Ariel I was worried about, it was my friends’ sons, Mordechai and Yoseph and Noach and Ariel’s friends Yehuda, Berkeley and Elie. Weren’t these little boys in baseball caps roughhousing in my back yard? My thoughts held me hostage in a room of terrible possibilities. The sound of a car motor outside meant an army vehicle had arrived to impart bad news. An innocent neighbor knocking at the door was the Angel of Death come to tell me the worst had happened.   

The Sabbath brought reprieve. The absence of news reduced my level of anxiety. I found comfort in communal prayers. In synagogue that day, I read the first chapter of Jeremiah, which eerily described the Iron Dome defense system and seemed to foretell Israel’s salvation, “For behold, I have made thee this day a fortified city and an iron pillar and walls of brass against the whole land…And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee for I am with thee, says the Lord.” 

In the early evening I took a walk along a quiet street that overlooks the Judean hills. The sky was a somber grey but the clouds were lit amber as if a fire glowed in each one.  Suddenly, a large flock of starlings flew high overhead. It flew in the shape of a plane with a column down the middle and extensions on either side. The birds flapped their wings in perfect synchrony. Somehow, at that moment, a calm settled over me. There was a greater order. Events were not happenstance. I may not have had control over Ariel’s fate, but Someone did.  

I don’t recall praying much to that Someone during the war and I’m embarrassed to admit it. I have a friend who recited the entire Book of Psalms every day and another who made an hour-long trip daily to the Western Wall daily to ask God to protect her son.  What kind of mother and Jew was I?

In Jewish liturgy there are three types of prayer: petition, thanksgiving, and praise. Writer Anne Lamott calls these prayers: help, thanks and wow. Thanks and wow come easily to me. There aren’t enough moments in the day for me to express the gratitude I feel for the myriad of blessings in my life.  Praising God for the beauty and wonders of the world is second nature.  

But ‘help’ is tough.  Maybe because I didn’t grow up in a religious family and was over-schooled in the virtue of self-reliance. Maybe because I don’t entirely trust the Writer/Producer/Director of this show, I’m wary of requesting specific outcomes.  

If I had believed God would accede to my request and engineer the war according to my specifications (all soldiers return unharmed, decisive victory for Israel,) I would have spent the war weeks prostrate on a prayer rug.  But God runs the world the way He sees fit.  One must be circumspect in one’s requests. When I prayed, I asked for strength and courage, for everyone, one way or another, to come through.  Here and there I crumbled, Just bring him home safely, I’ll do anything if You just ….

As the days passed, I found ways to make the intolerable tolerable.  I limited news updates to twice a day and immersed myself in work. I went to the gym, though I didn’t feel like it, and exercised rigorously.  I organized a support meeting for mothers of sons fighting in Gaza and participated in efforts to collect toiletries and snacks for soldiers stationed on the border. In the evenings, my husband came home early from work so that I wouldn’t be alone.

Family and friends called and emailed messages of love and support. A work colleague galvanized the women in her community to bake cakes and cookies for the soldiers and arranged to have them shipped to the Gaza border, all in the merit of Ariel’s safe return. People we hardly knew came to the door with home-baked bread and cakes to express their solidarity.  

 Ariel called from the border when he could. When I heard his voice, my defenses toppled, I felt awash in relief.  But as soon as we hung up, fear had me in a stranglehold again.

*****

On August 5th, nineteen days after it began, the ground invasion ended. The sirens stopped howling and an uneasy quiet returned to the country.

 Sixty-six soldiers died in battle. Many more were injured.  For their mothers, the knock at the door was not the neighbor.  

Ariel came home to eat the chewy fruit candy. 

I may not have spent the war in the tunnels of Shuja’iyya, but I didn’t know if I would ever see my son again. Living with that fear was the hardest battle I have ever fought.

Diane Payne

Diane Payne’s most recent publications include: Obra/Artiface, Map Literary Review, Watershed Review, Tishman Review, Whiskey Island, Kudzu House Quarterly, Superstition Review, Blue Lyra Press, Fourth River, Cheat River Review.,The Offing, Elke: A little Journal, Souvenir Literary Journal, Madcap Review and Outpost 19.  Diane is the author of Burning Tulips (Red Hen Press) and  co-author of  Delphi Series 5 chapbook.  She is the MFA Director at University of Arkansas at Monticello.

 

Harmony

The dogs take off running toward the lake while the woman cranks her head upward, determined to find an eagle.  Any eagle.  An eagle in a nest. An eagle sitting on a branch.  An eagle diving into the water. Maybe Arkansas is just too damn warm to attract eagles this winter. She curses global warming. Ponders El Niño.  Never considers carrying binoculars.

She remembers the dogs, then sees them by the lake fixated on something.  Probably an eagle.

She heads over and sees a furry head. Definitely not an eagle. Whatever Furry Head is, she wants the dogs to leave the animal alone.  She runs down the road certain the dogs will follow.  They aren’t budging. The dogs know she wouldn’t take off running if she finally spotted an eagle.

 She walks toward the dogs, slowly, since she’s not sure who belongs to that furry head, and the last thing she wants is for a fight to break out between the dogs and Furry Head. The woman does a little yippy-do-dah dance when she’s certain Furry Head is a bobcat. She forgets about her quest to spot an eagle, and realizes it’s the first time she’s seen a bobcat. She’s not sure if a bobcat will attack her dogs or if her dogs will attack the bobcat. They’re still engaged in the stare down.

She wants harmony.

She calls the dogs.  They refuse to move.   She walks closer and the larger dog starts barking at the bobcat.  Then the smaller dog joins in and she realizes it’s not a bobcat, but a Cat Cat, like the four cats she has at home. She’s hysterical, begging the dogs to leave the cat alone.  The cat swats at the dogs and the dogs force her off the rock and into the frigid water.  Then the dogs take off swimming after the unfortunate cat who was probably trying to snag a minnow, never expecting two dogs to ruin her day. The woman has never seen a cat swim, and this cat can swim faster than her dogs. The woman steps into the frigid lake and begs the dogs to return.

The larger dog returns to shore because:

  1. He likes cats.
  2. The water is cold.
  3. The woman is upset.

 The other dog keeps swimming after the cat, and when she tries to grab the cat with her front paws, the cat turns around and bites her on the ear.  The woman is rooting for the cat. She’s awed by the cat’s tenacity.

Defeated, the dog returns to shore.

“Come back, Cat!  We’re leaving.  Please come back,” she screams.

She puts leashes on the dogs and drags them away from the lake. She stops, looks back, hopes to see Cat returning, but she sees nothing, just the waves gently stroking the shore, the waves she’s hoping Cat is riding. She imagines the cat standing like a surfer, and imagining this vision gives her comfort, and she’s hoping the power of imagination will make the cat appear riding a wave to shore.

The eagles remain in the trees.

The dog with the bloody ear pulls the leash hard, determined to be with the cat. The woman stops, one final look for the cat, then walks onward with a sickening feeling, no longer worrying about global warming, El Niño, the evaporating lake, the absence of eagles.

Her only thought is about the role she has played in why the unfortunate cat is out in the lake, just swimming and swimming and swimming.

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Pleiades, and Nimrod. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida where she is a visiting faculty member at Florida State University teaching critical theory and creative writing.

 

 

Summer Sonnet for a Sears House

Welcome to a place where everything grows
and comfort comes from the smell of mold,

the sound of light rain on tin.
Take peppermints as communion,

this sugar be your body, these wrappers
be your soul to crinkle and toss away.

Here you are born anew in the blood
of a stubbed toe and a not quite dismissive

“Don’t look that bad now.” Here you rise
in the tea kettle steam and the yeast

of thick wheat bread. Here you sleep
in a house so still, the music of a Saturday night

floats in from a mile away and the creek beds promise
sanctuary, sanctuary, sanctuary.

Gerry LaFemina

Gerry LaFemina is the author of several books of poems including 2011’s Vanishing Horizon, and three books of prose poems, In 2014 Stephen F. Austin University Press released his newest poetry collection, Little Heretic, and a book of his essays on prosody, Palpable Magic. New work has recently appeared in The Sun, APR, Gettysburg Review and other journals. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, he is an associate professor of English at Frostburg State University and serves as a poetry mentor in the MFA program at Carlow University.

 

Pocket Watch

Its is the face I hate looking at, the mirror in which I constantly appear older in increments, more cynical, more sallow. Yet, is there anything about this now I’d hold eternal?

Perfect anthology of 43,200 lyric moments, each one of them oscillating between breathtaking and forgettable, between mendacious and mundane, I open its cover, close it again return to the narrative of today in our year of the Lord.

At night, the rings on its jeweled fingers glow green to steer me toward some untoward destination,

and still not a compass, for there’s no true north, not even at midnight, not even at noon, not even in the hour in between, dawn lighting the east.  Each morning I tighten the spring the way I was taught, so taut it might catapult the sun across the sky.

Monique Zamir

Monique Zamir is a recent graduate from Oklahoma State University where she completed her MFA in poetry, and has received an honorable mention from the Academy of American Poets Scholarship for her poem, “Even the Stone Will Keep” and an honorable mention from the Marye Lynn Cummings Endowed Scholarship for a collection of poems. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Calliope, Crack The Spine, The Virginia Normal, Mikrokosmos, Lunch Ticket, Gravel Magazine, Josephine Quarterly, and others. From New York, Monique lives in Austin, Texas where she works for a startup.

 

On Television II

The cat follows the mouse into the dynamite
and the cornflakes. The child dons a hat and toy pistol
turns the knob, steps away from the screen
and screams. His mother
laughing all the while. Here, a smile in pill form,
a cake whipped
with butter, the razor blades piled
in your bathroom closet. The child watches people dance,
watches them swim with frogs, dapper in the reeds.

He can never situate himself accordingly.
He always moves to the tune of the blue driftwood
sailing abrasively along the carpet.

A composite of singer and dancer finesses syllables
of a love song, a heartbreak. A dolphin sleeps
with one eye open,
fighter pilots replay their final battles,
a bicycle meets its owner; his mother
wants to look away.
The mother watches
her neighbor get in the car.
The child looks at the carpet,

to be its fibers,

to be the dust, piling

in absent space.  

Dos Madres Press

Spotlight on Dos Madres Press

“Fine Books Pleasing to the Eye and Hand”: Dos Madres Press

Reviewed by Nettie Farris

Dos Madres Press (in Spanish, 2 mothers) is named in honor of both Libby Hughes and Vera Murphy, mothers to Robert and Elizabeth Murphy, who founded the press in 2004. Robert Murphy serves as editor and publisher, while Elizabeth Murphy serves as book designer and illustrator. Robert awards high praise to Elizabeth: “My wife Elizabeth designs and lays out all of our books, and so is the true doula or midwife of the press—she is the one who makes things tangible, and real, and beautiful to the eye.”

Since 2004, the press has published over 125 books, largely from word of mouth. According to Robert Murphy, “authors that we publish have fellow poets in which they put their books in hand, and these authors say to themselves, gosh (or some such, depending on their use of colorful language) that’s really a fine book.” Some authors show up in the catalog more frequently. Gerry Grubbs, Eric Hoffman, Rick Mullin, and Paul Pines have published four collections with the press. Richard Hague, Pauletta Hansel, Keith Holyoak, and Henry Weinfield have published three collections.

Still Life with Flies (2016) is a bilingual edition by the Spanish poet Eduarodo Chirinos, which opens with epigraphs by both a Spanish and an English poet. The epigraph by César Vallejo references flies. The epigraph by T. S. Eliot references poetry. Flies and poetry make a marvelous combination. Translated by G. J. Racz, the collection consists of 65 poems distributed among 5 sections. The collection’s title stems from the final section, which consists of only one, untitled poem. An exquisite poem it is. And truly representative. The poem opens with birds: “Fugitive bedsheets, ravens that flap their / wings in the night and are the night.” And closes with the self-consciousness mentioned by the collection’s back cover blurb by Don Boden, providing  a sense of meta-poetry: “Someday I’ll write Still Life with Flies.” The collection, in fact, opens with this self-consciousness. The first poem, “Poem Written Under a Time Limit” opens: “I have one hour ten minutes to write this poem.”

Birds appear frequently. The poem “On Birds” opens the collection’s second section:

I type ‘bird’ and the word appears on my screen.
“Bird,” I say, “sing!” So it opens its beak and
sing it does, melodiously, its voice disquieting
the speakers.

“Dream with Pools” illustrates the narrative nature of these poems. The poem begins:

Last night I saw Christ at a public pool. He
was swimming lap after lap in various styles,
never tiring.

This version of Christ is rather ordinary:

His eyes red from chlorine, His fingers
gnarled and wrinkly, His face sorrowful as if
He’d lost the race. He swam on all the same,
lap after lap, never seeming to tire.

Nevertheless, the miraculous nature of Christ is implied:

Some cheered Him on with
gusto while others wondered where He could
have left His tunic, towel and crown of thorns.

“Feather and Mirror” demonstrates a more playful approach generated by the poem’s voice:

I don’t know why I chose these words. Neither
one seduces me, cooing, or lets me sleep at night.
“Feather” flaps both its syllables into my left ear,
which isn’t love or a tickle or even a caress, but
more like a dog whistle.

The voice, in fact, is the finest feature of these narrative poems. Though educated, wise, and cosmopolitan, it is companionable and not without humor. These poems revel in the juxtaposition of the ordinary and the miraculous, movement and stillness, action and thought. Anyone who loves poetry will love them.

Something That Belongs To You (2015), by Roald Hoffmann, is a full-length play; though, with its many scenes, this play seems quite similar to a long lyrical poem. Within these scenes (as well as across scenes) time is rendered fluid; for example, the character Emile, a child during the time of the Holocaust, appears frequently in the same scene as both child and adult. Though the play has two settings: 1943 in Gribniv, Ukraine and 1992 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, these two settings often merge. Catalyst for this merger in a more prosaic way, is Heather, daughter to Emile, who is constructing a school project on the Holocaust. Though Frieda, grandmother to Heather, and mother to Emile, wishes to forget, Heather prods her to remember: “Oh, dear Heather. It was a horrible time, OK? That’s all one can say. Why do you want to go back to it?”

Within this play, distinctions emerge. Distinctions between Poland and Ukraine. Distinctions between the labor camp and the ghetto. We learn about hiding in attics, about which we are somewhat familiar from reading The Diary of Anne Frank. We learn about anti-Semitism. We learn of the S. S. and the Nazis. We learn about distinctions between heroes and husbands: But in ’43 I didn’t need a hero. I needed my husband,” says Frieda, Emile’s mother. And, later, Emile’s wife, Tamar, says to Emile: “part of you is still in the attic . . . You’re worried still, now, that if your mother gets angry with you, you’d lose her love. And back there, in the attic, nothing, nothing would then protect you from the dark outside.” We also learn about forgiveness and forgetting: “You know, a little forgetting is not a bad thing,” says Tamar. “It has a role in getting people past trauma.”

Published in a time when Holocaust literature was quite popular, Something That Belongs To You takes its place within popular novels and films of its day: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas, by John Boyne, and Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay.

The Gospel According to Judas (2015), by Keith Holyoak, is a collection of poems written in the voice of Judas, who sometimes adopts the voices of others. Several poems, for example, appear in the voice of Mary Magdalene. The collection is composed as a series of 27 chapters. An Executor’s Preface and Executor’s Notes serve as bookends to the chapters. These bookends are very much in the vein of Jorge Luis Borges, whom is actually referenced in the Notes: “Taking my cue from the exemplary scholarship of Jorge Luis Borges (author of the essay “Three Versions of Judas”), I made an effort to trace apparent influences.” The Preface narrates the history behind this “gospel”:

In accord with the authors’ wishes, I am now making this extraordinary document that has come into my possession available to the world. What it means is for each reader to judge. I, of course, have had my own reactions. But being neither author nor editor, but just the executor fulfilling an obligation that has been laid upon me, I will stand aside and let the author speak directly to you.

Wholly interesting in their own right, these bookends, written in prose, provide a rich context for the poems. The book itself is prefaced by an epigraph from the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas as well as an epigraph from T. S. Eliot: “Every poem an epitaph.”

“Judas Unmasked” appears as chapter 23. This short poem ironically, in light of its title, poses (rather than answers) questions about the nature of Judas. The poem plays on a sense of perhaps:

The figure of Judas becomes smaller and smaller in the scheme of things as the poem go on:


“Dialogue of Judas & Jesus” progresses just as its title suggests, taking up the formidable challenge of portraying a conversation between Judas and Jesus. The beauty of Jesus’ speech here lies in its concreteness:

For this concreteness is infinitely human:

Most prominent in this fictional gospel is the numerous references to the concept of love. One of the shortest poems in the collection, “Word” (serving as chapter 5) ends:

though man beats down man
since Cain raised his hand
the unchanging dove
knows God is Love.

OM shanti shanti shanti

and “Songs of Mariam Magdala: Lovesick” (serving as chapter 14) ends (with the note of the Song of Songs): “I am sick with love.”

Hurt, The Shadow: The Josephine Hopper Poems (2013), by Carole Stone,  is a collection of ekphrastic poems in the voice of Jo Nivison Hopper, painter and wife of the American realist painter Edward Hopper. This voice is rather complex, for Jo Hopper was not only Edward Hopper’s wife, but sole model for his work after their marriage in 1924. The midsection of this book, the bulk of the collection, is based on the paintings of Edward Hopper, and the voice of these poems is an amalgam of the woman in the painting and the woman married to the painter. Serving as bookends to this midsection are two very short sections based on the paintings of Jo Hopper. Here, according to the book’s Preface, Jo Hopper speaks as both artist and wife, though “not subject to her husband’s gaze.”

Individual poems in the collection are titled from their prospective paintings. The title of the collection comes from “Sun in an Empty Room, 1963,” the first poem from the midsection. Jo Nivison Hopper does not appear as a model in this painting, yet the poem transforms the sense of American loneliness often noted in  Edward Hopper’s body of work into a sense of loneliness specific to Jo Nivison Hopper:

My loneliness reduced
to this empty room

its sorrowful walls filled
with light.

The vacancy of my heart.
Hurt, the shadow.

A thematic refrain in these poems concerns the lack of conversation. For example, “Sunlight in a Cafeteria, 1958” ends:

I’d like him to come over
and chat with me,

seated across from him
with my white coffee mug,
But I’m sure he’s no good
at small talk,
like Edward.

More insidious is the recurring image of entrapment. “Room in New York, 1932” ends: Behind me, a door / without a handle.” Similarly, “New York Movie, 1939” ends:

I lean

on the dado rail
next to the red curtains
framing the stairs to the loge
that has no exit.

The women trapped within these paintings (reminiscent of the woman trapped within the wallpaper in Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s classic short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”) are not without desires of their own. “Office at Night, 1940” opens:

It was cruel of him
to create me

in this blue dress that shows off
my big rear and bust,

to trap my desire in this office.

The speaker of this poem suggests dissatisfaction with separation from the male figure:

I want to pull down
the shade, stop him

from adding up black numbers,
let him unbutton my dress.

The dissatisfaction expressed in “Night on the El Train, 1918” is more emphatic:

I’d like to be
in a room in this city,

in bed with this man,
instead of our foreplay
on this dirty train.

The poem ends rather threateningly: “The El’s straps / hang like nooses.” Yet the yearning remains. From “Nighthawks, 1942,” we hear of a desire for human connection:

I want
my fellow nighthawk
to take my hand,
so near to his,
I want to stroll with him
on the empty town streets,
the night warm
as breakfast oatmeal.

The tone is somewhat different in the voice of Jo Hopper from one of her own paintings. The collection ends with “Jo Hopper, Self-Portrait, 1956.” Here there is no yearning of unfulfilled desire, for the painter is empowered:

How easy it is,
when I paint,

to speak of forgiveness
with it ragged clothes.

Part ekphrastic description, part commentary, these poems give voice to a woman whom both history and husband has otherwise silenced.

Pauletta Hansel, first poet laureate of Cincinnati, Ohio, has published three collections with Dos Madres. Hansel provides an intimate glimpse of the press: “I know that this is a labor of love for Robert Murphy, editor and Elizabeth Hughes Murphy, designer, and that they see their work as benefitting not just the poets and our readers (though that, too) but as their contribution to the promotion of literature. Dos Madres Press is a small, locally-based poetry press with an amazingly large reach—and even larger heart.” Dos Madres Press is known for service. It partners with Bon Bonerie Cafe in Cincinnati, Ohio to host poetry readings. In addition, the press collaborates with the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative to publish the literary journal Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel.

––––––––

Nettie Farris is the current reviews editor. She is the author of Communion (Accents Publishing, 2013), Fat Crayons (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and the mini-chapbook Story (Origami Poetry Project, 2016). Her chapbook The Wendy Bird Poems is forthcoming from dancing girl press. She has received the Kudzu Poetry Prize and a Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Arts and Sciences University of Louisville. She lives in Floyds Knobs, Indiana. She can be reached at nettiefarrisreviews@gmail.com.

Zoe Hitzel

Zoe Hitzel earned her MA in Creative Writing studying poetry at Northern Arizona University, and nabbed her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Oregon State University. When not writing, she drums, tinkers with bicycles, plays online video games, and keeps a blog of her transgender experience, zenoted.wordpress.com. Her work has appeared in entropy, pacificREVIEW, The Chariton Review, and elsewhere.

 

Gender Dysphoria versus the February Skyline

You’ve noticed breath can pass unnoticed
if the time’s that good. Some hearts get to
eat time. Your heart forgets to forget it’s still waiting
for a better bridge or twelfth story
to present itself and invite you
to sway and mean it. You weigh less
when you fall though your mass hasn’t changed.

For years you weathered the accusations
of your body at and against your body
for being your body and not the other body
that just didn’t happen, dead channel static
swelling to envelop the sensate.

You think of your cells—are they not your cells?
Your molecules, what is their problem.

You consider death like a pill, one more
panacea or poultice to smear
until ailments evaporate, leave you
relieved, nevermind your dwindling electric.

It’s not that you can’t leave bed, it’s whether
you leave bed or not, nothing changes.
You’re just less disgusted than usual in sleep.
Waking kills everyone eventually.

What a catclaw is despair.
A hook in the heart, helmet of barnacles
calcified. Some wicked bulb
sprouts through the temples and grasps.

There’s nothing you haven’t considered
until a dream where the grayscale city wakes
and crushes people you love in its concrete
teeth. It takes.

A heartbeat to go from perch to flight,
a breath to go from flight to fall,
a surface from soar and splat.
What a wrist, gripped and latticed.
What a spine, to wish for wings.

Marlo Starr

Marlo Starr is a writer and English PhD student living in Atlanta. She is the author of Vanishing Point, a chapbook forthcoming from dancing girl press, and her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Threepenny Review, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Atlas Review, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere.

 

Speech

what name to give this grief
this weight of stillborn sound
words pressed, throat like a coil,
crouched, immense, beneath the ground

the weight of stillborn sound
this animal, arched muscle
crouched, immense, beneath the ground
mouth tongue teeth mouth tongue teeth

this animal, arched muscle
backed into a corner, still,
mouth tongue teeth mouth tongue teeth
shaping the words, gathering breath

what name to give this grief
words pressed, throat like a coil,
shaping the words, gathering breath
do not make a sound

Nancy L. Penrose

Nancy L. Penrose is a writer based in Seattle and worked for many years as a science writer and editor at the University of Washington. Her essays have been published in Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee Literary Review; 1966: A Journal of Creative Nonfiction; Drash: Northwest Mosaic; the collections of Travelers’ Tales; and the anthology Burning Bright: Passager Celebrates 21 Years.

 

Time Missing in the Grand Canyon

On a raft trip through the Grand Canyon of North America, time was absent. Yet time past was recorded in all the rock walls that rose around me. I touched 1.7-billion-year-old stone, named Vishnu, which looked like hunks of shiny black licorice carved by the Colorado River into smooth and fluted shapes. Sometimes, if I bent my head back until my neck hurt, I could spot a layer of white rock thousands of feet above me: the Kaibab, 270 million years old, its origins in an ancient ocean.

My husband, David, and I went to the Grand Canyon—one of the planet’s most perfect geological laboratories—in search of geological bliss. We are geology geeks and on this trip we were embedded within a batch of geologists gathered by Sue Tanges, a professional and a friend of a colleague of David’s. Sue has rafted the river more times than she can count and has a passion for the stories in the stone.

As part of this earth scientist herd we traveled on motorized rafts guided by Sally Gist and boatman O.C. Dale. We gorged on the rock history exposed in the canyon walls and drew upon decades of studies, clues deciphered by geologists who had come before us to map and analyze the record of time in the rocks.

T.S. Eliot wrote about time in Burnt Norton. Like you, perhaps, I have long been captured by the opening stanza though I do not claim to fully understand it:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

Now, back home again in Seattle, after eight days rafting the length of the Grand Canyon, I’ve decided that Eliot forgot about the absence of time.

 

Missing Signals

Nonexistent, absent, gone: Facebook, Twitter, voicemail, email, online news. No incoming digital signal, no strength bars, no smartphone chimes in the canyon. I’m old enough—born in 1953—so that I’ve lived most of my life pre-Internet, pre-communications that routinely travel at the speed of light though fiber-optic cables. This digital-free diet felt odd but not unfamiliar

Erased: minutes and hours. If watches are meant to help us manage time, they were useless on the river. Time in the canyon was steered by Sally, who was the lead boatman. She decided when to make camp, when to break camp, when to load the boats, when to unload the boats, when to grab a handhold in rapids, when to relax through riffles, when to tie up and go for a hike, when to stop for lunch, when to eat dinner.

On the morning of the second day, David and I threw our watches in the bottom of our river bags. The white gaps on our wrists were soon sunburned and red.

 

River Mile = River Time

Miles on the river are like units of time.

Mile 22: Our first camp, downriver from Mile 0 at Lees Ferry, Arizona, where we had launched the boats.

Just above mile 62: The Little Colorado River, where we swam and bumped our bodies through the froth of little rapids set in turquoise waters fed by springs.

Halfway between miles 95 and 96: A hike up Hermit Creek and the delicious waterfall we stood under like it was that longed-for shower.

Just above mile 137: Deer Creek, where the edges of the stream were lush with riparian plants—I regret not knowing their names—that fragranced the hot desert air with a wet and resinous smell.

Between miles 168 and 169: We woke to bats with wings like grey chiffon, fluttering and feeding a few feet above our cots. I trusted their genius for echolocation to keep our species apart.

A bit above mile 179: Lava Falls, perhaps the most notorious rapid on the river, with a drop of thirteen feet and a difficulty rating of 8 to 10 (10 being most difficult), depending on water level, depending on how many jagged and hazardous rocks stick out of the water, how many are hidden. The boat bucked and bent and tilted as the cold waters of the Colorado crashed over us and we screamed with shock and joy. Sally brought us through so easily; all it took was her decades of river-running experience to make it seem that way.

On our flight home, from Las Vegas to Seattle, David and I opened the guidebook and ran our fingers down the maps of the river. We tried to figure out which night we had camped where, which day we had done what. It was hopeless; without the familiar temporal fences, our hours in the canyon were smeared. It had been, perhaps, the truest of vacations, where we had left the usual spaces of time unoccupied. Even the date stamps on our cameras were useless: each was set to the wrong time zone, including one left on Gulf Standard Time from a recent trip of David’s to Oman. What we knew for sure: we entered the River at Mile 0 on Friday, June 13; we left the River at Mile 277, at Pearce Landing, on Friday, June 20.

 

Geology Lesson

Rivers cut and rocks erode. The Colorado and its tributaries have been carving open the Grand Canyon for six million years. The canyon is young, geologically; the grinding work of waterborne cobbles, boulders, and sands is recent.

The canyon cuts through the Colorado Plateau, a geologic region that rises like a giant tree stump hugged by Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. For 600 million years, this chunk of continental crust—the outermost layer of the planet—has stood unusually stable, mostly missed as great tectonic forces churned around it. The Rocky Mountains were pushed up to the north and east; the crust in the Basin and Range Province was pulled apart from Oregon south to Mexico, from New Mexico west to California.

The missing tectonic activity of the Colorado Plateau means that many of the rocks of the Grand Canyon—the limestones, sandstones, and shales that formed from sediments deposited in long-gone oceans—are still lying flat. Most have not been folded or faulted or twisted or crunched. Most are neatly stacked one upon the other, like a great pile of thick and thin rock pancakes cut open by the knife of the river.

Most, but not all. At the bottom of the canyon, beneath the flat layers, are the Vishnu and its brother rocks: Rama, Brahma, and Zoroaster. These names began with Charles Dutton, a 19th-century American geologist with an interest in Eastern religions. Today’s geologists know that the contorted stories in these bottom rocks come from the eon that birthed western North America some 2 billion years ago.

 

Sunset, Moonrise, Rocklight, Sunrise

Absent watches, we used clues from the solar system. Sunset and the following dark meant it was time to lie down on cots set up on sand banks beside the river, time to pull up a sleeping bag against the relief of cool night air after the piercing 100-degree heat of the days.

At night, absent the sun and the light from the yet-to-rise moon, the sky was stuffed with stars. No glare from cities, no clouds, little moisture in the desert air. I always spent time before sleep lying on my back, looking up. Occasionally I caught the streak of a shooting star. Not really a star, of course, but rather the trail of light from a meteoroid—a rock from outer space—passing through Earth’s atmosphere.

On the very first night, the full moon appeared after midnight and traveled the river space between the canyon walls. The brightness sent darkness into absence, changed night into day, as if great floodlights in the cathedral of the Grand Canyon had been switched on. Within that light, which is from the rays of the sun reflecting off the moon, the rock walls shimmered.

Sunrise meant time to wake up and enter the morning routine: Swap sleepwear for pants and t-shirt, quickly, so as to pretend some kind of modesty in the middle of the open, no-tents camp. Cram stuff—shoes, dirty clothes, clean clothes, extra hat, books, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush—into the rubber-coated and waterproof river bag. Straddle the bag to squeeze out the air, roll down the top, cinch the black strap tight against the rapids to come. Grab a cup of coffee, then get in line for the single toilet set up each night in camp. Eat breakfast, help load the boats, climb aboard for another day on the river.

 

Rock Poetry

There is poetry in the names of the rocks of the Grand Canyon. I am not the first to notice this, but now, by seeing and touching, I have absorbed their syllabic flow: Moenkopi, Kaibab, Coconino, Zoroaster, Redwall, Tapeats, Vishnu, Rama, Brahma, the travertines. All carry clues to the conditions that formed them; all are windows into the past. Let me tell you about them.

  • The travertines. These are the very youngest rocks, some forming right now: time present. They are born of minerals dissolved out of older rocks by groundwater. The minerals—mostly calcium carbonate—are deposited as new stone. There are travertine terraces, travertine dams, travertine drapes that look like mountainous piles of dripped wax from monster candles. The Little Colorado and Havasu Creek, both embroidered by travertine formations, get their turquoise hues from the way light waves bounce off mineral particles carried by water.
  • Moenkopi. A red sandstone, 240 million years old, which I remember glimpsing right at the start of the trip, at Lees Ferry near the Glen Canyon dam. I have learned that in some places this rock holds the bones of early dinosaurs, including one of the best and earliest skeletons of Arizonasaurus, a crocodile-like creature that was at the top of the food chain just before dinosaurs dominated the planet. Not that I saw any dinosaur bones, but I like knowing this about the Moenkopi.
  • Kaibab. Lying right below the Moenkopi, it is, therefore, older. Light in color, mostly white, a mix of 270-million-year-old rocks that reflect the advances and retreats of an ancient ocean across this spot on the planet: limestones, sandstones, siltstones, gypsum, and chert. You can walk around on the Kaibab at the rims of the canyon.
  • Coconino. This sandstone announces its formation 275 million years ago from dunes in an erg, a desert area filled with windblown sand. Like a monochrome abstract painting of reddish brown, the Coconino’s scalloped diagonals define the bedding angles of piles of sands cemented and compacted into stone.
  • Redwall. A gray limestone stained orange-red by iron oxides washed from the rocks above it. The Redwall holds 340-million-year-old fossils—bryozoans, brachiopods, corals, and crinoids—that rise like bas reliefs from boulders on a beach on a bend in the river where we stopped and tied up the boats. Here, just below Mile 33, the Colorado has carved open a massive cave, the Redwall Cavern. Sue showed us where to look for the fossils. I brushed my fingers over the stone discs of a fossilized crinoid stem that rose like a small white spine from the reddish rock. Crinoids are echinoderms, like sea stars and sea urchins. The stem attached the animal to the floor of a long-ago ocean.
  • Vishnu and its brothers. The very oldest rocks, first appearance at Mile 78 at the bottom of the canyon walls. Geologists call them the Basement Rocks. Some were deposited in oceans; others poured out from volcanoes. Then they were contorted and reshaped by massive heat and pressure, metamorphosed into schist. The Vishnu, the Rama, the Brahma are sometimes shot through with the dazzling pink stone of the Zoroaster Granite, which is different in origin from the schists. The Zoroaster is igneous, formed from molten rock, magma, that was once miles deep beneath the surface of the Earth, which then cooled and crystallized into stone. These schists and granites are not only the oldest in the Grand Canyon but are among the oldest in the United States: the basement of the canyon and the basement of the country.

 

Unconformity

Erosion erases the evolution of a landscape. Within the astonishing completeness of the Grand Canyon’s rock record, there is a gargantuan gap. Here’s why: although stable, the Colorado Plateau has been pushed up through the eons; water has worn it down. Missing in most places: some 1.2 billion years, 25% of Earth history. Geologists have named this massive erosional unroofing the Great Unconformity.

To get a close look at this missing history, we tied up the boats just below Mile 120 and hiked into Blacktail Canyon. We paused for photos where the stair-stepped and flat-lying layers of the Tapeats Sandstone (525 million years old) rest directly on top of the twisted and contorted Vishnu Basement (1.7 billion years old). I stood close to the rocks and spanned the Great Unconformity with the tip of my finger, as if I could absorb more than a billion years of missing earth history.

There are other missing rocks, sedimentary ones named the Grand Canyon Supergroup. This set of rocks carries messages from times when archaic tectonic plates—with names like Pangea, Rodinia, and Laurentia—roamed the surface of the planet. The motions of these plates crunched and bent and tilted the Supergroup, which are occasionally found exposed in isolated blocks. We did not see them often for they are mostly missing, but what bits remain, sandwiched here and there between the Tapeats and the Vishnu, have defied the fierce erosion of the Great Unconformity. The Supergroup rocks are a rare and precious record of tumultuous times in the geologic past.

Never missing on this trip: grand vistas of canyon walls; the prance of sun on rock face and water; the changing pitch of river voice from near-silent flowing to whisper of riffles to crash and roar of rapids. Although these sights and sounds became routine, I determined to remember to savor them within the fleeting space of our time in the canyon.

 

Sands

Sands are the ruins of rocks. Along the riverbanks in the canyon, the sand is reddish brown with a texture like coarse cocoa powder—a mixture, a mélange, a collage of all the canyon rocks. Except, of course, those billion-some years of stone gone missing.

The sands came home with us. I find them still in the pages of my journal, at the bottom of my daypack, in the gritty coating still stuck to the maps in the guidebook, in the mechanism of my ballpoint pen, now sticky and resistant to clicking open.

I see the sands on the banks of the Colorado as time present containing time past and time future.

Past: ground from the newest to oldest rocks.

Present: spinning in the wind and peppering my eyes; outlining the wrinkles of my sleeping bag; grating the skin on the tops of my feet where sandal straps rubbed.

Future: some of these sands will create the rocks of tomorrow; they will be deposited, buried, heated, pressed by earth forces to form sandstone. And then that stone will be ground down once again by wind and by water.

So perhaps Eliot got it right about the sand.

Issue 6.1 Spring 2017

Click on a title to read an author’s work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra. Also, consider leaving a comment for everyone to read.

"Crying Girl" by Alexander Chubar
“Crying Girl” by Alexander Chubar

"Moon Through Window" by CinCin Fang
“Moon Through Window” by CinCin Fang

"Skull" by Alexander Chubar
“Skull” by Alexander Chubar

Poetry:
(Guest Edited by Kristin LaTour)

Mischelle Anthony | Blackjack
Rachel Bunting | One Who Is Typically Accompanied by Unease
Jessica Cuello | The Whale Looks at Painted Depictions of Herself: Moby Dick Chapter 55
Stevie Edwards | Against Desire
Jack Giaour | dear kafka
David Greenstone | Family Vacation
Zoe Hitzel | Gender Dysphoria versus the February Skyline
Jennifer Schomburg Kanke | Summer Sonnet for a Sears House
Gerry LaFemina | Pocket Watch
Marlo Starr | Speech
Annie Stenzel | Posture [im]Perfect
Donna Vorreyer | Like Tree Rings, We Count the Years
Ian Randall Wilson | Anniversary
Monique Zamir | On Television II

Fiction:

Diane Payne | Harmony

Nonfiction:

M. J.  Arlett | South American Leaf Blight in Rubber Trees
Miriam Mandel Levi | My Gaza War
Nancy L. Penrose | Time Missing in the Grand Canyon

Translations:

Anna Akhmatova | The Heart’s Memory of Sun… | **Domenic Scopa
Aleksis Rannit | Winter | Henry Lyman**
Rainer Maria Rilke | My Body | **Susanne Petermann

Book Reviews:

John Guzlowski | Echoes of Tattered Tongues: Memory Unfolded | Review by Sandra Kolankiewicz
Ron Rash | Above the Waterfall | Kathleen Brewin Lewis

Spotlight on a Press:

Dos Madres Press | Review by Nettie Farris

 

**Indicates Translators

M.J. Arlett

M. J. Arlett is an MFA candidate at Florida International University. She was born in the UK, spent several years in Spain and now lives in Miami. Her work can be found in Portland Review, Gravel, Indianola Review, The Boiler Journal, Pittsburgh Poetry Review and elsewhere.

 

South American Leaf Blight in Rubber Trees

August 1960

Her first night on the S.S. Iberia, my grandmother held her two-week-old son in her arms as she tried to sleep beside her husband in their cabin. Though the ship weighed 30,000 tonnes, the waves beneath her threatened to capsize them as they crossed the Sea of Biscay towards the next port of call in Lisbon, onwards to Trinidad and the other side of the world. My grandmother couldn’t help but wish that her child was still inside her and feeling the violence of the waves from within his own aquatic sanctuary. She lay sleeplessly, thinking of the journey ahead for the three of them, this branch of the family tree heading out over the garden fence.

The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is a true tree. Tall, lanky, unassuming. But rubber is used for more than you can imagine. Cement, adhesive, insulation. Vehicle tires, conveyor belts, pumps and pipes and hoses. Shock absorbers, balloons, cushions, balls. Rainwear, diving gear, protective shoes and gloves and blankets. Telephone housings, radio sets, electrical instruments.

1940

When does a girl from rural Wales learn about the Caribbean colonies in her two-roomed schoolhouse in Pembrokeshire? Or with her mother picking up war-time rations, and told that the eight ounces of sugar they received each week had come from an island an ocean away?

Did news of HMT Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury Dock reach Haverfordwest? Did she learn about the influx of West Indian workers tempted to London after the war with the promise of work and a new life? Was there talk of racism, or poverty, or loneliness? Was there any mention that her country is one where black skin makes the winter colder?

The rubber tree is native to rainforests. Generally found in low-altitude moist forests. It is quick growing and easily establishes itself within any gap in the canopy.

1953

Or did she learn about the West Indies when she left home to study history and geography at the University of Aberystwyth? Was she sitting in a lecture hall taking notes when she was asked, “Diana, on which voyage to the New World did Christopher Columbus discover the islands of Trinidad, Tobago, and Grenada?”

“Erm…,” She flicked through the pages of the hardcover textbook in front of her. “His third voyage?”

“Correct.”

February 1960

Perhaps she learned about the Caribbean when her PhD student husband was offered his first post-graduate position investigating the genetic relationship between Hevea brasiliensis and Dothidella ulei. It was then that she went to the library in Birmingham, walked through the aisles with her flowering stomach —hand on her four-month-swollen belly— as she searched for a book that could tell her about her New World.

On that first night on the Iberia did she feel like the men and women who set out across oceans with the hopes of a new life? Her baby’s head against her chest was musky and the smell reminded her of home. She did not think of colonialism. She thought of nothing except how she would cope with being both a new mother and a new wife in a new country.

South American Leaf Blight is the limiting factor for rubber production in the New World. In 1960, my grandfather is hired by the Rubber Research Institute of Malaya to study South American Leaf Blight in the hopes of preventing it from spreading and affecting the rubber industry in Asia.

August 1960

The ecosystem on the SS Iberia was a spectacle of human biodiversity. As they sat on deck with their newborn, they started talking to a couple whose young son was mesmerized by the seagulls following the ship for the food waste thrown overboard. The family was on their way back to Guyana where the husband piloted crop-spraying planes.

During their first dinner on the ship, my grandparents were seated beside an American couple shipping Morris Minors back to the United States.

“We love driving them on the ranch! So useful!” The wife marveled to my grandfather, although he couldn’t imagine what a Morris Minor would do that any other car couldn’t.

At a formal dinner later in the voyage, my grandfather met a woman who ate bananas with a knife and fork. This memory remained with him to be shared with whomever was close enough to hear each time he joyously bit into a banana in a less than elegant fashion.

There were immigrants who lived on the ship until her last stop, Australia; there were soil scientists, marketing professionals, seasonal workers. There were third class passengers, and second class passengers, and first-class passengers; there were men and women working for the price of a transatlantic ticket; there was a two-week-old baby, my father.

The rubber tree is a perennial plant; it can be exploited for fifty years. Industrialism took its seeds from the Amazon, germinated them in London, sent them to Asia, sowed plantations that stretched towards the horizon, tapped them and drained them in a way that was not possible in the Americas because of leaf blight.

Trinidad is an economic paradise, every square mile ripe for picking. Across the north of the island, jungle-covered mountains spit out smoke as controlled fires burn the greenery from January through May to clear the ground for cash crops. Expanses of sugarcane stretch across the heart of the island. Grapefruit is exported around the world. The island has oil mines to the South in San Fernando, the source of its economic stability. Sixteen miles from San Fernando is the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world, the Pitch Lake. Endless depths of liquid cash that have paved roads all the way back to England.

August 1960

By the time the Iberia arrived in the Caribbean, my father was a month old. The ship was too large to dock in Port of Spain’s harbour so, with their luggage and infant, my grandparents came ashore on a small launch as the sun was rising over the island.

Before she placed a single foot on Trinidadian soil, what did my grandmother know about this island?

She did not know that when she fell asleep that first night —in a transit house occupied only by bugs and fleas for months— she was at the mercy of the local mosquitoes. She eased herself down on the first motionless bed she had slept on in weeks, no rolling ocean, no mechanical gasp of a sleepless ship around her, only the whir of an out-of-use ceiling fan, the musical conversations of tropical insects in the trees, her husband’s heavy breathing, her baby’s gentle inhalations. She did not know, in her deep and unknowing sleep that she had fallen asleep with her left arm brushed up against the netting draped above their bed. By the next evening when they attend their welcome dinner with the other members of the university’s research department, her arm had swollen to twice its normal size.

At the dinner, my grandfather drank voraciously with his new colleagues and blamed his thirst on the humidity rather than the quality of the local rum. My grandmother blushed furiously when the Head of Agriculture announced her husband to the gathered academics as “The Rubber Man! Mr. Durex!”

September 1960

When they arrived it was the wet season, the temperature sitting consistently in the 90s, the heat only broken by an hour of heavy rain around noon. They are moved from the transit house to their permanent home. My grandmother sat on the screened-in porch watching the clouds thunder over Port of Spain as she nursed her baby. She tried to hear the smothered sounds of the island through the falling water. She hushed the dog they inherited from the previous tenants as he barked at passing men. Did she spot the snakes escaping to the refuge of the house’s raised foundation?

She did not know that driving over snakes would become far too common, that her husband would end up carrying a cutlass in the back of the car so that after each vehicular homicide he could get out, cut off the head of the snake, and give it to an ophiologist at the university in exchange for a dollar.

She learned that there are many uses for a cutlass. To cut down trees, to cut meat, to trim hedges, to mow a lawn, to shave, to take revenge on a man who showed too much interest in a woman whose marriage has already been arranged.

She was aware of her privilege as a white woman on this island.

She knew that she would have servants, a maid and a nanny and a woman to do the laundry (scrubbing the clothing by hand so fiercely that my grandfather would have to replace most of his shirts because of the holes in them). She had a yard boy. But she did not know that his name would be Paul, or that he would take her up to the northern mountains to meet his family who spoke in Patois.

Paul pointed to the ragged mongrel outside his house and told her, “Le chien, it have plenty puppies.”

This sentence, a relic of Spanish, French, Dutch and British occupation, a relic of colonialism like the food they encountered: Sada roti, Aloo chocka, fried plaintain, stewed chicken liver, hashed browns, and Vienna sausages for breakfast. Coconut bread, black pudding, salted cod and smoked herring, buljol, boiled yucca, bacon. Calaloo, okra, oysters, ginger beer, tamarind balls, khurma, jub jub. Cashews! Mangoes, cherries, avocados, papaya, sorrel, passion fruit, watermelons, guava, pineapples, oranges, and bananas.

And these cultural mash-up recipes they brought back with them to England so that traditional Boxing Day dinner became what is left of the Christmas turkey, scavenged for every shred of remaining meat, and curried with Indian spices.

Maybe my grandmother suspected her second child would be born in Port of Spain, although she did not know for sure it would be a girl.

As a sapling, the rubber tree grows in successive cycles producing whorls of leaves in a spiral phyllotaxy pattern; imagine a rose of waxy green and burgundy leaves. As the plant leaves infancy, at five years old, and becomes a true tree, the branches spread themselves wide. Outside of plantations the tree can reach heights of a hundred feet.

October 1962

Certainly, she had no idea the sweet newborn she clutched during her first night on the Iberia would become a verified escape artist. She had no clue she would be awoken at 3am by the sound of him playing with pots in the kitchen, having escaped his crib. After the third instance my grandparents bought pigpen wire and attached it to the top of his cot to keep him from escaping.

My father’s nanny walked into Port of Spain in her gleaming white uniform that had been freshly laundered and starched, she pushed the expensive green and white baby carriage with its lace-edged sunshade. The other nannies stopped to coo at the spectacle of her perfect white uniform and this beautiful white carriage and her precious white baby. Neither my grandmother nor the nanny knew that when they peered inside the pram, the baby would not be there, and that he was hanging from the undercarriage like a Peter Pan in his attempt to never grow up.

Dothidella Ulei blights the Americas. It destroys rubber tree plantations from within, leaving necrotic lesions across the veined face of the leaves.

After three years of research, the Rubber Research Institute of Malaya is no closer to identifying how to stop South American leaf blight. In part, this is because of a bureaucratic bungling. Plant samples sent from South East Asia to the West Indies were put in the hold of planes rather than the cabin, freezing and destroying the samples that were destined for the lab in Trinidad. This scraps a third of my grandfather’s work.


1963

My grandmother had not suspected that growing up in the colonies would turn her son into a toddler who ordered the staff around the house.

“Millie!” he called. “Get me my teddy!”

“Yes, Master Simon.”

“Millie! Come here!”

“I coming, Master Simon.”

And when my grandmother told Millie not to let him speak to her so rudely, that she must make him say please and thank you, she replied, “Oh, no, no, Madam. I am the granddaughter of a slave. He is the master, and I am only the servant.” Compelled by this moment, she asked her husband not to renew his contract, to take them back across the Atlantic so that Wales could be more than just the melody of her parents’ accents during her monthly phone call home. She knew then that three years was enough.

1960

What did my grandmother know about Trinidad before she had even placed a single foot on its shores? From the water on that first morning, as they made their way from the Iberia to the harbour in Port of Spain, my grandparents watched the sun emerge from behind the northern mountains and my grandmother inhaled the innocence of her month-old son’s head as though he was the only thing in the world she knew about for certain.

Annie Stenzel

Annie Stenzel’s poems have most recently appeared in the print journals Kestrel, Ambit, Catamaran Literary Reader, and Quiddity, Lunch Ticket, and Unsplendid. Her work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and once for a Best of the Net. She received a B.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, both from Mills College. Stenzel is also a letterpress printer, never happier than when her hands are covered in ink. She pays the bills by working at a mid-sized law firm in San Francisco.

 

Posture [im]Perfect

Bearing in mind the long hall of the tract home
you walked up and down with your sisters while Ma

watched gimlet-eyed and you three held your breaths
and stared raptly before you, heads fixed firmly

beneath whatever book you had chosen to balance—
two things are now sad, or three, on a good day:

what book did you carry? why can you no longer
walk with your head held high? and especially, why,

why did you never forgive your big sister before
her untimely death and actually not quite even then?

Mischelle Anthony

Mischelle Anthony is Associate Professor of English at Wilkes University specializing in poetry and eighteenth-century literature. Her poetry has appeared in Slush Pile, Mudfish, Watershed, and her collection, [Line], is available from Foothills Press.

 

Blackjack

my father wrangling 200 million
in assets and driving
a Cadillac so many decades after
it means something.  Wading
through moneyed clouds,
the 13th green, and Dr. Seuss
trees, the glut of couch pillows,
carpet of such luxury we whisper.
Every Sunday drive, my father,
past sanded-down alfalfa
fields, acres of memory and
church, that squat brick altar
of primary shapes.  Triangle,
square, circle of trays.
The pale wood witness
to your wide-eyed wedding
asks why you return
to this place.

Look, there’s a blackjack
tree gnarling its way
up the sky.  You don’t know
why they call them that.
I do. 

Rachel Bunting

Rachel Bunting lives and writes near the Pine Barrens of South Jersey. Her poems have been included in both Best of the Net (Sundress) and Best of the Web (Dzanc Books) anthologies, and her work can be found in print and online journals including Muzzle Magazine, Tuesday: An Art Journal, PANK, Toad, Linebreak, and Weave Magazine.

 

One Who Is Typically Accompanied by Unease

You are the vibrating air between the alarm
bell’s hammer and body or the gentle rustle

of the split-flaps announcing another departure
too soon. When the sun shines through windows

you are the glass it passes through; the alternating
expansion and contraction that moves a clock’s

brass hands across its face. A constant body thrum,
the tension of metal against metal as a train slows

its approach. You move inward as the earth asserts
its elliptical path through the universe and explain

that infinity is a comfort: there is intention, after all,
to the way your bones come together, but the watchful

eye of the painted sky is not focused entirely on you.

John Guzlowski

Echoes of Tattered Tongues: Memory Unfolded
by
John Guzlowski
Press: Aquila Polonica Press
Pages: 200
Date: March 7, 2016
ISBN: 978-1607720218
Reviewed by: Sandra Kolankiewicz

 

Lives Tattered by War

If you have read one of John Guzlowski’s poems about his parents’ Nazi work camp experiences, most likely you remember it, even if you don’t remember who wrote it.  I still feel the anxiety of trying to give support to a man who is being crucified—a feeling created by his poem “What My Father Believed.”  If you know Guzlowski’s work, you are in for a one-stop treat of familiar territory, a golden arc of experience, exquisite anguish, compassion, outrage, and love.  If you have never had the fortune of exploring his, get ready.

The title “Echoes of Tattered Tongues” creates many images.  First I consider the physicality of the tongue; in death it no longer speaks.  Then I think of ‘tongue’ as language: WW II happened in so many languages that conveying the experience is blocked without translation.  Finally, I understand that, upon their arrival to the United States, Guzlowski’s parents were forced to speak a tongue unfamiliar to them.  Except for their small neighborhood and apartment, Polish was no longer available to express and to be understood.

The book is divided in four parts, some of them drawn from former collections.  Structurally, the book begins at the end.  The first piece is an essay about the “Wooden Trunk” that came with them from Poland.  So many families have a trunk, idea vessel to cart your few belongings with you to another country.  Guzlowski is also his parents’ ‘trunk.’ Without knowing or realizing it, he internalized their voices—and the stories and voices of all the people they had known. Through his description, we physically see the trunk, but when he writes his poems, we discover the nonmaterial contents of the trunk.  Just like his father transformed the prison walls into a vehicle to carry their belongings, John has been transformed their pain into a greater purpose.  He writes the story of the trunk, paralleling its existence with his mother’s death, like a coffin.  Though the reader mourns the loss of the trunk, Guzlowki knows it was good to let it go.

How fitting that the poem which follows is about the destruction of the Polish Cavalry, which marked the beginning of the unraveling of his parents’ lives.  Eventually, they retired to Arizona, but still we see in the poems the need not to waste things, born out of a poverty that few can imagine.  The poems about his mother have an anger, a tenderness, an awareness of unforgiveable cruelty, the finality of death—we hear her voice dispensing wisdom, recounting mindboggling torture.  Safe in Arizona, the sun shining above—but always the darkness beneath.

One of the most brilliant aspects of this book is that these poems are the poems of anyone who has suffered in war.  Whether you were/are a Jew, a Pole, Syrian refugee or— you name the international disaster—John Guzlowski tells the refugees’ story.  He writes of unimaginable terror from 70 years ago—but he might as well be describing our current world.  This poem from “ IV. Liberation”:   “But the British moved them again to another camp,/ and they had to leave the wood, even though/my father tried to carry some on his back./ And it was cold in the new place, and many of the babies died, and my sister was very sick,/ maybe from drinking the dirty water.”   Or from “V. What the War Taught Her”: She learned that the world is a broken place/ where no birds sing, and even the angels/ cannot bear the sorrows God gives them.”

However, in Guzlowki’s work, there is always hope.  For all the terror, the mutuality of sorrow creates an interdependence: “Maybe this was why my mother stayed./ She knew only a man worthless as mud,/ worthless as a broken dog, would suffer/ with her through all of her sorrow.” (“Why My Mother Stayed with My Father”)  His father plants an orange tree when he is nearly too sick to move.  Why is it hopeful when his dying father calls out for his own mother?  Because love endures.  And “Souls Migrating in the Rain”!  When you are a middle aged orphan (which we will all be, unless we die first, when we lose our parents), you’ll be moved by his description of the sea’s “…moving first toward me/ and then away, toward me/ and then away” as your past dissipates with their passing.

Section II, “Refugees,” is a mix of short creative nonfiction pieces and poems.  Like all of Guzlowski’s work, in spite of its focus on the Polish experience, his observations and ability to channel the refugee’s experience is astounding.  Disorientation, expectation, relocation, finding a job and a place to live.  His family ended up in Chicago—in an area where many had similar histories to the Guzlowski family’s.  In a new city on the other side of the world, the past is ever present.  Clearly Guzlowski’s parents were suffering from what we call PTSD, all wrapped up with memory, superstition, and grief.  However, what strikes me constantly in his poems—which appear to have been channeled from his parents and their generation—is their decency, their sense of right and wrong, their moral compass in a world that appears not to have one, the drive to survive.  Even in the poem “Fussy Eaters,” we see the mother trying to explain to her daughter the folly of restaurant food, reminding me of the mother in Ernest Gaines’ story “The Sky is Grey,” who beats her child for being unable to kill a redbird because it’s pretty.  Mother knows that if he is going to survive, he is going to have to be able to do what it takes to get food.

On the second page of Book III, “The War,” Mrs. Guzlowski is quoted directly.  When asked if she would like to send a message to the audience at one of her son’s readings about the war, she says “Yes.  Tell them we weren’t the only ones.”  You have to read only the titles to understand this section of the book: “Landscape with Dead Horses, 1939,” “There Were No Miracles,” “III. German Soldiers Stealing from the Dead.” Words like “Cattle Train” and “Boxcar.”  I’m mesmerized, for this morning as I listened to the news reports from the Middle East, I was holding Echoes of Tattered Tongues in my hands and marveling that even when he writes about war sixty years ago, he’s writing about war now and its rules of decency: “If a German soldier comes to you/ and asks you to shoot the man/ next to you because that man/ isn’t even bones in his striped suit,/ tell the soldier, “No, you’re the Devil….We are brothers in death and brothers in death don’t torment each other….”

The epilogue presents one of my favorite stories about Guzlowski’s mother.  She is 83 and dying, unburdening herself of memories, telling him one story after another, each worse than the one before.  John stops her, doesn’t allow her to tell a story he knows will be “the worse thing [he’s] ever heard.” I don’t know if she was just angry that he wouldn’t allow her to speak or just aware that those of us who have not directly experienced war, will always be somehow immature, but she calls him “a baby.”  I don’t know why, but I love her for it.

The last poem, “In Heaven,” makes me want to be with my dead friends and relatives, eating poppy seed cake.  This is a peaceful poem, made more so by the flashes of darkness provided by the “cows dying suddenly in the field.”  By the end of the book, John’s family are all reunited after death, catching up on lost time, telling stories.  The last line of the poem, and of the book, is, “Did you miss us?”  Love, most importantly sharing love, holding a lost one in your heart, is all that survives and matters.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Translator’s Note:

I was as surprised as many readers of poetry to find that Rainer Maria Rilke had written a large body of poems in French.  It was 1994; an earthquake in southern California had just dumped my books onto the floor and I sat down among them, hoping to find some comfort in their pages.  At random, I opened Rilke’s French poetry in translation, with the original on the left-hand page.  I knew French well; I had just returned from living in France and Morocco for four years.  So when I compared the English with the original, I was not satisfied.  I wanted poems I could chew on, learn by heart, poems I could love and use as a mirror for my life.  I especially wanted poems that didn’t sound like translations.

Gingerly I began replacing a word here, a phrase there, until re-translating these poems became the project of my life.  Why did Rilke write in French?  A partial answer may lie in Rilke’s particular love for a handful of French words he considered untranslatable, at least in sound, rhythm and spirit.  One of them was verger, orchard.  The title poem of the series called “Orchards” begins thus:

Perhaps, dear borrowed language, I’ve been
so bold as to write you because
of the rustic name whose unique domain
has taunted me forever: Verger.

He was fluent in French, having learned it as a child.  Still, it was his second language, which may explain the fact that the French oeuvre is syntactically simpler and more straightforward than the German.  That’s not to say they are easy to translate.  They simply present a less ornate doorway into the same complex, paradoxical ideas as those in Rilke’s German poems.

It is important to note that Rilke wrote the 325 French poems during the last four years of his life.  His health was deteriorating and the French poems, especially “Orchards,” serve as a farewell letter to his beloved world and the audience that had become so loyal to him.  Because of his fear of doctors and hospitals, he sought medical help only when it was too late.  A rare form of leukemia was diagnosed only days before his death on December 27, 1926.  He was just 51 years old.  Many of the French poems were found among his papers and published posthumously.  “My Body,” a poem from “Orchards,” was published by Gallimard in 1926.

 

Rainer Maria Rilke (poet), born in 1875 to a German-speaking family in Prague, was a prolific poet, essayist, critic and correspondent who never did anything but write.  Well-known for his restlessness, he often became dissatisfied with his current “home” sometimes only days after moving there with his custom-made standing desk.  Among many other places, he lived in Paris, most notably in 1902-03 when he worked for Auguste Rodin.  Inspired by the great sculptor, he began to look with an artist’s eye at objects, developing a new lyrical style in his so-called Dinggedichte, “thing poems.”  During the last years of his life he lived mostly in Muzot, Switzerland where he wrote over 325 poems in French.  Rilke died of leukemia in December, 1926.

 

Susanne Petermann (translator) graduated with a B.A. in German and French from Macalester College in 1979.  She spent almost a decade traveling in Europe and teaching English in Morocco before returning to the USA.   After discovering Rainer Maria Rilke’s French poems in 1994, she began to re-translate them, while also writing original poetry and essays on the relationship between healing and writing.  Her translations have appeared in Transference, Agni, Epiphany, Solstice, Jung Journal of Culture and Psyche, Inventory, and Rhino, among others.  Her forthcoming book When I Go (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR) is a selection of 125 translations of Rilke’s French poems.  She works as a personal organizer in southern Oregon.

 

My Body

How sweet sometimes to agree with you,
O my body, my elder brother,
how sweet to be strong
with your strength,
to feel you, leaf, branch and bark
and all that you are still becoming,
you, so close to the spirit,

so free, so at one
with the obvious joy
of being this tree of gestures.
You slow heaven down
for a moment, and give it
a place to call home.

 

 

27

Qu’il est doux parfois d’être de ton avis,
frère aîné, ô mon corps,
qu’il est doux d’être fort
de ta force,
de te sentir feuille, tige, écorce
et tout ce que tu peux devenir encor,
toi, si près de l’esprit.

Toi, si franc, si uni
dans ta joie manifeste
d’être cet arbre de gestes
qui, un instant, ralentit
les allures célestes
pour y placer sa vie.

Donna Vorreyer

Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013) as well as seven chapbooks, most recently Encantado, a collaboration with artist Matt Kish from Redbird Chapbooks. She serves as the reviews editor for Stirring: A Literary Collection and teaches middle school in the Chicago suburbs

 

Like Tree Rings, We Count the Years

We hike the forest after fires, trunks
and brush blackened, consider
the cobbled streets we left behind,
their curves cold and confusing.
We embrace instead this chaos, ash
against the rusted undergrowth,
a darkness that coaxes us to wander,
branches hovering close but out
of reach. We swing our arms, unleash
our caged tongues to share a laugh.

I recall the casual courtship of us
clasped ragged, dirty with days
of dust, our hands threaded, a bag
of down to cover us, sweat stiffening
our clothes. Our smooth-skinned
bodies in the morning cold among
the trees. But I cannot conceive
of this cool youth any longer, can
only dream it under these clouds
that threaten but bring no rain.

We stack and restack rocks,
uncover what is hidden from the eye,
barnacled geodes whose insides dazzle
only when the crust is breeched. Words
unsaid simmer beneath fleece, stoke
our private refineries. We make camp
and, in the chill, the tinder catches.
We bank the flame, careful to contain it.
Warming, we peel each other open,
astonished that we still shine.

Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova (poet) was a leading Acmeist whose poems were sensationally popular during the early twentieth century. After the Bolshevik revolution, her personal life and public career went from crisis to crisis. She was effectively barred from publishing. She continued to write “for the bottom of her chest” as she said. Her third husband and adult son were imprisoned and sent to Siberia during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. Her great poem “Requiem” reflects this experience. It circulated among friends and later in samizdat, but was not published in the Soviet Union until the “thaw” of the 1950s. In 1942 she began her long masterpiece Poem Without a Hero, which occupied her for much of the rest of her life. After Stalin’s death, she was gradually rehabilitated and her work was again widely published in the Soviet Union.

 

Domenic Scopa (translator) is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His poetry and translations have been featured in Poetry Quarterly, Reed Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Belleville Park Pages, and many others. He is currently an adjunct professor for the Changing Lives Through Literature program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and at New Hampshire Technical Institute. His first book, Walk-in Closet (Yellow Chair Press), is forthcoming in 2017. He currently reads manuscripts for Hunger Mountain and Ink Brush Publications.

 

The Heart’s Memory of Sun…

The heart’s memory of sun fades.
Grass yellows.
Some snowflakes blow in the wind,
Faintly, gently.

The narrow stream no longer flow?
They’re frozen over.
Nothing ever happens here?
Nothing…

In the empty sky a willow spreads
Its bare-boned fan.
Maybe it’s better that I’m not
your wife.

The heart’s memory of sun fades.
What’s that??Darkness?
I don’t know. This night unravels
Winter.

Jessica Cuello

Jessica Cuello is the author of Pricking (Tiger Bark Press, 2016) and Hunt, winner of The 2016 Washington Prize from the Word Works. She was the winner of The 2013 New Letters Poetry Prize, a winner of LUMINA’s poetry contest (selected by Carolyn Forché), the recipient of a 2015 Saltonstall Writing Fellowship and the recipient of the 2014 Decker Award from Hollins University for outstanding teaching.

 

The Whale Looks at Painted Depictions of Herself: Moby Dick Chapter 55

I opened to a page and saw my face
my legs, my backside
My skin was paper, two-dimensional

I recognized the printed torso first,
before my own, which was underwater,
a room unlit, a room I never entered

Mirrors in the sea are iridescent
mirrors in the sea are other creatures
waving back silk arms, beckoning

They have pictures of me,
none of them right
I am the brain with two eyes

I am not a brain to stop burning
It formed inside my mother
and burst out, my cells multiplied

To dive is to capture light, paint me
down there on the ocean floor,
or paint my nursing eyes, retracted

What is a face? My eyes have focal length
They see your trajectory at sea, dotted lines
that crisscross like a lie

I never wore that color or lifted my teeth wide
I never went back and tore that rope
I never swallowed those men

They drew me bursting out of waves,
they watched me from the sidelines
I left my body and entered their eyes

and looked back at my flank
and looked back at the places
where the tools would probe,

the outline, the nipples for feeding,
the endometrium absorbed
I thought it was another just like me

circling in the water
pounding her tail for home
I didn’t burn their papers,

I looked for her, my lost mother
What is reflection?
I cannot live outside of water

Ian Randall Wilson

Ian Randall Wilson’s fiction and poetry have appeared in a number of literary journals including the North American Review, The Gettysburg Review and Alaska Quarterly Review. A short story collection, Hunger and Other Stories, was published by Hollyridge Press (2000). He has an MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College, and is on the fiction faculty at the UCLA Extension.

 

Anniversary

The hours toss off the words’ imprint
easy as rain.

No boy.
No everything.

All the useful data has been collected.
Now plastic rules the night.

The newest statues in the square
are artificial.

Budget constraints in the new millennium.  We will be
separated and catalogued.  Replaced.

Tomorrow prefaces its arrival with fire.
In the final quarter minute spirit turns weightless.

Out there in the park all the voices have stopped
and the citizens are milling aimlessly.

The blackbirds who nest in the trees
are scolding them.

We have reached
the threshold of repetition.

Words toss off
the rain’s impressions.

Who knows what to do
or when to do it?

Some of us will deliberate.
Some will act

At sea level far too long
a few men look backward toward the heights.

I have opened the drawers
and cannot find what I am looking for.

I have examined the foundations
and they are cracked.

Any man would be a fool
to buy this place.

Any man would be a fool
to stay.

The elevator drops without reservations.
The doors refuse to lock.

The lights providing order
are flashing in distress.

When I was a boy I imagined
buildings of great size.

Seen from the recesses of outer space
they are quite small.

The earth no more than a marble
in a terrifying beautiful spin.

Guest Poetry Editor: Kristin LaTour

Kristin LaTour’s most recent chapbook is most recent chapbook is Agoraphobia, from Dancing Girl Press (2013); she has published two others: Blood (Naked Mannequin Press 2009) and Town Limits (Pudding House Press 2007). Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Fifth Wednesday, Cider Press, After Hours, dirtcakes, qarrstiluni, and The Adroit Journal. She teaches at Joliet Jr. College and lives in Aurora, Illinois, with her writer husband. Readers can find more information at www.kristinlatour.com.

Sharla R. Yates

sharlaSharla R. Yates lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her flash and poetry have been published or forthcoming in Albatross, Lynx Eye, The Boiler Journal, Hartskill Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Poetry City, USA, Shadowgraph Quarterly, and Pretty Owl Poetry among others. Her poetry manuscript What I Would Say If We Were To Drown Tonight was a finalist for the 2015 Villa Paper Nautilus contest.
 

Two Truths and a LIE

1.

I’m attracted to men who are Taken. Claimed. Off-The-Market.

I slept with Harmony’s boyfriend. Harmony, who ate with her mouth open, eyeing everyone like she wanted to punch them in the throat, who scavenged for attention like a dog chained for too long, held too little. Harmony, who drove forty-five minutes to check out some boys from Job Corps fishing on the South Umpqua even though I asked to go home. Harmony, who blared Steve Miller’s Band through broken speakers, and who wore her jeans so tight that her belly hung over them like rising dough in a bread pan, who would glance at me during arguments with her parents and smile because trouble was the only thing we had in common. Harmony, who slammed the sliding glass door and stomped back to the car because Nate had turned off the porno when it made me uncomfortable.

Harmony had left me behind alone with Nate.

 

So that’s how it began.

 

I liked that Nate apologized to me when he wouldn’t to Harmony. I made him apologize a lot. For being late. For kissing too hard. For calling me from County.

“Call her,” I said. “She’s pregnant.”

I hung up the phone before he could finish saying sorry.

 

2.

If I knew your husband was cheating, I wouldn’t tell you.

I’ve made that mistake before. I told my sister, Sharon, that Dan had pressed himself down on me, squeezing my breasts while moaning, and I had to force him off. Dan had said with brewery breath, to keep it our secret. When I called Sharon, told her what had happened, she listened in a hushed stillness. I heard distant ambulance sirens on her end of the line and imagined her standing outside Whole Foods; empty cloth bags wadded under her arm, cellphone pressed to her ear, her nostrils flaring like an angry kid. For two years, she never returned my calls.

I understand why she chose Dan over me. Husbands are hard to come by, especially third husbands.

I wouldn’t tell you if your husband was cheating because once he squeezes my inner thighs, and his thick tongue enters my mouth, I’ll wish it was over.

 

3.

My husband was married before.

Sometimes I need him to remember. I ask him questions about what she was like. I make comments about how strange it is that he once was with someone else. I reminisce aloud about how much time has passed since I went to church that Sunday. Remember that Sunday?

 

Someone hands me a bulletin and asks me how I know the deceased.

I say, “I thought there was church service today.”

From the back of the room, a home video plays on a white projector screen. I wonder why I’m still here, but figure I have to wait to catch the bus anyway, so I might as well stay. In the home video, the twenty-something woman, whose picture is in the bulletin, uses a handheld camera. She turns it on her friends and herself, making faces. She knows already that she has terminal cancer. She’s talking about the Chemo, what to do with her expensive bra collection.

She takes a drag on a cigarette and says, “My mom’s going to be so mad at me.”

Then someone behind the camera chuckles.

After the video goes black and the music clicks off, it is possible to hear chair legs scraping the floor and every sniffle and cough. Her husband stands and addresses the crowd.

“I’m here to remind you how much she loved you,” he says. “That’s what she would want. She would want you to remember how special you were to her.”

I think I want to be loved that much.

 

Months later, I would learn her dying wishes. He was only twenty-eight. Finish school, she said. Travel the world. Get out there and date somebody.

We were engaged a year later.

We keep her ashes in an urn at his mother’s house until the time we can spread them in the Thames. Another demand— go to London.

 

There are still times I ask him to say something to conjure her ghost into the room. I want him to say that she was the best person he had ever known, the smartest, the funniest. She shimmers in those moments. Translucent glory: red hair, a white mink coat, gold fingernails. She laughs as if she just heard the most delicious joke.

            Have you heard the one about my widower and his new wife?

            No?

I was just dying to introduce them.

Marilyn Kallet

Marilyn Kallet has published 17 books, including The Love That Moves Me, poetry from Black Widow Press. She has translated Paul Eluard’s Last Love Poems, Péret’s The Big Game, and co-edited and co-translated Chantal Bizzini’s Disenchanted City (with J. Bradford Anderson and Darren Jackson.) Dr. Kallet is Nancy Moore Goslee Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Each spring she leads poetry workshops for VCCA-France in Auvillar. She has performed her poems on campuses and in theaters across the United States as well as in France and Poland, as a guest of the U.S. Embassy’s “America Presents” program; recently she performed with Ivy Writers Paris bilingual poets series, and with Plume at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris.

 

Paris Elegy

On Rue Bichat
on the shattered street
you want a poem

for Friday.
I have only
words

that hang heavy
in the air
like church bells.

129.
129.
129.

Notre Dame
stays locked
until Thursday.

A precaution,
you understand.
Words?

I have Sunday
blue sky above
the Seine,

police boats
and foot patrols,
grumpy tourists

who “came all this way”
and can’t enter
la Chapelle.

I have one family
at home
in Tennessee,

another here,
in Paris,
smaller now,

reduced to long echoes,
130
low sounds.

 

 

Ode to a Lost Poet

You abandoned me
during the worst violence
Paris has known

since World War II.
You are no
friend,

no human.
True, humans
do this.

And worse.
Worse.
You are no longer

a poet.
Poets must have heart.
True, some

manage words
without love
or courage.

The moment you
were not center
stage, you backed

out.
No word.
I sat alone in

Hotel Quartier Latin
watching the loop
of butchery on TV.

You created
a black hood of
silence for yourself.

“You can read
if you want to,” you emailed, at last.
“But my poetry must wait

for a more tranquil time.”
I was strapped into the plane
at LaGuardia on

9/11, waiting
to take off.
Sorry, the pilot said.

Now I’m here,
in our beloved Paris.
Writers and friends do not wait.

Delaville Café
stays well-lit, open for poetry, camaraderie.
The amps have been plugged in.

The audience wants words: comfort, rage,
anything. Attendre? They attend.
“We need to laugh!” someone says.

Down the road, Place de la République
is packed, despite warnings.
Almost midnight: friends and strangers

raise candles, compose notes.
Wait for peace?
Yours will be long, Madame.

Your poems can
rest, tranquil as dust,
as a drug.

You lost me
in the dark night
of treachery

and self-love.

Nancy Chen Long

nancychenlongNancy Chen Long is the author of Light into Bodies, winner of the 2016 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry (forthcoming, University of Tampa Press, 2017) and the chapbook Clouds as Inkblots for the War Prone (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013). You’ll find her recent and forthcoming work in Crab Orchard Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Pleiades, Bat City Review, the Anthology of Contemporary Indiana Writers, and elsewhere. Nancy received a BS in Electrical Engineering Technology and an MBA, worked as an electrical engineer, software consultant, and project manager, and more recently earned an MFA. She lives in south-central Indiana and works at Indiana University. www.nancychenlong.com

 

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