The girl in the foreground is mute
as the gray stump of house behind her.
Something pushes out from behind her face,
enlarges her ears, expands her head.
Her hat no longer fits. It lies
discarded on the lawn, red ribbon trailing.
Her parents have not moved for an hour.
The mother is sheathed in black,
the father in Sunday best.
The cat near the pram is not a cat at all,
it is a stone. Nor is the sheep alive.
It must have wandered into the yard
and froze. Nothing moves here,
though the girl may try. The hill
beneath her feet is a gripped fist.
This poem was first published by FutureCycle Press in Lawrence Kessenich's book, Before Whose Glory, 2013.
Lawrence Kessenich won the 2010 Strokestown International Poetry prize and has had three poems nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has appeared in the Sewanee Review, Atlanta Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and many other magazines. He has published four books of poetry and is the co-managing editor of Ibbetson Street. He had an essay featured on NPR’s “This I Believe” and in the anthology This I Believe: On Love. His plays have been produced in New York, Boston, and in Colorado, where he won an award in a national drama competition. His first novel, Cinnamon Girl, was published in September 2016. Learn more about his work at lawrence-writer.com.
Herons In Reeds
of the long necks pulled in,
stilt legs like reeds
in the rippled water, reeds
rising silhouetted toward
a sickle moon.
Symbol of steadfast love,
on the album that holds
my wedding pictures.
But all I can think about
is the braggadocio
of the men
I knew in youth,
all those couplings
Penelope Moffet lives in Southern California. Her second chapbook, It Isn't That They Mean to Kill You, has just been published by Arroyo Seco Press. During August 2018 she participated in the August Poetry Postcard Festival, an international convocation of postcard-writing strangers, in the course of which she wrote 44 poems, most of them ekphrastic.
Ángeles Santos, 1929
A girl looked up from under
a strangle of trees at
the star-singed sky
and wondered if it was true.
If those strangely cloaked musicians
strummed the same melodies for
the angels that pricked the sun
to light the stars.
That strange kaleidoscope of flares.
The others didn’t see it that way.
Their music was thunder
and their stars were clouds
and the stairs leading to heaven
weren’t blocked by angels
but by a bend of indefinite darkness.
Still, she saw the rows of the world
they all shared.
That they all danced and hid and loved in
and she knew she could draw her candle on
the surface of the dirt and out would spill
Hannah Wagener is a part-time poet and part-time embroidery artist. She is perhaps best known for her work as a background actor in South View Middle School's 2005 production of "The Hoboken Chicken Emergency."
The Ekphrastic Review is excited to present this special showcase, featuring the ekphrastic poetry of women in recovery from addiction. Poet Valerie Bacharach facilitates poetry workshops at Power House and Cece's Place in Pittsburgh. She recently did special ekphrastic workshops, and these are the resulting poems.
Van Gogh’s Sunflowers
You know the picture, painted over and over.
A vase or pot or ground.
Who arranged this?
Someone well-to-do with nothing but time?
A gardener with an eye for pretty, or just making a living?
Someone poor who just likes them?
Were they found along the road?
Stolen from someone’s garden, grown lovingly from seed?
Or just bought at a shop?
Were they chosen specifically or just thrown together?
Planted intentionally or a happy happenstance?
Maybe it’s not about the flowers.
Maybe they are irrelevant and it’s about the pot or vase or ground.
Grand Canyon National Park
Like rings of trees
are these rings testimony?
Wide white splash.
What a tale that must be.
Listen to the whispers of the storyteller.
Around the bend.
Around the corner.
I want to go.
It’s got to be better than here.
Go limp, let the water and wind
drop me where they will.
It’s got to be better than here.
Keep looking, keep dreaming.
It’s got to be better than here.
Jump—stumble down the path.
It’s got to be better than here.
I’m not looking around the bend anymore.
The grass isn’t greener.
The Blessed Mother
When I saw the picture of the Virgin Mary
I thought of my communion name, Margaret.
It made me think of Aunt Margaret
and her doll collection.
That must be who I got my interest
in dolls from.
My very next thought
was when I was at my sister’s college graduation
and we were at church.
I went in front of the Blessed Mother statue
and asked for her help with my addiction.
At that very moment my mom took my picture
so we would always have that to look back on.
My mom believes her higher power is Mary
and prays to her all the time.
I pray to both God and Mary
and even relate my grandma Fran
to the Blessed Mother.
Once my grandma Fran passed away, I always
felt like she was watching over and protecting me.
Just look at your hands.
Don’t look up.
Don’t ever look up.
Don’t notice all the ones who never notice.
Accept that you’re alone.
Keep the thoughts at bay.
Don’t see the laughter.
Don’t see the conversation.
You’re not part of it.
You’ll never be part of it.
Keep those hands moving.
They won’t care and the tears won’t cleanse.
Pay no mind.
Pay no mind.
It’s ok to be alone.
It’s ok to be alone.
You chose this life.
You chose this life.
Their world is not yours.
Just keep busy.
And don’t think.
Inside His Heart
and he’s weathered.
His eyes are light and kind.
His hair is long and white,
wiry and scarce.
He’s full of knowledge and wisdom.
But he’s unable to impart
because he’s all alone
and trapped in his mind.
But he’s free inside his heart.
Keep it moving
even when you’re down.
Laughter, swaying, enjoy the time.
We all fall down or in a spiral.
It’s how we get up and live,
even if we need to learn from others.
There’s always something
we can learn from each other.
We may look like we are doing well,
but the inside may be different.
Put your feet on the ground
and keep it moving.
It’s not going to happen by yourself,
you need others to complete your team.
The Day My Savior Died
Love, ultimate love.
Pain and suffering and sacrifice.
The long and grueling journey
to the mountaintop.
They nailed him to a tree.
His death set His Spirit free.
God’s only son.
His life’s work was done.
In fulfillment of the Word.
He and His Father in one accord.
His mother bent over in grief.
Oh, her breaking heart.
He took His last breath.
All the angels overhead,
with the last words He said,
“Forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
Up to the end He loved us so.
His followers hated to see Him go.
They laid Him in a tomb.
Three days later He returned
to bring more believers to God.
He walked amongst them once more.
God, the Son, and Holy Spirit
who I truly adore.
This is My Room
This is my room, my comfort zone,
where I can talk to God alone.
A place where I can meditate and pray.
A place where I know my spirit is safe.
A place where I can feel and protect my soul
because here I’m not alone.
This is my room,
out of all places in this house.
A place where we’re not crammed on the couch.
A place where all the confusion doesn’t take place.
Just for me, a quiet, little place where I can get away.
This is my room.
My room, it’s just big enough for God and me.
A place where I can come to make peace,
no he say/she say, no drama from the world.
It’s just a room, but it’s a place.
This is my room.
In her arms she feels the weight of new life, gift of grace.
The child now holds her gaze, she stares, scared, amazed.
Precious life she will raise, awake at night, the dreams the freight.
And now she’s sure of nothing more. No higher love in this world.
When I Was a Very Young Girl
When I was a very young girl
I can remember my great-uncle
having a horse farm.
He would invite our family
out there to Mercer county, PA,
to have lunch and ride horses.
My brother and I would have so much fun
under the large trees in his yard.
My mother worked a lot,
so usually my grandmother and grandfather
would take us, and we would spend
the whole day. On the way home
in the car, my brother and I fell asleep.
The horse I seemed to always pick
was all white with brown spots all over.
He was very gentle.
I can remember him being so big to me,
when I was a very young girl.
No One Can Find Us
Based on the painting The Monkeys by Henri Rousseau
The jungle of wild animals hides in our den.
The green trees hide our eyes as we smile,
as the birds sing.
Oh what a beautiful day to be in the jungle,
safe and warm.
No one can find us.
We have another day to enjoy the rays.
As the green leaves of the trees turn colours
of red and yellow.
The smell of the jungle is free and relaxing
to the wild animals that hide deep in the den.
Another day of relaxation comes our way,
as we lay deep in the den, safely in a dark hole
that no one can see in,
with crisp leaves of yellow and red that hide
the entrance of our bed.
Is there anything more comforting than a summer night?
The sky so clear, every star in our sight.
Is there anything more comforting than talking with those we love?
Speaking of days gone past and the meaning of the sky above.
Is there anything more comforting than taking a long, quiet walk?
No need to say a thing, no reason to talk.
Is there anything more comforting than the night breeze lifting your hair?
It wraps around your body, leaving you bare.
Is there anything more comforting than a summer night?
It calms the soul, helping life seem more light.
Valerie Bacharach is a volunteer at two halfway houses in Pittsburgh, PA, for women in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction; Power House and Cece’s Place. She runs weekly poetry workshops for the women that include both reading and writing poetry. Valerie began writing poetry several years ago, after her son died from opioid addiction. Writing became a way to cope with grief, regret, anger.
In the poetry workshops, the groups read and discuss poetry written by women, and then write their own poetry with a prompt provided, or using any inspiration they choose. The women decide whether or not they'd like to share their words with the group, and they almost always do. Valerie says that it is vital for them to know they have a voice, that their words matter, and that what they write may help someone else.
For this special presentation of ekphrastic writing from the women in recovery, Valerie Bacharach planned workshops using visual art prompts. The Ekphrastic Review is privileged to showcase the results of the workshop for our readers.
Monster memory, saddled with time’s burden,
folds out of the dark plain. Pain twists
into horse, eyelash, dolphin, tongue.
Watches melt oblivious down the left foreground,
slipping off rigid planes and brittle branches.
Ants, silly creatures, gather casually
on the closed face of one watch, guard
this stillbirth of meaning. A slab of rock
rises out of water and fog from the background
to the right, nailing down what wants to slip.
The numbers are all in order – a perfect exercise:
plane, object, plane, object, plane.
Something jars into disbelief.
Diane Wahto received an MFA in creative writing from Wichita State University in 1985. She has co-edited two editions of the anthology, 365 Poems. Her book of poetry, The Sad Joy of Leaving, published by Blue Cedar Press, will come out in September 2018. Her blog may be found at Poet of a Certain Age (https://poetofacertainage.wordpress.com/.) Her latest publications in include “Empty Corners,” in Same, and “The Yellow Dress,” in Gimme Your Lunch Money. She and her husband Patrick Roche live in Wichita, Kansas, with their dog Annie, a waif she found running loose on the Kansas Turnpike.
1. Woman in Café, Michelle Valois, 2018, Words on screen, 286
An American is talking to three Brits in a museum café. I am not eavesdropping. I am looking down at my copy of the museum’s floor plan and thinking about the masterpieces I have yet to see: portraits, landscapes, interior scenes, still lives.
The Brits get up. Nice to meet you. Enjoy your stay.
When they leave, the American lifts a cell phone, dials. I am still not eavesdropping. Why did you write what you wrote today? Pause. When are you coming back? You asked if I was done, what were you trying to tell me?
On the table in front of the American is her copy of the floor plan, where she has carefully checked off each masterpiece she has seen.
The woman stands, pats down her pretty dress. The way I’d dress if I didn’t dress the way I do: men’s pants, men’s sweater, comfortable shoes. Will she see the all masterpieces on her list? Will I?
London is a busy city, made more crowded by the company I keep: in-laws, my partner, my almost-grown children.
My sister messages me updates on our mother, who roams the halls of the nursing home searching for her son, my brother, dead since two years back. I search the shops for a souvenir for her. Find a tin of short bread cookies with a picture of the Queen. Hope she remembers the Queen.
The American woman in the nice dress has left the café. I want to run after her, take her hand in mine, say, Come. Let us look together. We still have time. Which masterpieces have you yet to see?
But I do not follow. I finish my coffee and head to the temporary exhibits.
2. Hélène Rouart in her Father's Study, Edgar Degas, about 1886, Oil on canvas, 162.5 x 121 cm
My father did not have a study, but he had his own desk. This in a house where people did not have many things of their own. A Conant Ball, which probably doesn’t mean much to most people, made in a town very close to the town where I grew up, towns that once made things like desks and chairs.
Post-WWII American functionalism, walnut, square, seven drawers, three on each side, one in the middle, and it smelled of tobacco and old leather. My sisters and I would take turns hiding under the desk, stow away with orange slices and a book, catch a quiet moment in a house not known for its still life.
Hélène in the painting is dwarfed by her father’s things: an Egyptian coffin, a large desk, a painting by Corot. The chair she stands behind so large it makes her look like a monstrous child. Her face reveals not happiness but not the lack of joy.
My father did not possess the treasures of a 19th century industrialist. In his desk after he died: pipes, a silver metal lighter, a discarded wallet containing an expired license, a gold-plated pocket watch.
I stopped for the girl, not for her father’s treasures.
3. Interior, Vilhelm Hammershøi, 1899, Oil on canvas, 64.5 x 58.1 cm
She stands with her back to us in a small, Northern room. There are two doors, a stove, a table, a chair. The walls are white; there are no windows. The room looks cold but inviting.
I want to climb through the canvas, take the woman by the shoulders, turn her around, say, I am here, looking at you, see me.
She is the artist’s wife, added much later, added after the artist had finished painting the room. The curators know this from close analysis.
Her head is slightly bent, shoulders hunched. Is she reading? Her hair is pulled into a soft bun, I can see the back of her neck, which is white, like the walls. If I kissed the back of her neck… but I wouldn’t. My own wife doesn’t like to be startled in such a manner.
If I painted my wife it would be like this: quiet, domestic, unseen.
4. Saint Sebastian, Gerrit van Honthorst, 1623, Oil on canvas, 101 x 117 cm
I look for him in every museum. The arrows. The stake. The tree. I recognize this one as soon as I walk into Room 25, though it is on the far wall.
The Italians rendered him more ornate, with long flowing hair, a boyish face, flamboyant soft hips. There are some of those here, too – Ortolano and the Pollaiuolo brothers – and I will see them later.
But this one, this one is Dutch. And it’s almost a portrait – no executioners with their bows, no onlookers. He is shown only from the knees up. The tree from which he hangs – in a sitting position, slumped over, head down – is almost unnoticeable. This is northern austerity, like the cancer patient who refuses the crown of decorative henna to cover her bald skull.
But there are the usual leather straps that bind him and the arrows that impale his innocent flesh.
Saint Sebastian. Roman centurion. Secret Christian until he wasn’t. Principal protector against the plague.
Tied to a tree and shot with arrows.
I think radiation, pinpoints of light burning my disease, and the mask that covered my face bolted to the table to keep me still. I think sainthood and martyrdom and remember those who did not survive: my father; my brother; three aunts, two uncles; Hedwig, whom we called Tulla; and Charlotte; and Rose.
5. Vanitas Still Life, Jan Jansz, 1648, Oil on Oak, 90.5 x 78.4 cm
In this, we are reminded of death – vibrant colours notwithstanding, the object label states.
But the scarf is the only colourful object in the painting and it’s really not vibrant at all, a muted salmon pink, like the colours of the houses in a medieval city centre, preserved for the 21st century. In another century, I wandered such an old town. Years later, guiding my children down those same streets, I led them into a café with a cellar from the 15th century. 600 years, I say, impressing upon them the passing of time.
Vanitas – still-life painting, 17th century, Dutch.
The transience of life.
The futility of pleasure.
The certainty of death.
The scarf in the painting, though not vibrant, is brighter than the skull, true, and more colorful than the knight’s visor and even the earthenware pitcher.
Did the pitcher once hold wine?
And what about the book of music? The drawing? The broken flute? Worldly ambitions that come to an end, the hourglass tells us.
In my still life, I would put a baseball with the seams unraveled, a discarded doll whose name I still remember, the worshipful gazes of my children when they were still young, my father’s pocket watch.
The title page of an opened book tucked between the pitcher and a vase tells us, evil is its own reward.
Is it a sin to look back?
Death, ambition, time. Time, how it moves ever forward, even if these images tell us otherwise. Tell us otherwise.
I am listening, I am eavesdropping.
Why did you write what you wrote today? When are you coming back? You asked if I was done, what were you trying to tell me?
I am not done. But I cannot stop looking back.
Is this what I am trying to tell you?
It’s all right if you are eavesdropping.
Michelle Valois lives in Florence, Massachusetts with her partner, their three children, and a cat named Moxie. Her writing has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, The Baltimore Review, Brevity, TriQuarterly, Pank, The Florida Review, among others. She teaches writing and literature at a community college.
One Too Many
Each night I lay awake,
In this moment
I can feel
Your kiss fasten to my lips.
An acquired taste.
I feel a gentle tug of war
When you pull me close.
The sweet ambrosia sinks in.
This weightlessness of desire
The room feels cold.
I reach out for my shawl
To put my flames to sleep.
Jurveen Kaur, from Singapore, loves the company of books more than anything else. An enthusiast for learning, she spends her days teaching elementary students English Language and inculcating the habit of reading to all her pupils. During her free time, she indulges in poetry writing workshops, watches films and bonds over coffee and food with her family and loved ones. Jurveen believes one should lead a life full of zest!
I was reading
on the verandah;
the day was pleasant,
the air warm.
Then the birdsong fell silent
and the sky went dark
as though a squall
were coming in off the sea.
I sensed a shimmering
of gold, a rustling
as of draped silk,
a flutter of wings:
a figure was bending
toward me, words
streaming toward me.
They, too, seemed golden.
I was to bear the child
of the heavenly father,
this figure said unto me,
I heard the words
or felt them or read them
in the air I really
I felt a sharpness
in my temples.
My shoulders carried
some weight beyond bearing.
And as sure as I have ever
known anything, I knew
that this service would cost me
all I had to give.
And then I heard
in a hundred tongues
I didn’t know yet understood.
Ave, ave, ave,
pray for us now
and at the hour of our death.
I remembered how we danced
for my grandmother
beneath the cedars
as the evening cool came in.
And, hands splayed on my chest,
my red dress exposed
within my fallen-open blue robe,
I submitted to the charge.
Hannah Mahoney's work has appeared in a variety of print and online journals, including One Sentence Poems and Modern Haiku, and she was the featured poet for September 2018 at the Mann Library Daily Haiku website. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Along the curving beak of its shadow
the eye of the flame tracks light on the muzzle,
sockets that gleam, mosaic front teeth,
the goat’s skull is rapt, in mesmerised interest;
by the empty tilt of its skull
the skull is akin to the bottle,
both calcified down, like the skin of the wall
nothing is brittle. The bottle, half full or empty,
in the glass of its heart holds a vertical drill,
an ink-blotted pupil, the goat flame.
All things conform to these hinges and horns,
shards of a brain, the empty-headedness of the thing,
this animal sense of a skull, lit by a candle
in a bottle on a table otherwise dark:
still life where there is none at all.
Dominic James lives in SW England with his partner, Helen. He joins poetry meetings along the Thames Valley and is a member of Richmond's Bright Scarf group. His collection Pilgrim Station is available through SPM Publications and his blog has a hungry look at: http://djamespoetic.blogspot.com/
(for my uncle, Bahman Mohassess)
Your mouth was not always song.
It was the living room cracked open
into a tilted ravine,
where you flew and I sat
in the deep and nodded as needed
in our near conversations,
or it was the taxi cab or the museum, twisted
during one of our long visits
into a sudden maze irreparable,
when inspired by a naked sculpture,
you were reminded of the time Poseidon
punished Odysseus and I silently wondered
if they may both drop by
for cardamom tea and sweets in the afternoon
and how nice that would be.
With no points of reference, I created my own.
You planted no solicitous sign posts,
nor painted them pretty for a girl child.
I hung on your every word,
especially the Italian ones
and the French ones,
but you scattered no bread crumbs
for me to collect and arrive
safely at you.
When you soared over our ravine,
you cast no shade and I was old enough
to make you coffee,
old enough for you to buy me my first bra,
old enough to be beautiful,
but when you told me stories,
no, not bedtime stories, I was too old for that,
you omitted the determiners, the demonstrative pronouns
went missing and I rummaged
and rummaged through your words
but without them I could not fit your gorgeous
adjectives and adverbs into my jigsaw puzzle,
and they sat in my inept hands
like wasted opportunities to love.
I wanted to love Poseidon at the fountain,
and Picasso entertaining
the Parisians at Montparnasse.
I was too shy for hyperbole
but before we met
I had already memorized love
and the morning star.
Before we met,
I used to be enough, just a short while ago,
back home where everyone spoke my language
and allowed me to forget my name,
before we met to sit together
in your living room, live together
in museums, taxi cabs, hotel rooms
where fresh-cut flowers never died
and I prayed that no one would ask my name.
But I was in it for the long haul,
I ate at your splendid table,
and adorned it daily with a rose from your garden,
and over the years I memorized
the undulations of your love.
The often whip and the always caress of it
censored and modeled my becoming.
And I was to your liking.
Master sculptor, when you pressed upon me,
I fed you spoonfuls of silence,
the salve for the lacerations in your mouth.
Rooja Mohassessy is an Iranian-American living in California. She is currently pursuing an MFA in poetry at Pacific University.
Editor's note: Iranian Artist Bahman Mohasses was a prolific artist working in sculpture, assemblage, and painting, as well as theatre and literary translation. He studied, worked and lived between Italy and Iran. He is known as the "Persian Picasso" and is considered by many to be most prominent Iranian artist of the past century. Many of his works were destroyed by the Iranian authorities during the Islamic Revolution, and the artist later destroyed many works himself. Remaining works are rare and in high demand by collectors. The Iranian-American poet Rooja Mohassessy is his niece.
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