It wasn’t the sun, but a lily— rays of Madonna’s heart spread beyond the ocean—not
Pleiades grid, not a generic death—he, a dagger like waves, rows his boat through dawn’s
tunnel, red-war kerchief knotted to his throat, and surrender’s white rag: a tourniquet
strapped numb to his shin as king tide breaks seawall to clay.
He leans into the coordinates, north as longing.
I was thinking of you as a saviour, for in the battle you found yourself in the small space,
found yourself alone with the second ghost; others turned their backs, and your
companions were sometimes spirits.
Still, beneath the water’s wake, your spine mimics sandbar’s profile, undulations shallow whip,
you, who he buried-- I have to tell you something.
Home was your memory of his hands-- you’ve had and have-- and take hold of
his fingertips the shore against the water quivers. So, to be clear be clear. No signal. It is a
flame enough, a sheen seen low upon mayday’s horizon. Time as a seaweed mirror opens
and sways as it sways, dips a double knot deep through kelp, rolls back buried driftwood
flames. Maybe you never wanted to tell what two married bodies claimed.
There is the moment the sea better tells and of the hands you’ve held and held.
Maureen Alsop, PhD is the author of four collections of poetry: Apparition Wren, Mantic, Later Knives & Trees and Mirror Inside Coffin. Her poems have been published widely including AGNI, Kenyon Review, Blackbird, and other; she is the recipient of several poetry prizes including Harpur Palate's Milton Kessler Memorial Award,and the Frances Locke Memorial Award.
Woman by a Pool
I’m the Black Narcissus of your darkest dream,
Who you are in pleasure, the night you are inside,
The calm, slow stirring of a hand that’s not
Afraid of what is swimming there, not so still
As I am still, as you are, when I am near.
Exploding stars have darkened me to this
And all the world attends on me, and flowers.
I dream this waking dream for you and while
I burn and come to life and never end, you’ll
Live and never die this never hour we’re in.
Alan Clark is an artist and writer who lives in Maine, and whenever possible in Mexico. His books are Guerrero and Heart's Blood, set in pre-Conquest Mexico, and Where They Know, poems. He has shown his art in both countries. His poems have appeared in The Caribbean Writer, Little Star Journal, Adirondack Review, Zocalo Poets and more.
The Shepherd Boy
Dusk begins. A yawn of lavender rolls over the hills, washes up onto the fields.
I count ten minutes until the sun sinks at the horizon, twenty before the last light slips away.
My hand above my brow shields my eyes from a final burst of gold, streaky brush strokes that break the sky into stripes of hazy yellow and purple.
The canvas of my shirtsleeve scratches against my forehead as I lean in closer, try to see over the grassy peaks in the distance.
In the valleys I search for a promise of tomorrow’s sun, the early rise calling me from the mountains, a return to the field.
But for now, I wait.
Stand watch until I see the mobile shadows bobbing along the hills, their meander moving against the retreating light. A slow-paced race against time, so well-rehearsed I know the flock will win every time.
I continue to count the minutes passing.
Night falls. A blink into darkness.
Alex B. Wasalinko
Alex B. Wasalinko got hooked on the ekphrastic bug and followed it to Glasgow, Scotland where she spent a year exploring feminist styles of the mode. She firmly believes ekphrasis can be the tool to dismantle the male gaze once and for all. In the past, Alex’s art and poetry have been published in Esprit: The University of Scranton Review of Art and Letters and in friends’ zines. She currently lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania with her best friends and constant companions--her dog, Hamlet, and Elder Cat, Sasha.
At the Gate
I used to know
what kind of fence was here
and what it meant.
I used to know
what we claimed we owned,
where we marked our boundaries.
I used to know
whether I was inside looking out
or outside looking in.
I used to know
whether the pink light that licks the trees
came from the east or west.
I think it is evening
long after I left home
and disappeared into the forest.
Ed Gold is a Charleston, SC poet who has published a chapbook, Owl, and over seventy poems in various journals, including the Cimarron Review, Kansas Quarterly, and Rat's Ass Review. One of his favourite gigs today is running the Skylark Contest for the Poetry Society of South Carolina. He discovered ekphrastic writing in this artist's studio, where he wrote this poem.
Probably a cow staring back from a landscape field,
a lone magpie miniaturized beside a giant elm,
a shepherd’s crook scaling a wide hillside,
a red cape on the piazza, a dame feathered in finery.
Then the flocked sheep, the birds above the tower,
also the strollers, simple gestures on a flat strand.
And the lock-keeper, less finished than his lock,
laboring to hold back his whitecaps pressing in.
Blocked-in to scale, contrast, witness, to play out
a lesser tale, they hold firm for the small,
against the sky, mountain, seascape, archway,
lordly edifice that would easily upstage us all.
Ann Taylor is a Professor of English at Salem State University in Salem, Mass. where she teaches both literature and writing courses. She has written two books on college composition, academic and free-lance essays, and a collection of personal essays, Watching Birds: Reflections on the Wing. Her first poetry book, The River Within, won first prize in the 2011 Cathlamet Poetry competition at Ravenna Press. A chapbook, Bound Each to Each, was published in 2013. Her most recent collection, published in 2018, Héloïse and Abélard: the Exquisite Truth, is based on the famous twelfth-century
story of their lives.
“I can’t… ugh .. get … argh …” Caroline mutters as she struggles to extract her left foot from a bed of cast metal. Her deep-set eyes stare vacantly, across an expanse of grey concrete floor. At the far reaches of the room, floor to ceiling windows give out onto Chicago’s East Monroe Street, scorching in the midday sun. Caroline forgets; she is stuck. She drops her hands to her sides, allowing them to lightly brush her generous hips. Her small breasts spill outwards to touch her long, thin arms.
A child stops abruptly and points at Caroline.
“Mommy, how come she’s so skinny?” The child asks, looking up and back at her mother.
Caroline’s hips and breasts are attractively curved, but her long, slender limbs are all that others see of her body. Her arms and legs are so thin that people often wonder how it is that they don’t break.
The mother gently coaxes the little girl away to hide her own embarrassment. She doesn’t know how to answer her child.
The child reaches out a hand and touches Caroline’s lower leg. She traces a sticky finger down the length of Caroline’s limb, caressing the undulations made by someone else’s fingers: a man from the past has beaten and battered Caroline, marking her body with his obsessive yearnings. The child focuses intently on the cool tingle of Caroline’s leg under her own warm, damp skin. She discovers an indentation on Caroline’s leg and pokes, once, twice, and again, with a tiny finger.
Caroline senses a tickle on her leg, but cannot bend down and relieve the itch. She remains static, her tall figure emanating calmness as she stares at the distant world beyond the concrete floor.
“Mommy, what happened to her hair?” The child looks up to Caroline’s face with innocent curiosity. She stares at the elongated figure, mimicking Caroline’s empty gaze. It is as if she hopes to command the woman’s attention, to have her fascination returned.
Caroline doesn’t move. The deep hollows of her eyes remain stuck, like her foot in its iron bed. Her left ear is lower than her right, thanks to an accident with a girder years ago. Caroline had lain on her right side for the procedure that replaced a shredded ear left hanging by a thread. The man performing the operation had sacrificed symmetry for an ear that could hear. Caroline thinks it her most interesting characteristic and waits for the child to notice. But the mother is irritated by her daughter’s insistence, and becomes assertive: she takes the girl’s wrist and drags her across the concrete floor.
“Nooooo!” The child screams, as her red cardigan is yanked over her head by her embarrassed mother.
‘Well, that’s the end of today’s inquisition,’ Caroline muses as mother and child move on and silence returns.
The men in Caroline’s world are of the same delicate build. Their bodies are feather-like, so slight that they might be mistaken for twigs, daring a gust of wind to blow them away. The men do not have Caroline’s shapely hips and breasts; their humanness is caught in other ways. The men are always in forward motion; their long fragile legs advancing across the floor, bodies leaning forward slightly, in resolve. The men embrace their ability to walk where Caroline cannot.
“I can’t… ugh .. get … argh …ugh,” she moans as she tries again to step forward. Caroline forgets herself, and is pulled into the rhythm of the men’s stride, only to be reminded: "I am stuck."’
Caroline was born in 1947, as Europe’s darkest hour came to a close. Her conception marked the beginning of a new era; she emerged on a cusp of hope, abundance, and the anticipated expanse of days without war. Her ethereal body has always been slender, but not wasted. It represents the promise of peace, if not the abundance of the postwar generation. The men around her, however, are charged with action, agitation, and the need to press forward: they are bearers of the future. Caroline’s legs cannot move, it’s true, but her more generous critics recognize her hips as the expression of strength, and her breasts as the promised prosperity of European reconciliation.
Caroline has heard talk of anorexia nervosa over the years. The women who visit in pairs are compelled to discuss the size of her body. The male figures never attract such conversation; they may be stick thin, but they are always in motion.
“Oh, she’s very thin,” whispers a middle-aged woman as she approaches Caroline. The woman’s cork wedge sandals match her peroxide hair, white pant suit, pearls, and fuchsia nails. She vigorously waves a piece of paper to cool her face, her body not yet adjusted from the hot, dense August air outside.
“Do you think?” her companion questions. Unlike her friend, she wears jeans, sensible sandals, and hair casually pulled off her face.
“I can barely look at her.”
“She has such generous hips,” muses the friend.
“Yes, but look at her arms.”
“What’s wrong with her arms?”
“They are sticks.”
“Like yours,” the woman exposes her companion’s denial.
“Maybe. But it’s not right.”
“What do you mean, ‘not right?’”
“Something’s wrong with her.”
“She doesn’t look uncomfortable or unhappy to me. What do you think’s wrong with her?”
“How would I know? Anorexics are very good at hiding things. They have a distorted sense of reality.”
“How do you know?” The friend’s face shows her puzzlement.
“I just do.”
“How many anorexics do you know?”
“Come on, let’s go over here,” The woman in the white pant suit trembles, the perspiration on her face has dried, and she moves on.
Caroline feels no self-consciousness. She sees the woman’s self-obsession in the perfection of her outfit, and the nervous attempt to stop her makeup from running in the heat. Caroline is happy to see them go; their loud, mid-Western voices create discord in the air. Caroline is in possession of who she is; still day and night; watching, dignified, interested in life beyond her, not in the musings of others. Caroline finds such women to be insensitive, indifferent, and consumed by a misplaced passion for their own overwrought image.
Her own body represents poise and the ability to balance quietly for hours on end. Its size is not fashioned by illness; it is simply who she is.
During the day, Caroline watches the steps into the garden on the opposite side of the street. She looks forward to 3.30pm; the end of the school day. Children of all ages with their clothes in varying degrees of disarray emerge, throwing their backpacks on the ground, or using them as weaponry in struggles, both playful and serious. There is always a boy or two, sometimes a girl, smoking a cigarette, playing cool for the audience of classmates. Then, there are the loners, the boys and girls who stand at a distance, or sit on their bags, their heads in a book. The loners and the lovers, exploring each other’s secrets, are disinterested in the ruckus made by the cool kids a couple of yards away.
After five pm, the Art Institute students walk down East Monroe Street. Many also move in groups on their way to the lake. Like the school kids, some are alone, grooving to the music on gigantic headphones. Caroline spots the Art Institute students from a distance: they carry clumsily shaped portfolios, tubes, and big misshapen bags. They hold their heads high with pride and joy, their artistic creations under their arms.
A boy appears at the base of the steps. He stands in front of the school kids, but he is not one of them. Dark curls fall to his shoulders and over his face, he wears black pants, and an oversized hooded sweatshirt. He stands with his skateboard under the ball of his left foot. Caroline sees a tattoo on his hand as he raises it to take a drag on a cigarette. He is too young for cigarettes and tattoos, but he has them anyway.
"The boy is looking for love," Caroline thinks to herself. "He thinks that creating trouble will bring him attention." She has seen his type before.
Just then, her line of sight, and with it, her thoughts, are interrupted as a group of school children starts to huddle around her.
“Shhhh,” warns the teacher, as she juggles her bag and a pile of sketchbooks under her arm.
The girls continue to giggle and twitter, making a pleasant chirrup. The boys scuffle as they try to steal each other’s pencils, rulers, and erasers.
“Boys, calm down. You should all have your own pencils,” the teacher’s repeated command for silence is louder and more disruptive than the offenders themselves.
Caroline knows the habits of students and their teachers: the teacher doesn’t have as much control over the boys as she imagines.
Caroline finds school trips overwhelming; too many 13 year-olds in her space and she feels swallowed up by unacknowledged desires and unchecked emotions. The group settles; each child takes out a sketch pad and begins to create with varying degrees of concentration.
The already fragile silence shatters violently. From nowhere, the odd-boy-out from the street strides across the cement floor, his skateboard under his arm.
A chill sweeps through Caroline’s body. "I will not survive this," she thinks as panic sets in, and she fears for her existence. The boy is heading towards her.
The children encircling her jump up, and disperse like marbles to the safety of the room’s extremities.
The sound of his footstep gets louder, and as if to disappear from the approach of certain violation, Caroline freezes. She instinctively removes herself from her delicate body; turns off her emotions and shuts down her thoughts. She is numb.
The boy picks up his step, and in a single movement, as if through the pull against gravity, strides onto her plinth and cups his tattooed hand under Caroline’s right breast. The caress of his taut young skin might be tender if it weren’t for the violation of his touch. He slams the skateboard to the floor, and raises his arms in celebration of a dare accomplished.
The school children applaud the desecration, and their smiles break the tension in the room. They instinctively begin to cheer the boy; his rebellion enflames their adolescent spirits.
“What do you think you are doing?” The teacher places her body as a barrier between the children and the skirmish; her voice seething with anger, and her face reddening. “Do you not understand what this is?”
The children immediately fall silent. Their faces return to stone, and they bury their heads in their sketchbooks.
A security guard and three attendants saunter in to see what the noise is about.
It’s too late. Caroline has been vandalized, humiliated, and tainted by the shame of the vandal. She can do nothing about it. She is stuck.
The men around Caroline, in motion, will remain forever unaware of what it feels like to hold in their stomachs the shame of an act committed against them. No one has ever dared to interfere with their body parts. The men in Caroline’s world are not mistaken for waiting; they are in motion, they do not stand still, and they have no breasts and hips to seduce their onlookers, unintentionally.
By night, Caroline watches the audience pouring out of the Symphony Centre opposite. The women wear diamonds and clutch purses under their arms. The men are clean shaven and well dressed; they hail a taxi or hold open the door of a limousine. The couples walk together, arm in arm, or not touching at all. She wonders if the women, like her, have secrets that dissolve into the spaces between them and their men.
Frances Guerin is a writer and professor of film, art history and visual culture at the University of Kent. She have published widely on art and visual culture, including books, essays, articles and short stories. She lives in Paris, France.
Ekphrastic Writing Challenge
Join us for biweekly ekphrastic writing challenges. See why so many writers are hooked on ekphrastic! We feature some of the most accomplished influential poets writing today, and we also welcome emerging or first time writers and those who simply want to experience art in a deeper way or try something creative.
Thank you to everyone who participated in our last writing challenge featuring the work of Joan Miro, which ends today at midnight. Accepted responses for the Miro challenge will be published on June 21, 2019.
The prompt this time is Equipoise, by Teresa Vito. Deadline is June 28, 2019.
We welcome Kyle Laws as guest editor for this challenge. Thank you so much to Kyle for taking on the challenge of the challenge! Kyle has been a frequent contributor to The Ekphrastic Review and has regularly taken part in the ekphrastic writing prompt challenges.
Note From Kyle Laws, Guest Editor
Welcome to the Ekphrastic Challenge! We have a painting by Teresa Vito, Equipoise, for your response. The artist lives in Pueblo, CO, a town on the Arkansas and Fountains Rivers that was once the border with Mexico. It had the largest steel mill west of the Mississippi in its heyday. And it still produces steel. There is a bit of grit in the art. Artists and poets thrive. Teresa Vito found her way to Pueblo for some of the same reasons I did—an industrial landscape that was familiar to someone growing up on the East Coast paired with stunning desert and mountain views.
When I participate in an Ekphrastic Challenge, a work of art often produces a story in my head when I look at it, but that doesn’t mean I only like narratives. I love experimental work too. Say something I may not have heard before. Or say it in a way I haven’t seen on the page before. Or say what it means to you. Just say…because I want to hear from you.
1. Use this visual art prompt as a springboard for your writing. It can be a poem or short prose (fiction or nonfiction.) You can research the artwork or artist and use your discoveries to fuel your writing, or you can let the image alone provoke your imagination.
2. Write as many poems and stories as you like. Send only your best works or final draft, not everything. Please copy and paste your submission into the body of the email, even if you include an attachment such as Word or PDF.
3. Have fun.
4. USE THIS EMAIL ONLY.
Send your work to email@example.com. Challenge submissions sent to the other inboxes will most likely be lost as those are read in chronological order of receipt, weeks or longer behind, and are not seen at all by guest editors. They will be discarded. Sorry.
5.Include TERESA VITO WRITING CHALLENGE in the subject line in all caps please.
6. Include your name and a brief bio. If you do not include your bio, it will not be included with your work, if accepted. Even if you have already written for The Ekphrastic Review or submitted other works and your bio is "on file" you must include it in your challenge submission. Do not send it after acceptance or later; it will not be added to your poem. Guest editors may not be familiar with your bio or have access to archives. We are sorry about these technicalities, but have found that following up, requesting, adding, and changing later takes too much time and is very confusing.
7. Late submissions will be discarded. Sorry.
8. Deadline is midnight, June 28, 2019.
9. Please do not send revisions, corrections, or changes to your poetry or your biography after the fact. If it's not ready yet, hang on to it until it is.
10. Selected submissions will be published together, with the prompt, one week after the deadline.
11. Rinse and repeat with upcoming ekphrastic writing challenges!
Many thanks to Kyle Laws, and to all of our guest editors who have been taking the helm for some of the challenges. We look forward to working with Janette Schafer next time.
Once, my son, these plains were swaying with golden wheat, blue hues would appear after seasonal rains as a prayer for harvest. Now the horizon has become deeply dyed in laundry blue, the day seems steeped in vivid aquamarine, as though the sea had decided to look upon us from above. Across the valley stands the first couple, head bent from time immemorial, a petrified proof of what mankind was able to achieve. Since then no drops of water have fallen, no seed has unfolded its wings, there are no longer workers bent in the fields, only these remnants of a past when we could eat from our sweat. Now we rely on words unsaid, stilled by colours, only allowed to move when lights are out, condemned to observe the barrenness around us.
Come, son, we shall circle the human ruins, hand in hand, rest under the coolness of their elongated shadow: we can enter the arched doors and climb the inner stairs to enjoy the breathtaking view from the man’s hollow heart and the woman’s generous thighs, even reach higher into the curve of her hands held like a vessel gathering dew for the birds that nest in the fissures of the stones. See my son, only now can we move freely about the canvas. Let’s follow that fragile light filtered through the cerulean canopy; see how it leads the way to the inviting doors? Let’s hurry before life resumes in the hallways and someone notices our absence.
This poem was first published by Connotation Press. It also appeared in the author's book, Under Brushstrokes (Press 53).
Hedy Habra has authored three poetry collections, most recently, The Taste of the Earth (Press 53 2019). Tea in Heliopolis won the USA Best Book Award and was finalist for the International Book Award, and Under Brushstrokes was finalist for the USA Best Book Award and the International Book Award. Her story collection, Flying Carpets, won the Arab American Book Award’s Honorable Mention and was finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. A fourteen-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, her work appears in Cimarron Review, Bitter Oleander, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Drunken Boat, Gargoyle, Nimrod, Poet Lore, and Verse Daily. Her website is hedyhabra.com
Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Some of his work found a home here at The Ekphrastic Review and in other online and print publications such as Burning House Press, Visual Verse, CarpeArte Journal, and Califragile. His poetry has also been translated in Vietnamese and Farsi. To see more of his work go to: https://jordantretheweywriter.wordpress.com
Marcel Herms is a self-taught artist, working in the Netherlands. "My work is about freedom in the first place. There’s a strong link with music. Just like music my art is about autonomy, licentiousness, passion, colour and rhythm."
Another Day in Escher’s Apartment Complex
She leans over the balcony railing. Behind her, a balustrade veers, narrowly missing the side of her head. Up and down staircases faceless figures walk. Or do they crawl, or do they fly? Her retina squints and stops inverting images. Or, it re-orients them by 45, 90, 135 degrees.
At the edges, archways offer glimpses of natural light falling on plant life. But the tranquil scenes twist, always, out of reach. Tree shadows writhe like octopuses, potted sunflowers angle towards compass points which rotate as soon as she’s worked them out.
She accepted the monochrome grid, years ago. Let herself dwindle to the non-specificity of a crash test dummy or a burglar in a body stocking. Her hairless head a grooved honey dipper. Should she also acquiesce in this perspectival fracturing?
No choice, she thinks.
Perhaps all the planes cohere in a higher dimension. Perhaps this is a distorted projection of quasicrystalline point space from an eight-dimensional crystal. Perhaps that’s as pathetically optimistic as belief in the tooth fairy.
And anyway, it didn’t used to be like this.
She has memories of honeyed sun drizzling her sleep-drenched hair. Of clear-sightedness coming every morning in a room where the walls grew at comforting angles. Windows and doors giving on to gardens where wind scuffled leaves, and leaves caressed wind, in a way her cells intuited.
People are in the memories, too. If she saw Mother framed in a doorway, she could run to her. Mother’s reaching hand could touch her cheek. Her arms could wrap Mother’s legs, her heart jolt Mother’s kneecaps.
She veers into space, pleading for human touch. Quickly reduces her angle of incidence. If she pitched off the balcony, where would the baffled forces of gravity pull her?
Her intentions spinning, she lets go of the railing. She’s watched the walkers, floaters and fliers long enough, she thinks. It’s time to brave the vortex.
Turning and turning in the narrowing gyre.
Faye Brinsmead lives in Canberra, Australia. A lawyer by day, she writes short fiction in all the snippets of time she can find. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in MoonPark Review, The Cabinet of Heed, Reflex Fiction and Twist in Time Literary Magazine. Say hello on Twitter @theslithytoves.
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