The Smile Unbroken She Awaits
So softly brown they're cast, her eyes,
forever turned to fantasize
the smile unbroken she awaits,
imagined, yet that radiates
beguiling warmth of ashen glow
from ember seeking breath below
to gently raise the flickered light
of self-assurance taking flight
to show the world by shimmered gleam
the dance of faith's enhancing dream
that beauty be forevermore
the flame by which we see and soar
through darkness we no longer fear
to simple joys that we endear.
The Art of Speculation
Inquiring minds could well suspect
the "Isleworth" portrait might reflect
not copy that had been inspired
but inspiration so admired
that it became indeed the source
for work of far more epic course
by master who became engaged
with subject he envisioned aged
whose beauty, softer as mature,
more haunting still by stare demure,
could speak to femininity
as consummate sanguinity
that looms as strength behind the guile
of modestly unbroken smile.
Portly Bard: Old man.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
Dear Andrew Wyeth
I question the colour of your sky
and yet I know it well
– opaque, fading, on the wing…
Your subjects place their eyes
Helga looks to the floor
or out the window, Christina turns her back to us,
Betsy casts her private thoughts to the wall,
and neighbours observe the dirt.
Even the white slate
of lime banks appear removed.
The dory man adrift in his dreams.
The fire nearly out. The dog half-asleep.
Tina Schumann is the pushcart nominated author of three poetry collections: As If, winner of the Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize, Requiem. A Patrimony of Fugues, winner of the Diode Editions Chapbook competition, and Praising the Paradox (Red Hen Press, 2019). She is editor of the IPPY award-winning anthology Two-Countries: U.S. Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents. Her poems have appeared widely since 1999, including Ascent, Cimarron Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Nimrod, Parabola, Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac.
Please consider some love for The Ekphrastic Review this holiday season.
It takes an extraordinary amount of time to read through submissions, post accepted ekphrastic works, respond to queries, promote, seek permissions, and manage the challenges.
We do not want to charge submission fees! Please share some voluntary love with a gift for your favourite journal.
You might not think $5 will be noticed. It will- we very rarely receive gifts!
Small or more, it means so much to us.
We are most grateful for those who have helped us- YOU have helped nourish this amazing project.
Click here to show your love. It's easy with PayPal, or contact us if you want to arrange an alternative way.
You could sign up for our Book Shelf as well. This greatly benefits us and writers in return. You can list an ekphrastic book or a book by a contributor to the journal for $25 a year. Click here to add a book to our shelves, or buy one from one of our writers!
Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
You’re ashes of angels, whispers of light,
heavenly shine drenched in night,
you rise from the shadows like fire,
as if galaxy, nebula, star, you wander
Noe Valley with purpose, heart’s blade
your compass not scar, divining your path
with alignment, divination sparks hazel
wood’s glow, like prophet you carry
love’s calling, gathering dawn as you go,
radiance brightens ‘round corner, at long
last renewal is found, displaced nor broken
no longer, reunited with kingdom and crown.
Jeannie E. Roberts
Jeannie E. Roberts has authored six books, including The Wingspan of Things (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), Romp and Ceremony (Finishing Line Press, 2017), Beyond Bulrush (Lit Fest Press, 2015), and Nature of it All (Finishing Line Press, 2013). She is also author and illustrator of Rhyme the Roost! A Collection of Poems and Paintings for Children (Daffydowndilly Press, an imprint of Kelsay Books, 2019) and Let's Make Faces! (author-published, 2009). Her work appears in print and online in North American and international journals and anthologies. She is poetry editor of the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs. When she’s not reading, writing, or editing, you can find her drawing and painting, or outdoors photographing her natural surroundings.
The Crossroad at Noe Valley
but no one
This used to be a four-way intersection
in the shape of a crucifix but one side
of the road has fallen down the hill.
Keep to the right
avoid the road that goes onto the sidewalk and into
the house on the left. Don’t go in there;
there’s a bloodstain in the sky right above the place.
Pay no attention to the ghost of a man standing under
the red light pulsing from that woman’s window,
he’s not an apparition, but made of flesh and blood,
like a Jehovah’s Witness who’s fishing for the broken,
the widowed and the sheep.
He’s no Moses, that man is a wolf. He can smell it on you.
He craves attention. If you give him some you will find him
hanging around your front door. If you lived around here
you’d learn to look right through him as if he wasn’t there,
and soon enough, he isn’t.
Daniel McGinn is a native of Southern California in the United States. His work has been published in Cadence Collective, Lummox, Talus & Scree, Spillway and The OC Weekly along with numerous other magazines and anthologies. Daniel received his MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts at the age of 61, and his most recent collection of poems, The Moon, My Lover, My Mother & The Dog, was published by Moon Tide Press in 2018.
I Am Walking
The moon’s majestic hand paints
the sidewalk like a white scarf.
The row house wood
barricades the Pacific breeze
as cool as a ghost, smooth like stone
by the bay. I walk past the darkened
Worthington’s drug store,
past each building on a street
that murmurs until someone plays
a trombone like a mad elephant.
I had marinated at a bar after working
at the Noe Theater. What is left
is this walk to my clean home,
but I’m as tired as a can of dripping paint.
The neon red is as luminous as sin.
Red is to blue as shade is
to the next bright window.
My bluish shoes remain as strong as an ox.
I imagine my wife staying up late
wrapped around by candlelight,
reading a book until our baby cries.
I imagine this long day
then a little calmness like a lullaby.
John Milkereit is a mechanical engineer working at an engineering contracting firm in Houston, TX. His poems have appeared in various literary journals including The Ekphrastic Review, San Pedro River Review, and The Ocotillo Review. He completed a M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, WA in 2016. His most recent collection of poems, Drive the World in a Taxicab, was published by Lamar University Press.
People live here
where there’s no point
in looking for what’s lost
under street lamps,
where light pools
People live here
no memory of clamor,
shouts, sirens, weeds
cracking the pavement.
People live here, glide
weightless through the dark,
ghosts of themselves.
They do not dream
but sleep like the dead,
who have no future.
People live here,
but the streets
don’t go anywhere.
Antonia Clark, a medical writer and editor, has also taught poetry and fiction writing and is co-administrator of an online poetry forum, The Waters. She is the author of a poetry chapbook, Smoke and Mirrors, a full-length poetry collection, Chameleon Moon, and the forthcoming collection, Dance Craze. Her poems and short stories have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including 2River View, Cortland Review, Eclectica, Innisfree Poetry Journal, The Pedestal Magazine, and Rattle. Toni lives in Vermont, loves French picnics, and plays French café music on a sparkly purple accordion.
What the Lonely Do
Your wallet is not lost.
It is in my closet.
The cash it once held
hides beneath the Levis
in your dresser.
You will find it eventually.
I counted $180:
five-$20 and eight-$10 bills.
Your license is in the palm of my hand,
pressed between my legs,
cupped around my sex.
Your credit cards are spread over
the cool cotton of my sheet.
As I take my rest the plastic cards
dig into my tender flesh
and imprint my torso
with your embossed name,
a name I will never bear.
Janette Schafer is a freelance writer, nature photographer, part-time rocker and full-time banker living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her writing and photographs have appeared in numerous publications. She is an MFA student in Creative Writing at Chatham University.
Dawn Between Nights
Oh the poets, painters and dreamers that wander streets before dawn
I was one
Clackety-clack went the electric typewriter
All night as I typed a story called Wake
About the drunk girl I had been
Clackety-clack while feeding on Golden Apples at my side
Not the real kind but small wrapped multi-coloured candies
The pile of cellophane grew and
I began to feel the chill of early morning even as
The drone of voices wrested from my typing rhythms
Dimmed and I thought
I too should join the fresh centrifugal quiet so
I flew down the stairs of our
Second story apartment that overlooked the Saugatuck River
Spilling myself across the bridge into Westport
Gulls blared by hello
Westport then a child’s dream
A place for people not yet grown
At 20, barely visible even to myself I was
An amoeba of experiences
Tethered vaguely to the night
Which fell away as I approached the town
Still in the dream world of my words
These words now birthed that sealed me to the sun and its agenda
Its light glinting off windows
The walls of brick and concrete buildings
The very pavement I walked
Pulling me out of shadows
Into the summer dawn.
Arya F. Jenkins
Arya F. Jenkins is a Colombian-American poet and writer whose fiction has been published in journals and zines such as About Place Journal, Across the Margins, Anti-Heroin Chic, Black Scat Review, Cleaver Magazine, The Feminist Wire, Five on the Fifth, Fictional Café, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Matador Review, Metafore Literary Magazine, Mojave Literary Review, Vol. 1 Sunday Stories Series, and Provincetown Arts Magazine. Poetry is forthcoming in POETiCA REViEW, and fiction in Eunoia Review. Her fiction has received several nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Her poetry has also been nominated for the Pushcart. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks; the third, LOVE & POISON, was published by Prolific Press in November 2019. Her short story collection BLUE SONGS IN AN OPEN KEY (Fomite, 2018) is here: www.aryafjenkins.com.
on matthew rackham barnes’ painting noe valley
the streets and sidewalk flood with light
a figure stands like silence
grave and almost pale
sky cloud blue . . .
a hush i can almost breathe
as if i too were standing
grave and almost pale
against the dark
built brick by brick
with a door ajar
Sister Lou Ella Hickman
Sister Lou Ella is a former teacher and librarian. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines such as America, First Things, Emmanuel, Third Wednesday, and new verse news as well as in four anthologies: The Night’s Magician: Poems about the Moon, edited by Philip Kolin and Sue Brannan Walker, Down to the Dark River edited by Philip Kolin, Secrets edited by Sue Brannan Walker and After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events edited by Tom Lombardo. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2017. Her first book of poetry entitled she: robed and wordless was published in 2015. (Press 53.)
The paved streets of Noe Valley
have nothing to do with the fields of heather
but in colour, Scotland is present in San Francisco.
The eerie buildings of Noe Valley
have nothing to do with the high and the steep faces of rock
– the cliffs –
of the Scottish landscape,
but in colour, Scotland is present in San Francisco.
The lonely first-floor window of the building on
the paved street of Noe Valley
is not there for the ghost of the Scottish lady of the famous novel
but in colour, Scotland is present in San Francisco.
Paula Puolakka (1982) is a Beat poet, writer, and MA (History of Science and Ideas.) She has landed first and second in the poetry and short story contests and challenges held in the USA, Israel, and South Africa. She has also been awarded in a few essay contests held in Finland. Her latest work can be found through, for example, The Reader/Author Connection (May Issue #5 & November/December Issue #8), Woody Guthrie Poets (the "Speak Your Mind" poetry contest anthology,) Arts Quarter Books, Jerry Jazz Musician (Fall 2019 poetry edition,) and The Voices Project.
The budding night
Streaks light blue
Across the sky
Over the empty
The day’s light
Fading into memory
Creeps toward the edge
Our deepest fears
On our way
John Drudge is from Caledon, Ontario, Canada. He is a social worker working in the field of disability management and holds degrees in social work, rehabilitation services, and psychology. John is the author of one book of poetry (published in 2019), and has appeared in the Arlington Literary Journal, The Rye Whiskey Review, Poetica Review, Literary Yard, Drinkers Only, The Alien Buddha Press, Montreal Writes, Mad Swirl, Avocet, Sparks of Caliope, Harbinger Asylum, and the Adelaide Literary Magazine. John is a Pushcart Prize nominee and his Book “March” is available in Independent Book Stores across Canada and on Amazon.com
I Will Remove You From My Imaginings
You cling to my mind's tongue
like a coating of your favorite whiskey.
My spirit seeks spirit, holds a seance,
conjures at the crystal ball.
My breath, aligned with yours,
catches as you materialize again
outside the shadowed door.
I make a half-hearted attempt
to shoo your ghost away.
Stay a little longer, I pray,
as the houses look on, bored.
You linger in the doorway.
I snort your laughter like cocaine,
brain craving so much more.
You're so close I can almost grasp
the instant the accident occurred.
The split second
your will spurred your body
to put an end to itself, its last gasp
before you entered the final fray.
Betsy Mars is an LA-based poet, educator, photographer, and newly fledged publisher. Her first release, Unsheathed: 24 Contemporary Poets Take Up the Knife (Kingly Street Press) came out in October, 2019. She is a travel and animal enthusiast, a lover of language, art, and a believer in humanity. Her work has appeared online in numerous publications, as well as in a variety of anthologies and the California Quarterly. Her chapbook, Alinea (Picture Show Press), was published in January, 2019. Both books are available on Amazon or through the author who can be reached at email@example.com.
Like a wraith, the dopplegänger skulks
the darkling streets of Noe Valley,
sunny California given over to shadows
and sleep. Along the murky road,
buildings watch—their windows fearful,
doorways frightened mouths. The artist
haunts his own painting. Lurking beneath
the surface, veiled secrets, the dour crofts
and gloomy moors of his native Scotland,
where Selkies shifted shape to seduce
the unsatisfied, and Kelpies beckoned
the unsuspecting to jump on their backs
and ride to a watery death. A dark surrealism
unsettles the macabre landscape,
San Francisco’s own dismal corner,
site of quarries and blasting greed that
unhoused the poor. Where the black-hearted
brothers Gray were as feared
as Scottish apparitions. Where now
a lonely spectre keeps nocturnal vigil.
Sandi Stromberg’s poem, “The Pianist’s Gift,” just appeared in the ENOUGH anthology, the publication from a nation-wide competition run by Houston’s Public Poetry. It was a finalist among more than 600 entries from around the world. Meanwhile, challenges from The Ekphrastic Review keep her enthralled, connecting words and art.
Noe Valley Apparition
Had the haunting been a little less literal
humanity a little more embodied
not to say carnal
Hopper might have approved.
As it is, only the road sweats
the windows shiver
the hazed sky hung in perpetual fugue
and that lone
forever half way home
cold and hesitant
Twin Peaks and Siberia
is really no one
you’ve ever met
or could face
not on this sidewalk
not in this district
in the realm
of all others.
Alan Girling writes poetry mainly, sometimes fiction, non-fiction, or plays. His work has been seen in print, heard on the radio, at live readings, even viewed in shop windows. Such venues
include Blynkt, Panoply, Hobart, The MacGuffin, Smokelong Quarterly, FreeFall, Galleon, Blue Skies, The Ekphrastic Review and CBC Radio among others. He is happy to have had poems win or place in four local poetry contests and to have a play produced for the Walking Fish Festival in Vancouver, B.C.
Red light draws a lonely man:
bee to petal,
sticky stamen inside.
seduces with beauty
the scent is a lure -
This is a trick, he’s been trapped,
on nectar, he is suddenly
He leaves through the door
with a part of of him
left, duped and sputtering
in the stinking room. Outside,
dusk light draws a lonely man,
to the bright lit window of home.
Barney Harper is a London based poet and essayist. She was shortlisted for the Hysteria Writing Prize and has had various pieces published in books, magazines and the web (sometimes under different names). She has a thing about haiku and she really, really likes cheese.
beneath a gibbous moon
of the apartment, the dripping
faucet, her cackles,
outside, on the empty street,
I taste the cold wind,
kick a stone,
search the night sky,
listen to the howl of something wild
Maureen Virchau lives in Western New York with her husband and son. Her haiku have appeared in Acorn, Frogpond, Bones, A Hundred Gourds, tinywords, Prune Juice, and Frameless Sky. Her work is included in The Red Moon Press Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2014.
Only The Lonely Know The Way I Feel Tonite
when I walk Noe Valley neighborhood
late at nite
moon squinting through clouds
street lamps still glowing
occasional shop front lit
with nobody round me
no jalopy on these streets
distant howls from a hound
subtle aroma wafting from
a bagel bakery I frequent
while I mourn my Kilmarnock
(though I was young then)
not for industrial grime
nor the poverty
nor inclement weather there
we didn’t have no earthquakes
we didn’t have no Golden Gate
we didn’t have no mobsters
apart from in books
yet my heart’s still back home
as I meander, the aimless
dreamer of notoriety
while plastering for bread
and I talk to myself, endlessly
bout going round in circles
bout what’s round that next corner
what will morning bring
searching for street signs
I look out for landmarks
I raise my nostrils to the air
to sense my direction
back to myself and beyond
as I peer up at bedroom windows
light beaming through curtains
shadows dancing in pyjamas
with life passing me by
unless I grab it by the throat
for as I catch my breath, I cry
but nobody can hear me
nobody can see me
perhaps they don’t want to
I guess they don’t care
Born in Scotland of Irish lineage, Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse achieving success in poetry competitions in Europe and North America. His poems have featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He is particularly inspired by ekphrastic challenges. In September 2019, he was the featured writer for the Federation of Writers Scotland.
Sleepwalking in the Early Hours
The soft splendor of the night sky
Envelopes would-be ghosts in cloaks of velvet
As they pass through past dreams,
Opalescent as the coming dawn.
Too quiet for lonely shadows,
Streets are swept with light,
Like so many slivers of moon,
From windows of the sleepless
Fading in somnambulant strokes upon the canvas,
Traces of ink on the page, erased.
No stars to brighten this curtain;
Obscure, like the edges of a photograph
The camera couldn’t see.
Soon, the warm, hazy haloes rippling across the roads,
Like stones skipped on a pond,
Luminescing the glacial blue tones, the hues of snow,
Will evaporate with the coming dawn,
Once the nighthawks have gone home,
And the streetlights lose their glow,
Leaving nowhere else
All the valleys of language
In the absence of volleys of words.
The roof’s edges, jeweled with the dim reflections of clouds,
Like dream-dusted eyes,
In the clustered houses, yawning wide-eyed
Beside each other for warmth
There’s a gentle, reticent bond
Outside of Hopper’s solitude
Here in Noe Valley.
Kathryn Sadakierski is both a creative writer and artist whose publications are forthcoming in Teachers of Vision Magazine, Dime Show Review, Truth Serum Press' anthology Indigomania, and in a Zimbell House Publishing anthology. Her poem "Luminesce" was recently featured on the Bangor Literary Journal website as a top ten winner of the Halloween 2019 Ekphrastic Challenge. She graduated from Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Massachusetts summa cum laude with her Bachelor of Arts degree, and is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree.
Ghost Town, Population: 1
Haven’t seen another soul
in six months. Does that make
me a ghost? Do ghosts know
they are ghosts?
Don’t see any cars either.
It’s impossible to get a cab –
but I can’t really complain.
Some of us prefer our own
The neighbourhood suits me –
cheap rent, peaceful. Perfect
for a writer, though living here
does kind of mess with my head.
Am I dreaming?
That would explain the half-baked
reality: lights, but no street signs,
no sounds, not even wind or rain.
Maybe heaven and hell
are the same place.
Alarie Tennille graduated from the University of Virginia in the first class admitting women. She’s now lived more than half her life in Kansas City, where she serves on the Emeritus Board of The Writers Place. Her latest poetry book, Waking on the Moon, contains many poems first published by The Ekphrastic Review. Please visit her at alariepoet.com.
Once night falls
an unreliable reporter,
sharp edges smoothen,
faces present as non-descript;
my useless orbs
at every periphery.
I am no longer
one they can count on,
my night testimony−
as a leaky condom.
But even night blindness
possesses its own
unframed pastel allure,
unveiling a bewitching landscape
and the soothing tiptoe
of innocuous ghostly figures.
Elaine Sorrentino is Communications Director at South Shore Conservatory in Hingham, MA, where she creates promotional and first-person content for press and for a blog called SSC Musings. Facilitator of the Duxbury Poetry Circle, she has been published in Minerva Rising, Willawaw Journal, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Writers’ Magazine, The Writers Newsletter, Haiku Universe, and Failed Haiku. She is a past winner of Wilda Morris’s Poetry Challenge.
To Matthew Rackham Barnes Regarding Noe Valley
So full you fill an urban night
with silence overwhelming light
as echoed truth of fearful stare
at all that is...and is not...there
so softened into muted shape
that eye, transfixed, cannot escape
the gleam and glint of sills and eaves,
or shadowed limbs that want for leaves,
or pane of incandescent room
so mocking day that might not loom
for those afoul of reddish glow --
the bane, perhaps, of what below,
translucent, still is image cast
by light of moon as it has passed
through wraith that seems reality
BIO: Old man.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
Noe Valley Triolet
Who is the ghost now walking past your door?
You’ve left the light on for him, red as blood.
What does one do with ghosts at half past four?
Where does he keep the key that fits your door?
And when he leaves, are you still wanting more?
It’s hard to think a ghost could be a stud
though he strides full of vigor to your door
attracted by your love light, red as blood.
Greta Bolger is a writer and artist who loves living in Benzie County, Michigan.. Her work has been published in several online and print journals, including Eclectica, The Ekphrastic Review, The Mom Egg, The Poetry Juice Box,The Literary Bohemian, typishly, and others, and recently anthologized in After: Stories About Loss and What Comes Next, edited by Daniel Stewart and Melissa Fournier.
liquid sunlight spills down streets and ‘round corners
reflecting off windows still closed against the night
autumn’s creeping in like cats in alleys
peering in through drowsing curtains
no more blind than Homer or Ray Charles
hearing heartache and blues
in the innocence of empty streets
Mark A. Fisher
Mark A. Fisher is a writer, poet, and playwright living in Tehachapi, CA. His poetry has appeared in: Angel City Review, A Sharp Piece of Awesome, Altadena Poetry Review, Penumbra, Turnip Truck(s), and many other places. His first chapbook, drifter, is available from Amazon. His second, hour of lead, won the 2017 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Chapbook Contest. His plays have appeared on California stages in Pine Mountain Club, Tehachapi, Bakersfield, and Hayward.
Firefly in the Doorway
You entered, a small fireball of fury
limbs crumpled beneath supple skin,
fists and vocals demanding freedom.
Destined to shine you cut a path
through city cubes, manoeuvring curves
like a diamond, your energy priceless.
I think of you as an iridescent moon
softly pulling the blue from the mournful,
your reflection skating off glass kerbs
illuminating the sky with speckled hope,
the flicker-flack of firefly, your aura
confident as a spark in the darkness
unwrapping despair from the jumbled hitch
and fold of this creased-up world,
dazzling in the shade of a doorway.
Kate Young lives in Kent with her husband and has been passionate about poetry and literature since childhood. Over the last few years she has returned to writing and has had success with poems published in webzines in Britain and internationally. She is a regular reader of Ekphrastic Review and her work has appeared in response to some of the challenges. Kate is now busy editing her work and setting up her website.
Illuminated by Loneliness
I do not fear to stroll
empty streets at dusk.
Illuminated by loneliness,
a magnet for melancholy--
gasping mouths of doors;
surprised, window eyes
witnessing these insomniac steps
toward the red light beacon on brick.
I cross the threshold tongue.
It emits a welcome noise
without precision of name.
Drink me, reads the poison.
sorrow does not diminish,
Bleary-eyed, I re-read
try, try again.
Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. His new, frightening book of verse, Spirits for Sale, is now available on Amazon from Pskis Porch Publishing. Some of his work found a home here, and in other online and print publications such as Burning House Press, Visual Verse, CarpeArte Journal, Fishbowl Press, and is forthcoming in The Blue Nib. His poetry has also been translated in Vietnamese and Farsi. Jordan is an editor at https://openartsforum.com. To see more of his work go to: https://jordantretheweywriter.wordpress.com.
I Am Cornered
By the ruthless geometry
of these nightmare streets
where I am always
too small to win
too slow to get away-
where the buildings stare
from empty eyes
and the maws of their doors
ache to swallow-
where nothing breathes
not even an insect
or a blade of grass -
where no one sees
the white ghost
chase me down
into the lowest cellar-
where all moves on
to its dark conclusion-
where I cower and beg
on his need-
where no one knows
and no one sees
but the furnace
grinning at me
through a burning grate
while all those empty houses
open their mouths
Mary McCarthy is a writer and former Registered Nurse whose work has appeared in many print and electronic journals, and who loves ekphrastic. Her electronic chapbook, “Things I Was Told Not to Think About,” is available as a free download from Praxis Magazine.
A One-Act Play
He takes his evening walk through the bleakness of their nearly abandoned neighborhood. There is no moon, no stars; the streets, bare of any lights, are naked of nature-neither grass nor mud nor twigs grace the ground. There are no sounds, no car engines nor dogs barking. There is neither a train whistle nor people chattering in the streets. Men and women have scattered back inside, feeling vulnerable in the dark openness, needing to be enclosed in the safety of their rooms, abundant with artificial light. As he lingers alone past the many buildings on his street, he pauses by windows not yet closed with curtains for the night, and observes the men and women within, busy with some task at hand. Like its occupants, the structures are older, yet able to withstand uncontrollable forces.
He knows them all well, having lived in this neighborhood for many years. Unseen as he walks in the darkness, only his footfall hints he is even there, he recalls the hardships yet perseverance in their lives. It’s like peeking inside their minds, unaware that they are being observed. He admires them for overcoming their hardships, yet sympathizes with their lives of solitude. The indoor light illuminates each person as if he or she is on stage, doused in a fleeting spotlight, and he is the sole audience member for this one- act play. He watches a momentary scene unfold for each, but like the omniscient narrator, knows the backstory of every occupant. He pauses briefly at their apartment windows.
Building 1—In the corner apartment, the old woman is rocking back and forth in her afghan covered chair, talking to her mechanical parrot, Ike, named after her real parrot that died a few years ago. Once of average height, Eleanor wears a full body apron over her size 16 floral dresses. Crippled with arthritis, she takes a sip of RC Cola along with a handful of aspirin which gets her through the daily and nightly pain. She rocks to meditate, to breathe, to slow down the aches in her bones. A widow for four decades, she has long abandoned driving and takes to the streets, walking to church ,the grocery store, and the fast food restaurant where she loves their hamburgers and fries. She picks up her rosary beads, always within reach of her rocking chair, and begins to pray.
To the right of Eleanor sits a man in a green and white lawn chair admiring the night sky, smoking his unfiltered Camel cigarettes. Peter, tall and quiet, wears a straw hat and glasses which frame his jowl heavy, nose heavy face. His cane is resting against his wooden leg, the real one amputated in a train accident. As a younger man he was an alcoholic. His children would barricade themselves in a room, pushing a heavy dresser in front of the door so he couldn’t come after them. His brother too was an alcoholic and would end up in jail for public drunkenness. He takes a sip of his ginger ale between puffs of his Camels.
Next to Peter is a middle-aged woman scrubbing the wall where a plate of food and its contents have landed. Her mustached husband was displeased with his dinner, so he hurled it across the room onto the wall, where the plate shattered and the food colored the white walls red. Andrea will clean up the mess and return to the kitchen to prepare another dish for her husband. It’s how women are viewed from her country, to serve their husbands. Her husband isn’t unkind to her; it’s just the way it is. When she was younger he had to disguise her to look like an old woman because their country was being overtaken and there was so much rape. She continues to scrub the sauce off the walls.
Building 2-He crosses the street to the next building over. In the bottom apartment a man is seated at the table slurping his soup and dropping cracker crumbs onto the floor. Next to his plate sits a race car he has been carving for his grandson. Most men of his nationality are short, but Alexander is tall and thin, and breathes with only one lung. The hump of the leather pouch he carries is visible underneath his undershirt-it is where he carries his money. When his first wife died, he remarried shortly after, finding a second wife back in Hungary, someone to cook and clean and keep him company. He picks up his bowl and drinks the broth as a stream dribbles down his chin.
Above Alexander is a rugged man seated at an easel where he paints a picture of a barn in a field. Anton dabbles in painting--he has some talent and can create beautiful landscapes. Next to his easel sits a box of baking soda and a glass of water. This is his cure for diverticulitis and his cluster headaches. At age twelve he cut his father out of a tree where he had hanged himself. He is smart but had to become the man of the house at a young age, to support his mother and older sister; he quit school and a few years later enlisted in the army. He lights a candle and continues painting.
Building 3- Once more he crosses the street, this time to the building on the left to find Lucille, in the corner cubicle, sitting at the kitchen table, caressing a cup of black coffee, watching the Mets play on her small TV set situated on the counter. She had a high fever right before her teenage years--Scarlet fever. It would eventually affect her hearing. She was good at reading lips and wore mediocre hearing aids, but she eventually was fitted with a cochlear implant-she was one of the first to try this new invention, which gave her back some of her hearing. Family was her world. She took care of her sick mother, her sick husband: the consummate daughter and wife. She makes another pot of coffee as the games swings into the fifth inning.
Above her apartment, Carl is watching a taped game of his favorite basketball player, Larry bird. Carl says that Larry walks the talk. He almost died as a toddler during open heart surgery, which one would never know save for the long scar on his chest. And because of this surgery, he could never play contact sports. So he turned his energy into other avenues. “My father always told me that I could have whatever I wanted as long as I earned it.” So he started working at age twelve, changing tires on 18 wheelers. Always big for his age, he was treated more like a man than a boy. He followed his beloved grandfather on the oil rigs and learned the business, which made him so strong that he could touch his nose with a sledge hammer, simultaneously, with one in each hand. He stands, bent with back pain from years of hard word, to switch tapes to Bird’s retirement ceremony.
He turns in a circle and watches as all the inside apartment lights fade, monologues stop, and curtains close for another day. The stories will continue each night with the same actors and actresses in place, who, like a wind-up toy, will go through the motions, until they can no more. Simple people who struggled, overcame, yet ended up alone in their own tales, in their own nightly rituals.
He continues on with his walk, leaving as he came. No breath of air, no jingling of wind chimes. No fireflies or bats swoop the sky. A neighbourhood devoid of motion and noise, contrasting the lives of those he records.
Ann Hultberg is a retired high school English teacher and currently a composition instructor at the local university. She writes mostly nonfiction stories about her family, especially focusing on her father’s escape from Budapest, Hungary, to the United States. Her essays have been accepted by Persimmon Tree, Dream Well Writing, Drunk Monkeys, The Drabble, The Story Pub, Kindred Voice, Fevers of the Mind, Mothers Always Write, and Moonchild Magazine. You can follow Ann on Facebook at 60 and writing and @Hajdu on Twitter.
Raphael's The Mass at Bolsena
As I bake lasagna for our family squabble after Sunday high mass
I meditate the meaning of The Mass at Bolsena –
Raphael, Paisan, I feel a kinship with you
Almost five hundred years after your last erection with your lover Marguerite
That pearl of a model you could not marry but would never abandon.
Sure she was a baker’s daughter but I’ve had many a cozy night with Gina
The daughter of Marco who owns the Sicilia Pizzeria on Yancy Street.
He prides himself on his Tuscan bread crust and spicy sauce.
Sure the pope had his jack and I’m sure you were sick enough
Of painting Jesus, Mary and Joseph or a classical scene among the pillars of some Ode on a Grecian Urn city state -
So when you suggested to Julius that the Miracle of the Mass at Bolsena
Could be a nice wrap to the chapel around the doorway
He probably winced.
After all, the masses he and his minions mumbled
Each and every day were predictable as olive oil on pasta
With shredded parmesan,
And teenage confessions about sex and parental control – even then.
Old Julius would have preferred
Some blessing on a mount where he stood tall among his mercenaries
After a bloody victory in the village down the road
Or a naked nymph as the last stitch of tunic
Is about to be twitched off by some satyr’s beard.
Of course you sold him that he would be the star model
For the prime witness kneeling bare headed
Showing his bald spot before the altar
But wearing the crimson robes of his office – hanging like The Situation at the Scene,
His show of humility could only go so far.
Your drinking buddy, Luigi, must have been the model for the priest
I mean this miracle took place some two hundred fifty years ago
Time enough to ripen in the mythic morphology
Between the scandals of the children’s crusades and mass marketing of indulgences.
Raphael you nailed it when you added a few bros of Julius –
Nepotistic nephews and cousins – cardinals and bishops all
In the grouping to the old man’s right,
Then in women to the left added his daughter, Felice,
In the high renaissance equivalent
Of a little black dress.
Finally you put your hair up
Disguised as GI Joe in the group of the Swiss Guards in the cluster
Kneeling on the lower right, but you, Bro, were not looking up adoringly to the miracle in the center like the rest
Instead you stared out at me watching you.
I swear you are about to wink.
Look Dude, we get it
Sure the miracle that you painted
Was about the transubstantiation thing – Sister Maria Theresa tried hard to pound it into our horny heads
While our eyes clicked to Paula’s and Lola’s naked legs,
You know, where the host and the wine become the body and blood of Christ literally
But still tastes like a stale ice cream cone and last night’s left over chianti.
That was about as believable as Gina telling me it was only a cold sore.
But we both know my man that no matter the setting and the miracles of the church displayed on that fantastic stage you created,
Paisan, it’s all about family and respect
Even among the good fellas, the made men, with their mistresses on Friday night –
Even Julius with his patronage and papal wars
Knew deep down you were lying about the bread and wine thing –
Family is the real miracle.
Tyson West, born in Boston, MA a few months before the police action in Korea, has degrees from the Universities of Virginia and California, New York University. Publishing speculative and literary fiction and poetry distilled from his mystical relationship with noxious weeds and magpies in Eastern Washington, he has no plans to quit his day job in real estate. His poetry collection, Home-Canned Forbidden Fruit, is available from Gribble Press.
I want to be an elm tree standing tall in an overgrown grove,
perhaps in the ruins of a plantation, sanctified in golden evening,
leaning toward another elm tree; but poets make fun of trees in poems.
Or so I thought, until I read about a small group of soldiers
in World War One, having a smoke during a lull in battle
all of them tired and sick of carnage and bored. One asked
has anyone heard anything from the world outside this bloody field,
and one said Yes, and pulled out a copy of a magazine, and showed them
a poem that he had read there, about a tree, and rather liked.
Read it out loud, one of them said, there were about six of them,
standing in a circle around a small fire they had made,
and he read it, and they kinda liked it, and felt a little better.
I suppose they could have prayed instead, but God was also
a casualty of that war, or at least was missing-in-action
and presumed dead. Or perhaps He was a deserter.
One of the soldiers in this story seemed uneasy or embarrassed,
and someone asked him was wrong, did he hate the poem?
And the soldier answered, shyly scuffling his feet,
I am Joyce Kilmer, and I wrote that poem.
This was a nice surprise, and the soldiers were intrigued,
and asked the poet if he would read the poem to them,
if they could hear it in his voice, and he did. And then they were quiet,
and pleased, and ground out their cigarettes, and it was time
to go back to their trenches, their positions in the battle.
Only two of those men, and not the poet, survived that battle.
But they had had a moment of solace, of grace, in that imperfect,
sentimental poem, a poem made by a fool like me.
Richard Garcia is the author of The Other Odyssey, from Dream Horse Press, The Chair from BOA, and Porridge from Press 53. His poems appear in many journals, including The Ekphrastic Review, The Georgia Review, Poetry and Ploughshares, and anthologies, such as Best American Poetry and The Pushcart Prize Anthology.
All There Is To Say
“A painter can say all he wants to with fruit . . . .” Edouard Manet
or even vegetables, these crinkly-skinned onions
on a kitchen table, painted by Cézanne.
What did he want to tell us about their many layers,
their astringent flesh, pungent breath, thin skins?
Was it the way they could fill a plate, nestle in a table
cloth, look like they belonged there, eggs
in a nest? Or how they add depth to a stew
or a bouillabaisse without becoming the thing itself,
like the notes in a chord, or the blue wash that’s part
of the undercoat, part of the shadow. Unlike other
still lifes, these onions are living: green shoots burst
out their tops, electric, wired, a green dance
of new growth. Green flames singing in the hearth.
Green fingers shooting for the sun. What else
could he want to say, except that every thing
on this small blue ball is alive, these papery globes,
the throat of the wine bottle, the billions of molecules
that make up my skin and yours, the air between our lips,
charged with energy, the cells that slough off
when they touch, when we love.
This poem first appeared in Barbara Crooker's book, Radiance (Word Press, 2005.)
Barbara Crooker is the author of many books of poetry; The Book of Kells is the most recent. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Commonwealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, The Poetry of Presence and Nasty Women: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse. www.barbaracrooker.com
Alastair Llewellyn-Smith has published poems in Acumen and The London Magazine, and reviews in PN Review. This one is from a sequence called Eighteen Benedictions.
The Dead Bird
“…my girl's sparrow is dead--
the sparrow, delight of my girl,
whom that girl loved more than her own eyes…
Oh evil deed! Oh wretched little sparrow!
Now through your deeds the eyes of my girl,
swollen with weeping, are red.”
Five hundred years ago, a child grieved with such perfection that an unknown artist – with his subtle and cunning ways – sought to invade the sanctuary of her youthful lamentation. Her ivory mourning clothes, her gentle confusion, the purity of her sadness, was too much of a temptation for the painter not to try and capture her flawless sorrow.
The font of her distress lay crumpled in her hands, held like a crushed offering. She doesn’t look at it, but stares straight ahead, holding it with the intuition and perception of the blind: as if all she needed to know came from her sense of touch.
She is holding her pet bird. Its throat has been broken; its feathers are torn. Once blithe and dancing, it is now coiled in death’s feral grip, a dominion beyond the comprehension of its loving owner.
Her eyes wander beyond the edges of the canvas, beyond the limits of her childish experience. She is lost in the miasma of a truth that flickers like foxfire – a truth both sought-after and – once found - unacceptable. She holds the dead bird tight, searching for the warmth of its quick heart, the slightest hope of life. But it is as lifeless as a doll.
Throughout the centuries, deceased animals, scattered flowers, crushed fruits, rotting leaves were included in works of art to remind the viewer of the brevity of life – the evanescence of nature’s beauty. But of all these symbols, there has never been one as intimate as a dead sparrow cradled in its mistress’ hands. This could still be an example of vanitas art, but the argument is strong for the intuitive portrait by an anonymous artist, who just happened to remember a past reading of Catullus’ poem.
We will never know the true meaning. All we have before us is a child’s ethereal emotion, a wraith drifting between anger and sadness as she wonders who could have attempted such subtle thievery and throttled her toy in the night.
Melinda Giordano is a native of Los Angeles, California. A published artist and writer, her written pieces have appeared in the Lake Effect Magazine, Scheherazade’s Bequest, Whisperings, Circa Magazine, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, After the Art and The Rabbit Hole among others. She was also a regular poetry contributor to CalamitiesPress.com with her own column, ‘I Wandered and Listened’ and was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
every great artistic man
is a stable woman
whose strength holds him aloft
while he fluctuates wildly
from obscurity to success,
mediocrity to inevitable breakdown.
The ride is wobbly and uneven.
Like everything worth anything,
it’s about practice and resilience
in a side tent at the sideshow
hearing the low-attendance boos,
ignoring shit slung from the monkeys
whose names adorn the Big Top.
In self-aware moments he hears her,
really hears her sing the notes to Ave Maria
forming a bridge below the whole act.
He realizes the beauty of the waves,
ignores all routine hindrances,
and once more attempts to match
the rhythm of a rocking boat--
hoping it gets both safely to shore.
Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Some of his work found a home here, and in other online and print publications such as Burning House Press, Visual Verse, CarpeArte Journal, Califragile, and is forthcoming in The Blue Nib and Fishbowl Press. His poetry has also been translated in Vietnamese and Farsi. Jordan is an editor at https://openartsforum.com. To see more of his work go to: https://jordantretheweywriter.wordpress.com.
The Ekphrastic Review
Join us on FB and Twitter!
Find a writer, artist, or poem, etc. by searching here: