The lonely streetlight reaches
through the half-open window, into
the corner office, strokes the white wall,
the metal file cabinet, the fine, round ass
of the secretary snugged in blue. Its
glow casts the words scrawled across
the letter in high relief. They shout
at the man who clutches the letter
in both hands. She’s onto us,
he says to his new love,
his “true love,” his voice strangled
as the words grip his throat.
Oh baby, the woman pleads, let’s get out
of town, leave this crummy office behind
and start fresh. Maybe California?
I got a sister in LA.
The man doesn’t answer, doesn’t move,
silent as the typewriter on her desk
a yard away from his, the distance
like an ocean for so long, when all he could do
was stare into the endless blue of want,
adrift on the ship of wife and family
until one day she threw him a line:
Wanna go for a drink? He’d been
drinking her in ever since, each swallow
his death and his salvation.
The woman has forgotten what she wanted
in the files. She clings to the cabinet
to keep from falling, her dark eyes
smudged with tears. His silence is louder
than the first clap of thunder.
Grab the umbrella, she thinks,
here comes rain.
Elya Braden took a long detour from her creative endeavours to pursue an eighteen-year career as a corporate lawyer and entrepreneur. She is now a writer and mixed-media artist living in Los Angeles. Her work has been published in Algebra of Owls, Calyx, Gyroscope Review, Rattle, Willow Review and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Open The Fist, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. You can find her online at www.elyabraden.com.
Flowers From My Mother
She’d watch foxgloves by the window,
elegant, erect, preferring partial shade,
gladed at untamed garden’s edge.
They drew her, out alone in chill air
to propagate them on paper, water-coloured
as breeze-ripple dipped their heads
to her paint, her attentiveness of eye and hand.
Transplanted to an indoor nook
their vigil of flowering lived the drift
of sometimes cherished, sometimes overlooked.
Pink blooms pulsed with secrets,
plump for the nuzzle of unseen bees.
Outdoors, cooling petals wilted into winter,
seeds scuffed in soiled darkness.
Now framed in my room these silent bells
soft-toned as shells, twilight, ghosts
are transfigured in a creamy haze of glade
no longer wreathed by green-dusk gloom.
They stand as she imaged them, centred
in a kindness of light, her landscape of mind:
Digitalis purpurea, cordial for my heart.
On this windless wall they nod again.
Julia D McGuinness
Julia D McGuinness is a poet, counsellor and writing therapist based in Cheshire, England. She runs writing workshops for creativity and well-being, including work with cancer patients. Her poems have appeared online at Ink, Sweat and Tears, Riggwelter and Amaryllis among others, and in her collection Chester City Walls. In August 2019 she becomes Chester Cathedral’s Poet-in-Residence. You can find her at www.creativeconnectionscheshire.co.uk .
Remember the Colour and It Will Float Again
ghosted, its lines decaying,
It rests in a cove,
confined in a small scrubby wood.
Barely a beach.
To get to it, move back in time, traversing stunted conifers and by
remembering that the sand is rough,
Boards, once oiled, smooth and working as one sheened brilliance,
are individuals now,
Jagged and hostile, they make themselves known and refuse their work.
Back then, Sally’s red and white striped shirt and her glossy black curls, sat opposite and floated
on the bay.
In a closed room, Matisse drafts rest in a distant corner against a wall.
The stories are flat, blurred, abandoned.
Faint lines traverse and whisper the space.
Angular shadows argue.
To find it, remember,
the room was red.
When he could no longer remember how to paint, Matisse left the room, and cut the world into
little pieces of colour, reimagining it so it would float again.
Kathryn Douglas has been teaching undergraduate writing for many years and has just completed her MFA in Poetry at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Up until now, Kathryn’s professional focus has been on teaching literature, rhetoric and composition; hers is a new voice in poetry. She loves to read, write, sing, garden, and hike. She has sung Handel’s Messiah in Carnegie Hall and Verdi’s Requiem in Mechanics Hall Worcester, MA. Crammed with bee balm, zinnias, and sunflowers, her garden has been created to attract as many hummingbirds as possible while it nourishes beans grown from seeds carried on the Trail of Tears. She loves taking photos while hiking with her dog, Fred, and her first poetry and photography exhibit will open this September.
is your frilled dress
from dance nights,
caresses in bed, distant
loved ones just visible
in the reeds, fig leaves
you left on a grave,
lopsided toy ship
your grandpa made.
That’s what stays,
as the water browns,
never touching the drain.
What sinks is charred soil,
bleeding roots, dead finch
you saved, then dropped
to the worms, microwave
fumes choking your favorite
part of the skyline, skeletons
posed for photo ops, lava
flooding postcard towns
like a strung noose, embryo
leaking from refuse--
all of which whirls down
through the crack in your toe,
continuing to whistle, stifled,
low, so that even as you bathe
in what’s left, you always know.
Tyler Thier is a Brooklyn-based adjunct professor and freelance film critic with previous publications in the New York Public Library Zine!, After the Pause, the Maier Museum of Art, Tuck Magazine, and The Ekphrastic Review itself. Additionally, he is a performed playwright and an enthusiast of bare-bones, no-frills Irish pubs.
The Last Supper
for Carlos Seminario Solaligue
Painted by the Quechua artist Marcos Zapata
in the waning years of the Inquisition,
it hangs in a cathedral in the Andes,
built on the foundation of a sacred Inca site
eleven thousand feet closer to Heaven
than the Milan convent
housing da Vinci’s rendering
of the same uneasy repast.
Zapata’s Jesus looks preoccupied
as he hefts a loaf of bread,
considering its worth.
On the table goblets of wine
surround an ornate golden salver
on which lies a delicacy
unknown in the Holy Land,
a roasted guinea pig
flat on its back
feet in the air.
One of the apostles
has turned away from Jesus.
Adorned in a sumptuous red robe,
Zapata’s Judas stares directly at the viewer
and it comes as no surprise
that he bears a resemblance
to Juan Pizarro y Alonso
Andrew Merton’s poetry has appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Rialto, Comstock Review, Asheville Poetry Review, The American Journal of Nursing, and elsewhere. He is the author of three books of poetry, all published by Accents Publishing (Lexington, KY): Evidence that We Are Descended from Chairs (2012), Lost and Found (2016), and Final Exam (2019). He is a professor emeritus of English at the University of New Hampshire.
the differences subtle
how to gauge darkness?
between what is
and what could be
or from what is outside,
where there is no promise
of light, the darkness
excluded, leaving us
companions in this future:
everything is darkness
Ken Gierke is a retired truck driver who enjoys kayaking and photography, but writing poetry brings him the most satisfaction. Primarily free verse and haiku, his poetry has appeared at The Ekphrastic Review, Amethyst Review, Vita Brevis, and Eunoia Review, as well as at Tuck Magazine, and can be seen on his blog: https://rivrvlogr.wordpress.com.
Memories and Rothko’s Black and Red
The Rothko Black on Red, 1957 invites me to free associate. I have no direct connection with this untitled painting, but I’m hooked on it. It invites Stendhal and also connects me somehow with my Latvian piano student and the Latvian composer I met in New York who played the flute - yes, his name returns: it was Arnold. We performed works together at the tiny Music Settlement School at which I taught for seven years.
Where have those Latvian melodies gone? Do they linger still, echoing from the walls of the small performance hall the school contained. Its little stage, two steps up may not have had a window opening onto the back street, (it’s unlikely a stage would have a window) but that back street was important. The wealthy of the neighborhood lived along the front street, hard-working Chinese and Spanish immigrants lived on the back street.
The poor were welcomed as heartily by our music director as the well-to-do. I remember how one Suzi W. developed as a violinist, ultimately inheriting the director’s European-made violin. I met the student later, an adult, performing in an ensemble on a more elegant stage in NYC, having achieved, having endured the demanding and screaming lessons the director gave.
But here are those children, some grappling with their instruments more eagerly than others; often, the “privileged” discarding the privilege and demands of performance more quickly than the back-street-kids, all eager and pounding at their drums, often expressing their delights in raw form. So here, then, is the red and the black, or the black on red as Rothko would have it. The contrasts, the struggles, the attaining.
The drama of Rothko’s works is transferred into my personal memory canvas. I don’t know how that transfer occurred, but now i feel more closely linked to this work; I have delved into my past, that past with its dramatic musical explosions and explorations, both my own, and those that occurred within the young children.
“True drama is a narrative structure involving the reversal of fortune, or at least some sense that this reversal has happened or can happen, and though drama is possible in an abstract painting, it requires specific elements.” Thus wrote a reviewer of Rothko’s work. I sense the reversal, the possibility that things can go either way, toward healthy development, perhaps, or toward cowardly refusal. It’s all there in his canvas.
Carole Mertz studied music at Oberlin College in Ohio, in New York, and in Salzburg, Austria. She taught music throughout her thirty plus years in New York City. She publishes bits of memoir on various online sites and enjoys visiting the ekphrastic review for its ongoing challenges and stimuli. Her first poetry collection Toward a Peeping Sunrise is forthcoming from Prolific Press in October. It includes one ekphrasis on Renoir.
Pondering Rothko During Acupuncture
I lie still under the needles,
a motionless hour of subtraction,
my body drifting free from pain.
The surprise of two black rectangles,
islands in a sea of red, stretches
my mind’s tableau: Rothko’s Black on Red.
I once sought solace from deep angst
in Houston’s Rothko Chapel.
His late '60s paintings starkly black.
Only whispers of green and maroon.
He took himself out of the world
before they were hung. Though Black on Red,
painted in 1957,
still vibrates with lifeblood. These needles
cannot pulse the chi, an energy
to illuminate this man’s visions,
his early life in Russia,
a displaced person in New York.
Did he feel he had lost a mother
tongue, a country? Did the slow
drain of bright colours, finally red,
from his canvases—the dominance
of black— paint him into grief’s
clutches? An abyss the only option?
Sandi Stromberg served ten years on the board of Mutabilis Press, a Houston-based press dedicated to serving the poetry community in the region. She was guest editor of its anthology, Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston, which the Houston Chronicle recommended in 2017 as one of 10 best books about the city.
Black and Red
If twice qualifies as warning in a wind of wings
blackbirds do not like competition when you walk
along reeds in a red sweater.
The dulled black of a steam engine as the sun sets
over the Sangre de Cristo range is illuminated
as if an annunciation.
In the marsh, holly blanketed by berries is strung
with seaweed that dried in branches
after the storm of my youth.
A cardinal calls. A cardinal calls.
Kyle Laws is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Ride the Pink Horse (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing, 2018), This Town: Poem of Correspondence with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015), and Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014). With six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and France. Granted residencies in poetry from the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), she is one of eight members of the Boiler House Poets who perform and study at the museum. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
They say it isn't art. They say it's too simple,
even a child could do such work. I look at the
squares, contemplate their meaning, the way
they juxtapose, the way the colors complement
yet contrast, then ask them without scorn, "Tell
me, what to you is art?" Then without hesitation
say, "the tragedy of love", watch the colours run.
An American abroad, Dan left his hometown near Chicago in 1994 and has since lived in five different countries. His poems and other writings have appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, Luxembourg Times, Issa's Tidy Hut, Jerry Jazz Musician, CLEW, and Verse-Virtual.
this red window frame
exposes a living room
to breathless night visions
lurks beyond these panes
stuffed full with colourless fields
outside we evaporate
in the end countless atoms
prove we're not alone
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 and Califragile. His poetry has also been translated in Vietnamese and Farsi. To see more of his work go to: https://jordantretheweywriter.wordpress.com
Two Booths, Red Floor
three share a dark square
bordered by red floor
heads blurred at the top.
The man had asked
her and her mother
the owner calculates busily
on a keypad
blue dots of gas
meekly lighting his table.
His one hand punches numbers.
His other stretches across
a pinch of red floor by rote
refilling their glasses.
No one comes or goes.
What was the question? she asks.
Are you lonely? he repeats as if tired.
They hold onto their dark places.
Janice Bethany a part-time professor in Houston, Texas, who recently published in The Ekphrastic Review.
“Untitled” – an invitation
to share, collaborate, decide
what this art means, how it feels –
at least on this day –
at least to you.
Or maybe a dare.
It worked. You stopped –
not like a typical Don’t Get It
rushing by, afraid of any
syncopation in the status quo.
Wrap yourself in hot red.
Shiver against blue prickles.
Are you afraid to face what lurks
in the dark or ready to throw
open the window? Perhaps
the blurred edges remind you
of your fading life.
Still confused? Don’t worry.
Something has shifted.
You’ve begun to talk back.
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.
Soot & Ashes
He rose from the fog
of childhood – out of
the time of ashes.
It was thought he brought
“good luck” to every house,
without malice or favour.
his arrival would ring
through the building.
Dressed all in black
from top hat to shoes,
to the wire brushes slung over
his shoulders, his face rimmed
in coal dust smudged by his work,
always, his teeth and eyeballs
a gleaming chalk-white.
like his signature on the bottom
step of the house: the date,
his initials and the simple sketch
of a ladder – its chalk luminous.
How memory waylays me
in front of this painting.
Tall like a man, wide like two,
its commanding red rectangle
both avian and ecclesiastical red.
Looking closely, I stumble
over two rectangles,
soot-black, softly scrumbled,
spontaneous, yet tentative
as they try to cover up
an earlier blue –
almost, but not quite –
but not trusted.
Right there, you can see
the brush break off
like an unfinished thought,
start again, less convinced
this time, blue hope
shrinks to the margins,
and ashes spread.
Barbara Ponomareff lives in southern Ontario, Canada. By profession a child psychotherapist, she has been delighted to pursue her life-long interest in literature, psychology and art since her retirement. The first of her two published novellas dealt with a possible life of the painter J.S. Chardin. Her short stories, memoirs and poetry have appeared in various literary magazines and anthologies. At present, she is translating modern German poetry.
so light the match
there will be no rest
not while black knots
sink into my core
in the end where
there is only oblivion
in the end where
i become death
where i trap you under
my soot-sullied boots
where the only word
i breathe is blaze
within the fire
within the fire
to start again
within the fire
within the fire
Tiffany Shaw-Diaz is an award-winning poet and visual artist who lives in Centerville, Ohio. You can learn more about her via: www.tiffanyshawdiaz.com.
When summer day temps
hit the red zone,
my head buckles over
under blocks of deep depression.
Dark pain wreaks havoc
with nerves, sinus, stomach,
roiling my whole system with regret
for having stepped outside.
Once, once only did August heat presage joy,
the day our daughter entered the world.
Red hot the day, deep the pain;
that joy sustains me.
Joan Leotta is a writer and story performer. When she is not sharing stories on page and stage, you can find her at the beach looking for shells. She loves putting words to art and has written often for The Ekphrastic Review, Visual Verse and other ekphrastic-oriented journals and contests.
Stand eighteen inches away — it’s not about the colour,
colour’s merely an instrument, it’s about the experience.
Mark Rothko created in large format to engulf, astonish
the viewer. Transcendent in nature, his work expresses
human emotion — Joy. Struggle. Ruin. — where layers
of paint evoke the unknown, invite intimacy,
as broken and sweeping strokes build surface rhythm.
Like prayer, focus can open pathways to sacredness.
There’s devotion in examination,
reverence in awareness — to observe a rose, study its
crimson-depths, to hold the soil of ebony-earth, inhale
its bounty, to honour my dad’s words — Smell the dirt!
It’s about the experience — to feel, be in the moment,
to be inches or centimeters away — to immerse oneself,
to Take it. All. In.
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 holds a B.S. in secondary education, an M.A. in arts and cultural management, and 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.
Through the Window
Of the moon
rising in darkness,
of the un
seen but felt--
of the turning that waits and
scattered by the sun,
the day and
yet lingering behind the
veil--quiet, a ghost
ness and borders that
crossed, and un
crossable—of the sudden
stillness falling through--
Of blood drawn
the vast other side
Kerfe Roig: "Mark Rothko is a painter of portals. Ekphrastic poetry explores the places between image and words in a similar way, as I try to do in relating my image art to my word art, often using the work of others as inspiration. You can see more of my explorations at my website http://kerferoig.com/ and on my blogs https://methodtwomadness.wordpress.com/ (which I do with my friend Nina) and https://kblog.blog/"
Wednesdays in New York City
It had to be a Wednesday
summer in New York City
sun bright, nimbus dark
fierce wind then calm
endless desert to multiform
furtive heart, cleansed soul
fearful smile alongside tears
no laughter, not here.
Red Admiral on rose petals
scarlet rims to black foreground
en route to stinging nettles
another chapter, a bossa nova
massed ovum under leaves
free day on the horizon
it had to be a Wednesday
late February 1970.
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.
The Bird Lady
Feather soft, the birds land on her head, her hands,
hands stretched in supplication, waiting their caress.
Her face turns blindly to them, eager and expectant,
waiting for that moment of connection.
In a life where no one touches her,
her parched flesh slowly dies, in the aridity of age.
Where is life-giving touch? she grieves.
She has known so well that intimacy
that brings with it both feeling and regeneration.
But now in age who touches her?
No one, and so each day she waits …
waits for the birds.
Feather soft, the birds land on her head, her hands,
outstretched in supplication, waiting their caress.
Her face turns blindly to them; sightless eyes are dim with gratitude,
for this at least gives her a moment of connection.
Valerie Volk has been writing all her life and in the last ten years has published nine books, mainly verse novels and poetry collections, as well as over a hundred poems in Australian journals such as Poetrix, Studio, Polestar, Tamba, and the USA Red River Review. She is a passionate traveller, resulting in the publication of several of her ‘poem a day’ collections (yes, she really does write poem each day when travelling!) from Europe, Asia, and South America. One of her most cherished memories is riding a camel in in Mongolia’s sub-zero winter snow. Please visit her web site www.valerievolk.com.au
Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Armchair
Two faces stare at him:
One half the stiffened mask,
The other, arch,
That does not need to ask.
He sees what who he is
Has made of what he saw
In her. Painting
Her tense paints himself raw.
James Toupin, retired general counsel of the US Patent and Trademark Office, now teaches in the law school of American University in Washington, DC. His poetry has appeared or are scheduled to appear in dozens of journals, including Virginia Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, Pleiades, garnering a couple of Pushcart nominations. He is also a published translator, of Selected Letters of Alexis de Tocqueville on Politics and Society (University of California Press), and writer on legal topics.
Thank you so much to Jonathan Taylor, editor at the Creative Writing at Leicester blog, for featuring The Ekphrastic Review today.
Find out more about how we came to be, and read a poem from our archives by Barbara Crooker.
Click here to read it.
Artist in His Studio, by Rembrandt van Rijn: Painter and Canvas in Dialogue
The easel, right foreground, dwarfs the young artist,
who stands a few steps back, in shadow, well-dressed
but ready for the work of painting. Who will know him?
The canvas propped on the easel appears formidable,
and the young man is overwhelmed, entering as he is
into art history, the great tradition, the competition
to outdo and improve, let alone to prove himself.
It’s all a prop, a show, teetering on the unknown.
He’s a young explorer, assessing a brave domain.
Behind the easel, a hallway yet to be filled with art,
but canvas and easel block the way until completion.
Is it you? Is that you? I didn’t know you could talk!
I didn’t know you could paint! Are you sure you can?
I am sure—I know it. Show me. Where are your tools?
Behind me. Draw! Draw? This isn’t a duel. It’s not
a standoff or a showdown. Yes it is—it’s you against me,
me against you. There’s no drawing—I’m going to paint.
But this is a showdown, and you know it. Paint!
When I paint, you will cease your talking,
but you will talk forever. Forever? How so?
I will counter with my own paradox:
My canvas expanse now shows only silence.
You will talk forever in many languages,
in the tongue of whoever is looking at you.
I’d like to see that. Step forward, Mr. Painter.
Keep talking—I want to capture your voice.
Why are you dressed up? You look formal.
Painting can ruin a gentleman, rarely make
his fortune. One splat will stain your fine robe.
This is how I see myself and how I want
to approach you, before beginning my work.
You have a long way to go, even to reach me--
the gap from me to where you stand is great.
I will make great strides in this painting.
When I’m ready, I shall step up to the task.
I offer you a good stretch of canvas to fill
with details and visions. A moment of drama!
You look like that young painter everyone
is talking about, that Rembrandt fellow.
I’m not Rembrandt, but you see I’m a painter.
You look like him nonetheless. Perhaps I am
his alter ego. No, you look like a child playing
dress-up, but somewhat spooked and awed.
I am not afraid. I may be cautious. What you see
is reverence. I’ll admit I can discern some pluck.
Don’t begrudge me. After all, you are only a canvas,
a signboard propped up by planks. You are a blank.
Still, you cannot get around me. You have to paint--
paint on me something great, something everyone
will talk about and learn from. Then you can pass
by me and go down the hall to claim your place
in the great artists’ Kunsthalle. I’m your ticket,
your passport, blank only for now. That’s my plan.
But aren’t you a van? Doesn’t that tussenvoegsel
mean you’re landed gentry? So why are you painting?
Or is that the significance of your outfit finery?
You weren’t born for this, but you chose it.
It chose me. I know what I must paint now.
Tell me. I will find out soon enough. Let me
guess as you swab! Let me keep talking.
I promised you would. You can talk all you want
and tell others for years—for centuries--
about this encounter. You’ve entered the arena,
the ring, center stage. All are quiet, waiting.
Like me, they want to see what you can do,
they want to feel it for themselves. They want
to project. Show them. What is it you see?
I see great scenes, decisive moments, telling,
instructive, inspiring—spectacular plays
of light and dark. Paint one. On me. Now!
I’m not there yet. Get on your way. Step up
to the task, step forward. Fling paint on me. Brush!
Leonardo said that random blots, drips, and splashes
can contain battle scenes, land- and seascapes,
and amorous encounters. I will paint those all--
plus portraits. I am ready. I am part of it.
I will hold your paint as you guide and apply it.
You are holding it well. It’s already done.
What do you see? Don’t hold your tongue.
I see you. I see me! That’s just how it was.
Captured. But is my backside really that big?
Javy Awan has worked as an editor for national professional association publications. His poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Potomac Review, Midwest Quarterly, and Innisfree Poetry Journal. He lives in Salem, Massachusetts.
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