Ekphrastic Challenge Responses: Cristobal Rojas
Guest Editor’s statement:
I was very pleased to have this opportunity as a Venezuelan-American to highlight one of my favourite paintings and Venezuelan painters. El Purgatorio by Cristobal Rojas embodies the spirit of magical realism and the importance of religion in Latin American culture. Venezuela is in major humanitarian crisis; they are a nation on the brink of collapse. As such, it was important to me to cast a spotlight, however small, on the culture and history of this once vibrant country. El Purgatorio, while painted in 1890, is ever more relevant today when one considers the plight of the people trapped in a collapsing government.
While I expected, and received, poems about Venezuela, I was delighted and surprised to find that many poets weaved their personal experiences in with images from the painting. I was deeply drawn to those poems. There were also several submissions which combined the work of Rojas with the work of Dante Alighieri. That was an “ah-ha!” moment for me; that connection hadn’t initially occurred to me and yet it was so obvious. It is my hope that readers are as delighted by the works in this issue as I am. I love when writers and poets surprise me.
The Scary Picture
Once, a girl was shown a picture
of the scary underworld she was
destined for after she turns old.
An accident could take her sooner.
Ghostlike beings were lying about.
They had lost their clothes
except rags at least covered
their privates. Their faces wore
a language of anguish.
The only lights were from fires
a short distance off that
had burned down the houses.
The air was charcoal thick with smoke
and ashes. She felt herself
inhaling soot. She asked her mother,
How will I bathe?
And her mother said, An angel
will come with buckets of water,
enough to fill a tub. You will
be submerged in a cool bath.
The angel will cleanse you
until your skin shines, the sign
you are ready to turn immortal.
The girl believed her mother
who never lied.
Carrie Albert is a multifaceted artist and poet who lives in Seattle. Her drawings, collage and poems are featured there at Four Corners Art. Her visual art and poems have been published and/or featured in diverse journals, among these: ink, sweat & tears, cahoodaloodaling, Grey Sparrow, Foliate Oak, Earth’s Daughters, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Gargoyle. More works can be viewed at Penhead Press online where she is a Poet-Artist in Residence.
The children of Venezuela
Are so hungry
They will lick the light
Drawing your eye to the centre
Because it might be milk,
The cooked white of an egg.
It might be sugar,
Some gloss on a fat pastry
Their mother remembers
Her grandmother making
Over a flame that never burned
Pale yellow. There was oil
And now no one knows
Where it’s all gone. No one leaves,
St. Christopher won’t carry anyone away.
Daisy Bassen is a practicing physician and poet. She graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program and completed her medical training at The University of Rochester and Brown. Her work has been published in Oberon, The Delmarva Review, The Sow’s Ear, and Tuck Magazine as well as multiple other journals. She was a semi-finalist in the 2016 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, a finalist in the 2018 Adelaide Literary Prize, a recent winner of the So to Speak 2019 Poetry Contest and was doubly nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. She lives in Rhode Island with her family.
Their bodies are a tangle of flesh-coated bones.
I struggle to understand their words that bleed
together like ink on wet paper. Their shrieks pierce
my soul like a scythe. I try to scream “STOP,” but
my own voice is muted by fear. They are drowning
in seas of sweat, dying to live, begging to die. Above
them, in an amber haze, an angel. Her arms are spread,
as if to welcome, but her wings are frozen just beyond
outstretched arms begging to be raised to safety.
Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, the young, the
old will all soon be engulfed by flame. She cannot
save them. They are the landfill of a world gone amok.
Shelly and her husband are empty-nesters who live in Columbia, Maryland with their three cat rescues and one foster dog. They have two sons: Richard, 35, of New York, NY and Joshua, 33, of San Antonio, TX. Shelly's first love has always been poetry, although her career has generally followed the path of public relations/journalism. Shelly's poetry has appeared in Praxis Magazine, Halfway Down the Stairs, First Literary Review East, and The Ekphrastic Review, among other publications.
Sign: “No Anglish Beyond This Point”
Read as: “No Anguish Beyond This Point”
on looking around with thoughts of Cristobal Rojas in my head
If limbo is a threshold between two worlds,
Then it is no wonder I have lingered here so long
My iterations ceaseless from life to life,
A flipbook instantaneous + ceaseless guarded by my uber angel
While my high dive judge looks on.
This life a 9,
That one 7.
Back for more?
I’ll give you an 8.
Judge says: “you cannot go until you leave.”
Angel says: “you’ve already arrived.”
I just be, and be, and be.
The binocular view is my jam.
Neither here nor there, but in view of both.
This dweller on the threshold.
This flickering image cast through the replicator.
This electrical transponder’s load.
Fails at ascending.
Stinks at descending.
But that flicker . . .
That place there
Where choice is possible,
But even better
The multiverse is open,
Is my safe hold.
No anguish here.
No need to patriate, participate, pontificate, precipitate, punctuate, proliferate.
All my old me’s refuse, too.
They flicker faster and advise: “you choose, we die.”
And it is so familiar.
And it is so, some might say, I would say, safe.
But the weight of being tugs again—talk about familiar—and I begin
To fall, teakettle always first, into this next life,
Calling all the while:
“No anguish beyond this point.”
“No hay ingles mas alla de este punto”
“Que mi proxima vida sea una diez.”
Kate Bowers is a Pittsburgh based writer who started off as an accountant and then went back to grad school for English on a whim. So now, she writes technical documents and grants by day for an urban school district and reads and writes whenever she can. This means she might very well read the back of your cereal box while you’re still using it and that she will stop the car during road trips to get a closer look at interesting signs, which means all signs. Some trips are longer than others. She also keeps a reading blog on Facebook called So Read This just for fun. And because reading is a practice that helps centre her every day, and she likes to share that. She has also been known to teach community college students, which she really loves as well. She also makes pots, gardens, and is incredibly fond of terrible puns.
Thank you Baby Jesus for Martin Luther
No wonder Cristobal Rojas painted
that blazing hot view of the nether world
as he lay dying in Venezuela
after Paris sealed his fate with TB -
parched, burning with fever
his flesh dropping from brittle bones.
The searing red of his canvas,
and the blackened despair he brushed
onto their faces
lick like flaming tongues on my seared memory,
of horrifying stories told inside the professed safety
of my childhood church.
My family was Lutheran, Missouri Synod,
and upon the authority invested by our Protestant God
on my fantastic hero Martin Luther,
Purgatory didn’t exist for us.
I thought it easy to be Protestant - just believe in Jesus and all would work out fine!
But just in case good works did trump belief,
I’d obey the Ten Commandments and save myself from fiery doom.
Surely a B- in comportment was not bad enough for Hell.
My poor Catholic friends had it worse.
The smallest wrongdoing would inch them ever closer
to God’s nasty detention
before we could meet at Heaven’s door.
My Jewish friends were even more complicated -
confusing me greatly, since God chose them first.
My dad concerned me too – he didn’t go to church.
Pastor Bicker said that church every Sunday
was the way to show Jesus you believed.
But Daddy seemed not to worry
and hid in his bedroom when Pastor came
to try and save him.
I recited Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep each night.
I wasn’t sure if adding Bless Daddy was enough, so
after churchgoing Mommy tucked me in,
I’d whisper to God from inside my heart -
Please Jesus, help me get Daddy to go to church!
Hell was simply too bad for words.
One day I tried to broker a deal between Daddy and God.
If Daddy could be Catholic it wouldn’t be so rough,
Purgatory’s temporary fire a certain improvement over a forever Hell.
When Daddy said no, I went back to praying.
Like Rojas, what other choice did I have?
Deborah Hetrick Catanese
Deborah Hetrick Catanese turned toward writing in her older years, when she realized that passion was the driving force in anything worthwhile that she wrote. This often manifested in boisterous Letters to the Editor. This fortuitous discovery coincided with taking on new adventures during her retirement – including four years as Cofounder, Editor and Writer for Project Motherhood, a blog about how the principles of good fashion also rule the day in good parenting. Deborah now writes Creative Nonfiction and Poetry for the joy of it. Beyond numerous Project Motherhood articles, she has been published in Voices in the Attic, by Madwomen in the Attic, Carlow University; the Pittsburgh Post Gazette; The Microcomputer Facility and the School Library Media Specialist, by American Library Association; and The Dreamers Anthology, by Beautiful Cadaver Project Pittsburgh.
I tighten my eyes; the lids use the lashes to hug each other close.
The red dangles above my head and I wonder why it’s still there, even with my eyes sewn shut.
The boogeyman lingers between what I want and what I need.
Screams and fear come in waves and life goes on and on for days.
I am aware he will come and go as he pleases.
There will be many days of rain.
I open my eyes to the sun once again, rise up and tell myself there is light,
that monsters only come out in the dark.
Like a program glitch, like a haunted house, I am reminded daily of the beast that comes to
steal away all that I hold precious.
Sanity, creativity, quiet.
He introduces new and explosive ways to keep me from following my heart over my head,
from following the sun.
Mom. Wife. Writer. Painter. Baker. Transcendent Witch. Empath. Hippie. Goth Kid. Coffee Enthusiast. Sober. Happy. One With The Cosmos. A Woman Clothed in the Sun. I am many things. Many professions, many faiths. I sleep and dream of a better world and I wake up trying to live in one. I have struggled for years with mental health issues and addiction. I wanted to start a blog that reflected my journey (which continues... you can find that at ajcatapano.wordpress.com). There is also the chance that I can help someone else with their own journey. I live in Brooklyn, NY with my daughter Scarlett and my husband Michael. We have an asthmatic cat named Greta. My first full-length memoir, I Remember…: The Divine Intervention of Motherhood, is available on Amazon along with my two poetry books.
What price for a soul lacking purity
when the remedy seems nothing
short of damnation itself?
The torment of flames cannot quell
this chill that runs through my soul,
the prospect of interminable torment
awaiting a salvation whose light
seems dimmer with each passing moment.
Is there a Hell for those who stand by
and do nothing? Words are not enough
when others are suffering. Or should my concern
be all that's needed to reach that higher plane,
beyond any act on my part? Will doing nothing
about the personal Hell they live
be the making of my own Purgatory?
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.
At nine pm, orange wraps its body
around the dry hills, licking its lips
over the tinderbox ground.
Night comes slowly. From my back
porch, my spirit blinded and waiting
for relief – feet burn on a cracked
paving stone. Ninety-four
frustrating days, cedar tips
are still standing like matchsticks.
Only a sliver of blue, protecting
the pale moon from burning.
Eventually the air cools; only
tracer images remain. We can
relax the muscles holding back
the fire from our brains, let the
sounds of each beast, each set
of footfalls emerge, let the bead
of sweat catch a drop of wind,
and let our eyes adjust as
light emerges within the black.
Still the racing mind keeps the
thought of brush fire, searches
for an orange gleam on the horizon.
It’s no guarantee of sleep, the darkness.
The light that would eat its way
toward the subdivision - no one
has to guess its intention.
Still, this moment of calm is something.
Peace is a metal electric fan playing
percussion with a plastic tag
beating a rhythm against its cage,
lulling a mind aware the sharp
blades are there, spinning. Peace
is the cool floor seeping up through
a feverish face of a child whose
ear pressed down hears the parents’
argument that never seems to end.
Peace is the body mercifully shutting
off the power when the mind won’t.
In the morning I wake, stretching
out a hand, taking inventory
of everything that survived the night.
D. A. Gray
D.A. Gray’s poetry collection, Contested Terrain, was published by FutureCycle Press in October 2017. His work has appeared in The Sewanee Review, Appalachian Heritage, Rattle: Poets Respond, Still: The Journal, The Windhover, and War, Literature and the Arts among many other journals. Gray holds an MFA from The Sewanee School of Letters and an MS from Texas A&M-Central Texas. Retired soldier and veteran, the author writes, teaches and lives in Central Texas.
El Purgatorio, by Cristobal Rojas (Venezuela) 1890
So young then, and some of us thought we knew
everything yet really nothing, sitting in class discussing
Dante’s Divine Comedy. I still have my paperback copy,
yellowed, the translations by John Ciardi. He’s long gone,
as is Professor Elaine Gill who I still see that morning,
dressed in black, looking not so much stern as intense,
serious, as if she knew evil, the perils of ignorance, greed,
corruption or simply our coming youthful missteps,
and how if we were not careful, where we might wind up.
Ronnie Hess is an essayist and poet who lives in Madison, WI. The author of two culinary travel guides (Ginkgo Press) and five poetry chapbooks (the most recent, Canoeing a River with No Name, from Bent Paddle Press, 2018), she visits museums as often as she can. Her website is ronniehess.com.
One could say that my mother lived. Ha! Of course she lived. I have a copy of her family
passport with her name written in what looks like fountain pen ink and beautiful
European penmanship, but what I was about to say was that my mother lived a hellish
story scripted of course subconsciously by her. I may sound unsympathetic and it may
not be correct but I think it is, and for me, too. I begged the case that she could write her
own life, not as the doctors maintained that she was absent for it all, which
I do not appreciate now nor did I at the time. I did not think exactly that the fault was
hers but that she might at least own some of what she called her life. If it were up to
her and not some errant cells then she could blossom saint-like which in her
way she was, a hero facing nightmares down while mortals like ourselves found even the
acceptable relentlessly unsatisfying. Excusing her from words, from actions, from subject,
verb, divesting her of will seemed nice at first but was abundantly, perhaps or even actionably
wrong. Nothing, no you cannot, let us take matters, and if you see what I mean, they said this
while filling their pockets with the fruits of her chosen insanity, their vials with pills, and labeled
her helpless, mediocre, a victim of herself it turns out but also of them. They flattened her
mind, burned the remnants of who she might have been, her beautiful face not
recognizable. I doubt that purgatory and we’re all in it is a chemical imbalance but
then again it’s complicated and in the end each of us is hardly surviving, a task at which
we all will, some of us sooner than others, fail.
Shawna Kent recently completed an MFA in creative nonfiction at Chatham University. She has worked in publishing, real estate, and as a cook. She studied Tibetan Buddhist meditation, trained as a modern dancer, and spent ten years performing and choreographing in Brooklyn, NY. Favourite paid job: teaching ESL to new immigrants. Favourite unpaid job: raising two kids. She is working on a memoir.
“These are your gods.” Exodus 32:4
While sleepless at dawn
on a dark day near solstice
I tune in the son
of a once-famous preacher
hawking fake diamonds
on Shopping TV.
his voice near a whisper
as he draws out
an old Persian word
This divine gift he shares
with anonymous lovers
a pinprick of heartbreak
stoked by the gospel
Matthew Kohut has worked as a writer, teacher, and musician for twenty-five years. His poetry has been published in The Dreamers Anthology: Writing Inspired by Martin Luther King and Anne Frank. He is the co-author of a book on social judgment theory that has been translated into nine languages. For the past decade his work has focused on helping people communicate more effectively in high-stakes settings. He lives in rural New Jersey.
Ascent from Purgatory
Cristobal Rojas, 33 years
We sought to bind the world
in words and colour,
music and beauty.
We came from every land,
refugees of Babel,
together in kindness,
fire, skin, and sweat.
We cannot fail
to know our sins,
so often repeated, yet
surely not so great
that they bar us from paradise,
perhaps a year or
ten thousand, but surely
the majesty we made
for others will be ours.
But we bear such misery
for each beloved lost
yet it be to paradise.
Forgive me, my brothers,
that I leave you
for I must die first.
Don Krieger is a biomedical researcher living in Pittsburgh, PA. His poetry has appeared online at Tuck Magazine, Uppagus Magazine, Vox Populi Sphere, and others, in print in Hanging Loose (1972), Neurology, and in English and Farsi in Persian Sugar in English Tea, Volumes I and III.
We look for redemption, each of us ensconced in
our own fiery pit: lava, mud, flame, filled with
suffering, remorse, torment headed toward oblivion
Each in our own way, our own faith, our own
oneness search for answers, accompanied by
persistent companions – fear, doubt, regret
We count eternity by hours of our doom – the skeletal
warrior, Thor, splays his gnarled, black finger tips,
beckons us to an end which will not end
Silent screams mask false illusions from his bedeviled
mouth to trapped, burning ears – yet we persevere,
frantically search for peace in this roiling, garish sea
Devastation continues through unbearable turmoil
as we strive, beg, plead - and know deep in these
broken hearts salvation does exist...somewhere
Jane Lang has written poetry for a long time and gotten more involved with it over the last five years. She is a member of Striped Water Poets, a local critique group, and has enjoyed the interaction immensely. She has shared her work and had the privilege of many pieces being included in several on-line publications, plus three or four anthologies. Writing inspires her poetically and emotionally.
Purgatory is a river bottom where the Dust Bowl
stopped blowing on the rise of a desolate plain
to gold camps on the back side of Pikes Peak.
Where Spanish explorers believed souls were lost.
Where engineers change at the station in La Junta
and the train drops south to the pass into New Mexico.
It is bounded by cliffs. It cuts deep where in May
yellow and orange orioles flock thick in trees
stunted by fire before temperatures swell
high enough to be the road to hell.
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), Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press), and Wildwood (Lummox Press). 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. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
The Artist Sees Into the Soul
What some call purgatory is,
reality of life on earth,
a temporary condition for which
death is the only cure.
To see the angel and the flames
of our desires, our temptations
is given to those artists who see
behind the dark glass of daily life,
dreams that capture true
existence of our souls. Some cry out
uselessly with rote prayers of
indulgences, indulging desires
instead of truly honing their souls,
but the angel of truth knows.
He hovers to pluck some up
or cast down those whose
greed and pride has let them
burn souls beyond redemption
instead of applying ointment
to ease the pain of flames--
actions filled with love.
Sweat from good works
done for others—balm for burns,
dowsing flames, cascading
into heaven’s calm, living, joyful waters.
Joan Leotta is a writer and story performer who has played with words on page and stage since childhood. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming in The Ekphrastic Review, When Women Write, Visual Verse, Gnarled Oak, Hobart Review, Peacock Journal, Tupelo Press, and others. Her first chapbook, Languid Lusciousness with Lemon, is out from Finishing Line Press.
Pride and Purgatory
1. In Venezuela, socialism claims another casualty, but what's a country, what's another few million carcasses among friends of equity? My friend writes to tell me that his abuela is having strange dreams. In the cemetery, she saw Chavez and Castro with Mao and Lenin, light-footed, dancing joropo on their graves.
2. She's not seeing things, he tells me.
3. The zoos have run out of zebras. There is nothing left to eat.
4. "My first day completely debunked the stories about the so-called 'humanitarian crisis' in Venezuela. No, the people were not eating trash, rats, jaguars or resorting to cannibalism. In fact, when I recounted those stories to my comrade Carlos, he laughed and said this was the colonial and racist discourse perpetually facing the people of Latin America." Christopher Helali, Valley News, April 2019
5. In Barcelona, I was talking to an American I'd met. He created shrines of found objects, arranging brass hinges and toy ducks in tangled branches of pink LEDs. I came here twenty years ago from Los Angeles and never went back, he told me. They lied to me, he cried, so I just couldn't return. They lied about war, they lied about socialism, they lied about Cuba, they lied about the Sandinistas. I've been here ever since. I nodded sympathetically. I love Spain, and I love America, too. But I know how hard it is to stumble over your illusions.
6. Scrolling through pics on his phone, he stops and spears an assemblage with a grimy fingernail. This one is about the genocide of the Indigenous people by the Americans, he says. There are vintage toy soldiers and green plastic army figurines, meticulously glued on rocks and some bark, with cut up maps of Venezuela and Peru and Nicaragua. I look up at him in surprise, then decide not to point out what should be obvious. The Americans didn't colonize South America. Spain did- you know, the country where you chose to live.
7. The Sandinistas didn't save the natives, either. They forced the Miskito Indians by the thousands from their homes, hunted peasants free fire like pheasants, locked them in steel boxes under the tropical sun, skinned them alive before putting them down like dogs. A favourite form of torture was the corte de cruz,the removal of all limbs from the living body, left to bleed out. I want to say so, but I'm not up for the confrontation that invariably ensues when someone points to the atrocities of the left. I'm the worst kind of coward, taking cover in my silence.
8. I shift subjects instead, after a sculpture of juice boxes and Mexican candy wrappers. Have you ever been to Mexico? I ask. I'm fumbling for common ground, and from his sense of kitsch I'm certain he must be as enamoured of the surrealists in Mexico as I am. It's so inspiring, I gush. The colours, the spices, the pulse of life. You'd love it there. The artist looks at me blankly, then shakes his head. No way, man, he says. I'm staying put here. I don't want to live in some third world country, are you kidding?
9. In Bogota, I meet a beautiful man from Venezuela, waiting tables. He is smooth and brown and elegant and wears a black vest with red piping all around. The restaurant is filled with photographs of Marilyn Monroe. With the help of Google Translate and my Spanish phrase book, I am able to ask about the mariscos de dias and the wine list. We swap Instagrams. He shows me pictures of his kid. Says he hopes to see his son and wife again one day. Back at my hostel, the owner tells me, every day we have thirty or forty coming from Venezuela asking for a job. He is deeply troubled by being forced to turn them away. It is a very small business and he works around the clock himself. Colombia is a very poor country, he explains. I hired two people, one man for the lavandaria, one woman who can help with shopping. It's the best I can do.
10. My mother was a refugee from East Germany. She was a small girl with skinny braids. The other kids pulled her hair and called her Nazi while her mother cleaned their floors. Her brother didn't make it to the ship they sailed away on, held back by walls built not to keep people out, but to keep them in. Eventually, he freed himself. When the rope didn't work to that end, he offered himself up to the tracks of the trains.
11. El Purgatorio, by Cristobal Rojas, shows a jumble of people in torment in the dark, in fire. I have pinned a small print of it to the wall to meditate on. Raised Protestant, we never bought into the Catholics' halfway to heaven purification concept of purgatory. But I love the Latin American flare for metaphor and drama, I see the power in the allegory. The story is not a threat by God, or a prediction of pain. Hell is not a prophecy: it is simply a reenactment. Suffering is real, it is everywhere. That half of the picture is merely depicting the obvious. The real story is in looking toward the angel called hope.
12. There's a gathering or protest of sorts at Queen's Park Circle where we used to march during the first Iraq war, holding signs scrawled No Blood For Oil. I stop by, but I can't quite tell what today's protest is all about: a rainbow flag is propped at the bottom of tree, there are a few pussy hat stragglers. None of these showed up in the cold when the Iranians decried the Islamist regime jailing uncovered women and hanging homosexuals in the public square. There are a few booths for campus socialist groups, and some requisite anarchy t-shirts. A few posters say simply, Imagine, and one says F*** God. Many signs cheer BDS against Israel. Long live Maduro! other placards proclaim. In this country, we often have protests against freedom: we are so free we can hold up the finger at the guardians of our freedom without disappearing.
Lorette C. Luzajic
Lorette C. Luzajic is an artist and writer in Toronto, Canada. Her poetry has appeared widely in publications like Cultural Weekly, Black Coffee Review, KYSO Flash, Heart of Flesh, Rattle, The Fiddlehead, The Peacock Journal, and hundreds more. She is the founder and editor of The Ekphrastic Review.
Tell Me Again
What is the difference
between hell and purgatory?
Only the promise
that suffering will end
and you will carry your scars
From all this
I beg true mercy-
give me the blessed dark
instead of this cruel doctrine
that death can not end pain
but magnify it
and withhold release
to some unknown distant time
when punishment might end.
This promise seems
but a chain
to keep you helpless
waiting for some far
Mary McCarthy has been a student, a teacher, a Registered Nurse, and always a lover of words and writing. Her work has appeared in many electronic and print journals, and she has an electronic chapbook, Things I Was Told Not to Think About, available as a free download from Praxis Magazine.
To Dante Alighieri
Is this what you envisioned when you wrote
the poetry of purgatory’s fire
that cleanses us from seven deadly sins?
For both of us the flames are rising higher.
Yet we can welcome them for they will lead
to true perfection and to paradise
and then, eventually, through heaven where
we’ll recognize the Lamb, the sacrifice
who purifies with water and with blood.
You climbed the mount with Virgil as your guide.
Pride, envy, wrath, sloth, prodigality,
with gluttony and lust were cast aside
by those in torment, for their opposites,
those virtues that the angels long to praise.
The man I painted, sitting on the pyre
I can identify with as my days
draw to a close. Now may your poetry,
my art speak charity to all who mourn
and give us hope that one day soon we’ll reach
the Empyrean firmament and be transformed.
Sharon Fish Mooney
Sharon Fish Mooney is the author of Bending Toward Heaven, Poems After the Art of Vincent van Gogh (Wipf and Stock/Resource Publications, 2016) and editor of A Rustling and Waking Within (OPA Press, 2017), an anthology of ekphrastic poems by Ohio poets responding to the arts in Ohio. She has presented ekphrastic poetry readings in multiple locations including the Arts in Society Conference, Paris and Groningen University, the Netherlands. She won the inaugural Frost Farm Prize for metrical poetry. Her ekphrastic poems have appeared in Rattle, First Things, Modern Age, The Lost Country, Common Threads, The Ekphrastic Review and several anthologies. Website: sharonfishmooney.com
Fire Pit Belly
In the fire pit belly
summoned by stirring winds
its tongue sharpened inside of
loosened lips after you touched the part that lay dormant,
fingers glided into its unwelcomed heat
thinking you couldn’t feel its
it shifts its gaze into enlarged pupils
feasting on your sweaty fear
its red orange rage erupts
into your thick coarse hair
you plead don’t do it,
yet its brutal force
snapped at your flesh
the wrath of a thousand curses
ready to singe your bones
where untamed fingers dared to activate its
fire pit belly.
Dr. Nina S. Padolf
To Lilith: Adam’s First Wife That Got Away
Lilith in Jewish Folklore is often referred to as the “first Eve.” She is often depicted in negative demonic references, yet she is also an independent woman who challenges the oppressive system and remains a symbol of power.
Lilith’s rage uncaged darkness
mocked Adam’s quest.
where ancestors slipped off the cliff of earth
clung between worlds in purgatory
she dared her repressors to catch her.
Blasphemy smeared her name in Hebrew scriptures
until she whispered Lilith into the ears of fallen women
they found beauty embracing slander
and rose from the darkness--
Dr. Nina S. Padolf
Nina Padolf a feminist and left-handed rebel, earned her Doctorate in Higher Educational Leadership from Argosy University, her Masters of Art in Teaching from Chatham University, and her Masters of Fine Art in Creative Writing (Poetry) from Carlow University. She is co editor with Deena November, in the recently published: Nasty Women and Bad Hombres Poetry Anthology, Lascaux Press. Her poetry is published in Duane’s Poe Tree Blogspot, Pittsburgh City Paper, Indolent Books, What Rough Beast, Dandelion Review and short stories published in CMU’s, Project Listen. Working in Higher Education for over 13 years, she was Associate Faculty for The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online, and adjuncts at Carlow University for the English Department.
The atheists start from scratch:
reimagine the afterworld
and launch an angelic overseer,
who fans beastly flames,
illuminates the dark,
above and below to join
forces, reminds them
how very like kin they are,
urging each to recognize
the Other in themselves.
Oh, how worth the struggle
to free frail arms trapped
beneath heavenly wings.
Embrace, call it love.
Anita S. Pulier
After retiring from her law practice, Anita S. Pulier traded legal writing for poetry. Her chapbooks Perfect Diet, The Lovely Mundane, and Sounds Of Morning and her book The Butcher's Diamond were published by Finishing Line Press. Anita’s poems have appeared both online and in print in many journals, magazines, newspapers and anthologies. Recently her poems have been featured on The Writers Almanac. For more information check her website: http://psymeet.com/anitaspulier/
Scream Through The Metro De Caracas
Plaza Sucre Metro station
shallow under terra firma
morning rush hour blackout in progress
no trains in sight
as clandestine apparitions weep
of rule by decree
of urban exploitation under
the Bolivarian revolution model
without social justice
for corruption, the pain
permeating through tunnels
of darkest enlightenment
of a counter revolution
a bossa nova too far
but they are not heard
nor even seen
to be revolting against a profligacy
like progressive supranuclear palsy
against impasse upon impasse
food shortages lack
of medicines to counter nefarious Dutch disease
so they scream for El Libertador
cry for their lost homeland
echoing through the tunnels
as a reverberating scream.
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.
Is That You, Cristóbal
appearing cadaverous midst gathering in chiaroscuro?
As if Caravaggio held your hand, brushed the effects
of tenebrism’s darkness, revealed your genius
with illuminating strokes. Above blaze and emaciation,
between shadow, radiance floats. Not unlike purgatory,
could the act of purging be akin to atonement?
As if self-induced vomiting could eliminate self-
condemnation, cleanse the soul. America’s obsession
with body image and skinny silhouettes has fueled
disorders, destroyed lives. While food’s essential
and world hunger’s an epidemic, starvation of another
kind may transcend daily bread. Welcoming your essence,
there’s an angel overhead.
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). In 2019, her second children's book, Rhyme the Roost! A Collection of Poems and Paintings for Children, was released by Daffydowndilly Press, an imprint of Kelsay Books. She is Poetry Editor of the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs. When she’s not writing or editing, you can find her drawing and painting, or outdoors photographing her natural surroundings.
Before the sky was born and the stars were named.
Before the moon hung high and the sun refracted heat.
There was stillness.
Before the rocks and the crannies that shook the
Ground and the as yet unnamed earth.
Before trees and before water.
Before our ancestors who became us.
Before darkness was different from light.
The stillness and the once barren void
Sandy Rochelle is a poet-actress and filmmaker. Previous publications include: Formidable Woman; Visions International; Writing in a Woman's Voice; Amethyst Review; Tuck. She is the recipient of the Autism Society of America's Literary Achievement Award/ The World Peace Prayer Society Poetry Prize. Her website is http://sandyrochelle.com.
I have closed my eyes
to the years passing.
I have forgotten what
I haven’t done.
I have refused the boney hand
that touches me with a shiver
from time to time.
I will not eat that bread.
I will not drink from that cup.
I have cleansed myself
of my sins
to no effect.
I eat from loneliness,
drink from fear--
not from redemption
I cannot separate my body
from what it desires.
--and so I remain suspended,
right here right now--
where I have always been.
Kerfe Roig has always been drawn to the art that resulted from the intersection of spiritual beliefs that arose when the Spanish attempted to convert the Native populations to Catholicism. She also continues to explore the intersection of image and word. You can see more of her work at her website http://kerferoig.com, or at her blogs, https://methodtwomadness.wordpress.com/ (which she does with her friend Nina), and https://kblog.blog/.
You have waited all this time
inside craters deep in earth. You crawl
toward the rocks, lick condensation
from smooth obsidian glass. There is water
here, water and angels lugging
their half-human children over the steaming
coals. Demons too in torn vestments
pace through wily brush.
No invention here: You cannot sing
write, draw. You trace a circle
in sand with your gnarled finger.
The earth cracks open—a fissure of light!--
enough warmth to counter the frosty dark,
to soothe your naked body. You never wanted
to be here. You wanted absolutes: the sticky tar
of hell, the velvet mouth of heaven.
You pray one day an underground river
and carries you home.
Instead, you find the half-shade
of an old lover’s face. She rises from shadow.
You make out cheekbone, curve of nose,
lips parched white with drought.
Her yellow teeth part into smile--
yes, almost like the one she gifted
years ago, to eager boys like you,
passing through the fields of corn
where crickets leaped
stalk to stalk.
Cedric Rudolph teaches middle-school writers at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school (CAPA). He reads and edits for local journals. He also contributes to LOCAL Pittsburgh magazine. In his spare time, he searches for love, reads as much as possible, and pretends that mixed CDs are still a thing. In May 2018, he received his Poetry MFA from Chatham University. His poems are published in Christianity and Literature Journal and The Laurel Review.
In hindsight the ending had already happened.
Freedom had narrowed.
The thin channel of autonomy
And with it
Everyday something leaves
And just like that
Just like that
Struggle to keep up
to the impatience of the
healthy and hurried
of the unfettered
Was not my idea.
I was reckless.
Bargains and despair.
the quiet sting of loss.
The magnificent form
Of whose weight I complained
Of whose beauty I belittled
Of whose strength I overlooked
Of whose magnificence I ignored.
an image I dreamed.
Was I ever happy with who I was.
Movement whittles away.
It wasn’t a betrayal
It was a timebomb left
JL Silverman is currently in the MFA Writing Program at Chatham University. She has had articles published in the magazines The Griffith Observer and Imaging Economics. She has also been published on The Huffington Post.
Our Earthly Lot
So here comes Purgatory again.
Just when you hope you can lead the perfect,
sinless life. A reminder. The blazing flame
of the seventh circle meant to cleanse, but
in the moment agonizing. Raised
in the church, you still endure fear and trembling,
relive the traumas of childhood. You know
the poison ivy of disobedience,
the fiery itch that cannot be relieved,
the threat of 500 years of suffering
to erase every trace of misdoing.
And you recognize the plight of the artist,
Cristobal Rojas, who painted what
he himself understood—the misery
of the dispossessed, the sick and despairing,
the victims of social injustice—
purgatory on earth.
You know that lot. Rojas carried
El Purgatorio home with him.
From Paris to Caracas and
the Iglesia de La Divina
Pastora. His consumptive body
depicted enter stage in the dramatic
conflagration, as other shades walk through
its flames, seeking release.
An angel hovers above. If only
we could trust in the promise of Heaven.
Sandi Stromberg is a devotee of The Ekphrastic Review’s challenges, which combine her two loves—art and poetry. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, had her poetry read on NPR and published in newspapers and many small journals and anthologies. Her translations of Dutch poetry were published in the United States and Luxembourg.
Penny Wise, Pound Foolish
We all don't float down here,
but a few of us do--
on clouds of coal smoke
above the hibachi of souls.
The weightlessness —a side-effect
of proclivities on the mortal coil.
Little white lies,
time spent luxuriating in grey areas
earn a buffeted ride
on alternating updrafts
as hot as the coals themselves.
But the landlord can make things interesting,
introducing instant cooling--
the resulting downdrafts sear the flesh,
lock in juicy torment,
a marinade of regrettable rumination.
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. Or come check out: https://openartsforum.com to see what he and other contemporary artists around the globe are up to.
“The Responsibility of Intellectuals”
(An ekphrastic poem with a nod to the Vaclav Havel essay I make my freshman read every year)
This is how we like to see ourselves:
Bringers of guiding light
to the long human interregnum--
This is how we fear ourselves:
incinerators of doctrine
the souls burnt in our holy fire
casualties of human progress--
This is where we lose ourselves:
Guardians of discipline
practitioners of curricula
assessors of history
quillettes are branlettes of knowledge
blind to history’s reflecting eye upon them--
This is where we find ourselves:
within the peculiar
of divinized bureaucracy.
Matthew Ussia is an academic, thereminist, photoblogger, and podcaster who resides in Pittsburgh.
The Power of Guilt
The fire of Rojas’ guilt
coaxed Sun out of the sky.
For flame calls unto flame.
Day descended into night.
The sun became an ambient orange light, an agony of darkness.
Rojas’ conscience, red
as blood, fear, regret
hovered over an altar of hands
made from souls he never touched.
Loretta Diane Walker
Loretta Diane Walker, a multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net Nominee, won the 2016 Phillis Wheatley Book Award for Poetry for her collection, In This House (Bluelight Press). She has published four collections of poetry. Her book Ode to My Mother’s Voice and Other Poems is forthcoming in 2019 from Lamar University Literary Press. Her manuscript Word Ghetto won the 2011 Bluelight Press Book Award. She teaches music at Reagan Magnet School, Odessa Texas.
Written in Oil
In Venezuelan urban streets
injustice fuels the fires of unrest.
Streams of wealth once gushing from wells
become a slick, snaking its way
through chapters of history written in oil.
At any time in the shadowed hours
the unmarked vans, black as charred bones,
scream to a halt spilling their fill
of masked faces on stained alleyways
crashing down doors spattered with hate.
Nameless soldiers plant drugs loosely
in unhidden places, women laid bare,
bullets scarring impoverished walls
their brave men seized for asking the question:
How did our nation become so divided?
We see it, this sea of lost souls drowning,
dragging its dignity shackled to ankles
flowing in silence through El Purgatorio
judged by the spread-eagled angel in flight,
its forge a furnace re-shaping opinion.
Entangled ribs and misshapen limbs
writhe and twist awaiting atonement
corruption revealed, a red vein throbbing
for this is Purgatory, here and now
written in oil, muddied, concealed.
Kate Young lives in Kent with her husband and has been passionate about poetry and literature since childhood. After retiring, she has returned to writing and has had success with poems published in Great Britain and internationally. She is a regular reader of The Ekphrastic Review and has contributed quite regularly in recent months. Kate is now busy editing her work for an anthology. Alongside poetry, Kate enjoys art, dance and playing her growing collection of guitars and ukuleles!
Devils of Empire
The stench of burning petroleum everywhere,
their mouths full of copper taste,
blood and fumes of gasoline,
all shrouded in the black clouds of diesel.
This is hell and this is not hell.
This is never and this is now.
This is the waiting in between the waiting.
The fire burns but gives no light.
An angel, a star, she hovers above, but she does not save.
What gore-streaked hands have stoked this furnace?
Hands blue and white with the frost of apathy and aggression.
What glutted, greasy mouths have uttered the orders?
Lips smeared red with the oozing life-force they vampire-guzzle.
Chani Zwibel is the author of Cave Dreams to Star Portals. She is an associate editor with Madness Muse Press. She is a graduate of Agnes Scott College. She was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but now dwells in Marietta, Georgia, with her husband and their dog. She co-hosts an open mic night called “Poetry and Palette” once a month at The Good Acting Studio in Marietta. Find her on Facebook.
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