"...that would not, from the borders of itself, burst like a star..."
Rilke, Archaic Torso, translated by Stephen Mitchell
"Having read this poems hundreds of times, I remain startled
by that final gesture. I feel something has taken place that I
am, and am not, prepared for."
Mark Doty on Archaic Torso
"It's the sound of 1000 deadly things coming toward us..."
Star Wars, Episode One
When my heart looks back
into her sewing room
(also her bedroom)
I am the child
sitting under an imitation mahogany table
designed to hold her Singer,
the royalty of sewing machines,
heavy and black, embossed with gold.
In this endearing sketch of family,
I am her only granddaughter, bored
but enchanted by her button box,
dreaming the dreams of a poet:
Her button box, an old cookie tin was covered with dented fairies,
slight-shouldered, scratched in the black night on the lid.
And even under a new moon, light was coming from old wings,
gold strings, looped and scattered --
And how, I thought,
those fairies could fly
in the exotic kingdom of sewing,
buttons for coats
and uniforms, insignia for the queen's footman,
and majestic birds for the tunic of a prince,
though I wasn't Cinderella
beneath the royal Singer,
my childhood wealth, those buttons,
twin black onyx with gold centres,
and a whole card with mother of pearl.
If it can be said
that a first grade teacher can have a passion,
a weekend career created by her past,
my grandmother's was sewing --
coats, suits, dresses --
everything she and my mother would wear
during the Great Depression;
and that I, in Austin, would find old-
for store-bought clothes like my friend's --
yet how often I think of her hands,
the way they'd traveled over fabric
since 1902, the year her mother
died when she was twelve
and the year her father gave her
a family title -- Tailor -- drawing around the size
of each of his children
to make paper patterns
for clothes she'd sew to fit his large family
of motherless children...
And aren't we all orphans
in some way or another,
our memories made of noble fabrics
worn like leftover dreams of the day --
sky and shame and sunlight --
blue and yellow and black for mourning?
Flying, sometimes, almost free,
a Calder mobile hung from heaven?
Or a patchwork of abstract emotion,
shapes divided on a family tree
(one family member a crazy guilt)
all this in a hypothetical morning
that comes to life in my grandmother's
sewing room (a description, pre-Picasso)
where the fabric of life
takes on a second meaning --
time unfastened, life in motion --
the art of living on the surface
of a shattered dream; when, as suddenly
as love and counting priceless buttons,
happiness is altered
to the shape of random moments,
the painless shock of knowing
what we'd thought shame and imperfection
is only damaged innocence --
and what, if we were clever,
comes to life transformed by art: a body
of collective fictions in the somewhat buxom upper torso
of a dressmaker's mannikin in blue.
a still-life animated
by the eye of a contraption worn over its headless body like an antennae
panning the macrocosm
to tell the story of Wiedemann's Figure
(his Exquisite Corpse) oil on canvas -- perhaps the pattern of a lost great aunt
called Sophie -- or Zina,
one of my grandmother's sisters,
who left to be Mayor of some tiny town in Texas no one had ever heard of.
[How many men
would those sisters love, the artist,
the musician, and Zina?] Under my grandmother's sewing machine,
reality was never an obstacle,
as it had never been to the sisters
whose torsos (unlike Apollo's, archaic, made in marble) could be made
with art and cartography,
a map like Wiedemann's.
with a dot on a mannikin's shoulder (x marks the spot for a beginning,
though some might call it a bullet hole,
to identify the Texas Torso) the map's starting point for a thin blue line
that runs steady
to the truncated throat of a mannikin --
call it Aunt Marjorie's well of goodness, where she learned to sing
and the musical fire of her father,
a black smith, making horseshoes and ties for the railroad,
a renaissance man,
my great grandfather, who painted glass,
taught penmanship and Latin, moved to Texas and built the school house,
where his daughters graduated together -- teachers,
musicians and artists -- my Aunt Virginia, "Vergie," who began to draw
where the blue line
detours south, to the mannikin's left shoulder --
to the heart and Virgie's art -- where the model for sewing begins to change
into Widemann's Figure.
Texas, and the world, had survived
two wars and catastrophe, sometimes loss so great (mine and others)
that it's surprising
to find a second figure bathed in light --
how did he invade this space with unnamed shapes, coming toward
Widemann's blue Figure
wearing a crown of sunlight,
an abstract expressionist's Apollo, illuminating part of the painting
In the way Sunday morning
came into my grandmother's
sewing room like a yellow dress to complicate my future -- like love --
my first -- a blind date --
my torso in a strapless slice of Texas.
Laurie Newendorp, a native of Austin, lives and writes in Houston. The
Ekphrastic Challenge has become an uplifting part of my life, releasing
positive endorphins and memories: my grandmother and her sisters, my
great aunts, were pretty, hard working Texas women. I like to think of
them finding their individual talent while my great grandfather "fiddled" --
he loved his violin -- music floating in the summer breeze after they'd
finished their farm chores.
Figure it Out
She tries to fit herself
into the class shaped hole
but the squeeze is too big,
muffled voice too loud
her echo, scream, mutter
oozing through tight walls,
tunnel tapered corridors.
Someone places ear muffs
securely over her head
to protect her from the world,
a pilot preparing for take off
through another tight angled day,
runway littered with obstacles.
They think she is learning,
as she feels her way through
soft curved spheres
and sharp-edged cubes,
but her discerning eyes
see only the shapes between
never the symmetry.
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 such as Nitrogen House, Nine Muses and Words for the Wild. 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. Find her on Twitter @Kateyoung12poet.
These people, they don’t like me
because I’m blue, mainly, or just because
my background is yellow.
There are things in my past
I’d rather not discuss, not because
they’re unseemly, mostly,
but mainly I don’t really understand them.
My background is not my fault
or my responsibility.
To explain, I should first ask you
to allow me tell you about blue.
It’s not the simple blue of sky
or certain fruit, or even the shirt I’m wearing,
which is the blue of most shirts I wear.
Let me tell you about this particular shirt.
It’s a bit worn at the neck
because I don’t shave on weekends
which is mainly when I wear it,
and on one sleeve the threads
are beginning to unravel.
I don’t blame others for this.
Very well, it’s faded. My wife hates it.
And I don’t remember where it came from.
I didn’t wear it more than three times last year
because I was so ashamed. (And how well
we all know shame is a killer.)
Today, however, is the second day I’ve worn it
in a row. Why? Because it’s so comfortable,
an old friend, and because we are practically
quarantined for the first of many times
this century. I’m not going anywhere,
and no one can smell me.
Maybe I bought it in California
all those years so long ago
when we were happy.
Of course you may ask,
were we really happy?
They say the mind prefers
I prefer a red door
that leads to a hallway with green carpeting
where you can smell chicken paprika
that’s been cooking all day.
The landing is parquet, and squeaks a little,
and the stairs are worn marble, so smooth,
like the backs of geese, you have to be careful
where you step so you don’t break your neck.
At the bottom of the long winding staircase
the air is fresh, and you follow it out
into the darkening street
where everyone is happy.
Men in jackets and ties escort
bouncing ladies with bright lips
and hair piled up like haystacks in August
on their way to bars where they order drinks
that look like paradise in cut crystal tumblers.
Is there really such a street?
Then I realize while I was gone
someone struck up a tune
on the old baby Steinway
in my apartment. I didn’t even know
we had a piano. My wife has learned to play
Schumann’s Von fremden Ländern und Menschen
while I was out sniffing around
for the perfect mousseline.
Then I realize my blue shirt is ruined.
The red door is bound by the outline
of its own fears. And the yellow wallpaper,
which my grandparents had cherished,
has been torn down, the plaster patched
and painted over to look like Christmas trees.
David Ruekberg lives and teaches near Rochester, NY, and earned his MFA from Warren Wilson College. Poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Lake Effect, Mudfish, and elsewhere. His first collection, Where Is the River Called Pishon? was published by Kelsay Books in 2018. FutureCycle Press will publish Hour of the Green Light in January, 2021. More at https://poetry.ruekberg.com.
Want to see what the "hayi" (neighbourhoods) of Baghdad look like?
Each shapeless blob is a "hayi."
Each colour of each blob is a separate culture is a neighbourhood I patrolled.
Each "hayi" stops and starts in crossing a street.
Nothing blends nothing blurs nothing fades.
Each formless shape exists to exist.
No links no tentacles no stitches sew one to another.
Nothing is within another; it’s one dimensional.
With the mathematical certainty of Flatland;
Certain disorder and certain confusion.
Larry OHeron lives in Rochester NY. He is retired and taking classes at Writers and Books, Rochester NY as a way of exploring and developing his interest in the writing arts. https://caminoadventure2019.blogspot.com/
Santa Claus is a yellow dove
flying in a blizzard the colour of custard.
His eight reindeer have disappeared.
Perched high on an olive branch,
he steers his sleigh westward
with periwinkle wings flying eastward.
His wavy sac of packages trundles
on rusty metal runners clunking,
He lets loose a black silk ribbon.
He air-drops abstract presents
into evergreens of nesting birds.
An eyeball wrapped in blue tissue paper
falls from the sky onto festive boughs below
dotted with make-believe snow.
Imagine all the magpie treasures for winter warblers
who sing and rejoice in gifts of birdseed and wonder.
Nature’s choir is heard throughout the city on Christmas Eve.
Tanya Adèle Koehnke
Tanya Adèle Koehnke is a member of the Scarborough Poetry Club. Tanya’s ekphrastic poems appear in The Canvas and Big Arts Book. Tanya taught critical writing about the visual arts at the Ontario College of Art & Design University (OCADU). Tanya also has a background in arts journalism.
there is light
some have called it
golden or warm
you might wonder
why i have not seen it
which is a natural
question to ask
so let’s say
i live in a home
and the walls are
so black and thick
i find myself isolated
thus filling with ache
and let’s say this ache
is quite monster-like
spawning long tentacles
my body like a mummy
cloaked in darkest night
Tiffany Shaw-Diaz is a poet and artist who lives in Centerville, Ohio.
On those days when the dogwood
of your body bursts into flower,
when the hurricane winds withdraw
with a holy hush from your eye,
when you luge from joy to joy,
runners this side of catastrophe,
when every passerby takes the time
to witness you top to bottom,
when the divine light within you
oozes like an amber sap,
when you are tychomántis and zipline,
pianoforte and tympani,
then you know you have succeeded
all the other days of your life,
keeping the knife safe in its drawer,
the bullet mute in its chamber.
Devon Balwit's poems, like the poet herself, can be found here and there. For more, see her website at: https://pelapdx.wixsite.com/devonbalwitpoet
Self-Portrait in Quarantine
Day 20-something: can you believe
I’m growing paler? The raised-by-wolves
hairdo isn’t helping either, so I’m avoiding
mirrors. Instead, I’ll look inward, paint
I try cubism: no need to change
out of jammies or examine my face.
Replace my head with an open book –
a nod to realism. No arms or legs since
I’m frozen in time.
My heart flattened into a greeting card,
my torso a dressmaker’s form, parts of me
wired together with coat hangers.
My third eye wanders to my gut
and stares back without blinking.
Alarie Tennille was born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia, and graduated from the University of Virginia in the first class admitting women. For Alarie, looking at art is the surest way to inspire a poem, so she’s made The Ekphrastic Review home for four years. She was honoured to receive one of the Fantastic Ekphrastic Awards for 2020. Alarie hopes you’ll check out her poetry books on the Ekphrastic Book Shelf and visit her at alariepoet.com.
Her wheelchair has a 5.7L HEMI V8 engine
with fuel-saver technology,
chrome-clad dual exhaust pipes
& aluminum wheels,
a six-speed standard transmission
with a leather-wrapped stick shift
& a leopard skin seat.
It is a modified lowrider
with hydraulic pumps
connected to its shock absorbers.
She hip-hops through crowds
& woe to him who gets in her way.
Jimmy Pappas received an MA in English literature from Rivier University. Published in over 80 journals, he is the Vice President of the Poetry Society of NH. His poem "Bobby's Story" was one of ten finalists in the 2017 Rattle Poetry Contest and won the 2018 Readers Choice Award. It is included in his first book Scream Wounds, a collection of poems based on veterans' stories. He was the winner of the 2019 Rattle chapbook contest for Falling off the Empire State Building. His interview with Tim Green is on Rattlecast #34.
Figure of Speech
said Shakespeare’s King John
Who could disagree
in those times
or in these
or in most times
It takes an abstraction
to show it clearly,
to figure it out.
A figure to illustrate it perfectly.
A figure that sums it up
A figure that says it all.
Lynn White lives in north Wales. Her work is influenced by issues of social justice and events, places and people she has known or imagined. She is especially interested in exploring the boundaries of dream, fantasy and reality. She was shortlisted in the Theatre Cloud 'War Poetry for Today' competition and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Rhysling Award. Her poetry has appeared in many publications including: Apogee, Firewords, Vagabond Press, Light Journal and So It Goes Journal. https://lynnwhitepoetry.blogspot.com or https://www.facebook.com/Lynn-White-Poetry-1603675983213077/
You try to avoid facing
I am so much more
than my eyes
and what they can’t see.
Look at me, do…
Music lives in my liver, poetry in my heart, depths
you haven’t plumbed come up through my bowels,
a fire burns in my soul, passion in my flesh,
my useless legs move in dance. Hold me.
Light warms me, swells me, lusts me.
Fresh waters lap against my shores.
Words fill my imaginings, my world
is filled with colours you
will never see.
My body can’t move, but I plane like a condor,
rise like a skylark, sing like a nightingale.
Perhaps my song would overwhelm you,
I can feel your alarm and shall
cover my eyes.
Rose Mary Boehm
A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm lives in Lima, Peru. Author of two novels, one full-length poetry collection and two chapbooks, her work has been widely published in mostly US poetry journals. Her latest full-length poetry MS, The Rain Girl, has been accepted for publication in June 2020 by Blue Nib. Her poem, "Old Love’s Sonnet," has been nominated for a Pushcart by Shark Reef Journal where it was published in the Summer of 2019.
She dares not utter the “C”-word.
Too much power in that, she says.
And yet, like the splitting
of atoms, her spirit fractures
with each new report--
how the oncologist so easily echoes
that word as if as common
as mowing the grass,
or, again, the way blades of hair
fall like mulch into the trash
where the remains of breakfast,
smelling of chaos and rebuke,
the sensibilities of the universe,
every word not void.
Tammy Daniel was selected as one of the New Voices of 2015 by The Writers Place in Kansas City, Mo. Her work has appeared in I-70 Review, Touch: The Journal of Healing, The Ekphrastic Review, Dying Dahlia Review, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Red River Review, Rusty Truck, and Ink, Sweat and Tears.
American Sonnet for My Cat
I do not see you lounging in a chair, certainly not caring
to pose for somebody, more like perching on top of a chair
near the bright yellow of a living room wall. I do not see navy blue
or carnation of your body, not part paint palette, not part base
of a floor lamp whose light you would not want turned on.
I do not hear a bird song as soothing, more like alarm
as you attempt to protect me from the blue futon position.
You are tortoiseshell, named Mardi Gras, but as a collage
of tan and dark. Throw-up heaved on the egg-yoked floor
is not unlike ambers of a campfire popping the night before
the mud locks in. We live in a two-story box, not as figures in
contrast, more like shapes hiding in a brown paper bag. The bones
of your escape. Outside is now your pleasure and nightmare.
It does not matter to love you. Trying to find you is not enough.
John Milkereit is a mechanical engineer trying to survive in the oil & gas industry, who lives in Houston, Texas. 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. He is working on his next collection of poems.
He recalls conspiring where none transpired. In
his memory, the self is tall, masquerades
as transparent ace interceding for
ignorant innocents, abandoned whelps
refused compassion, visible solar-
plexus chakra emanating self-care.
Meanwhile, in a pose stylized for its best
effect, stance eclipsing thin reflection,
he ascertains their devoted whimpers,
whispers hovering alive like fireflies.
D. R. James
D. R. James has taught college writing, literature, and peace-making for 36 years and lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan. His most recent of nine collections are Flip Requiem (Dos Madres Press, 2020), Surreal Expulsion (The Poetry Box, 2019), and If god were gentle (Dos Madres Press, 2017), and his micro-chapbook All Her Jazz is free, fun, and printable-for-folding at the Origami Poems Project. https://www.amazon.com/author/drjamesauthorpage
without, as within
beyond the window
imposed by discretion,
turmoil relative to distance
in pursuit of resolution,
within, assaying senses
now expanding, distanced
one from the other,
sight and sound secondary
to perception, turmoil
resolved through reflection
which is without, which within?
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.
The Top Three Most Important Items in 1959
I can’t remember being a year old, but Guillermo, Uncle G to all of us, never ceased to remind me. Stories blew through the air by the chair in front of the telly. The hanging lamp--all modern edges and pre-Sixties space--always on his right. News that ran a bit toward the red or sat atop the yellow never left Uncle G’s lips . . . if it ever crossed his mind. All that mattered in our house were indiscriminate strokes and lives full of primary colours.
an empty chair
unmoved since last Thursday
flowers in a vase
bare a sympathy card
Todd Sukany, a Pushcart nominee, lives in Pleasant Hope, Missouri, with his wife of over 37 years. His work recently appears in The Christian Century and Fireflies’ Light. A native of Michigan, Sukany stays busy running, playing music, and caring for four rescue dogs, a kitten, and one old-lady cat.
Unwrapping a caul birth, eclosing. Drying wet orange wings, brush-feet hooks. Small heath butterfly. Translucent, sheer, gossamer. I remember how by the creek, I walked with you once. On a summer day. When you stood at the gate. Vanished house left unlatched. I sit still. I keep watch. I am the wound. The nectar of flowers. Minimalist lyrics. Your mother tongue. Land of bluebells. Where swamp milkweed grows. Gypsum forms the hills. Scratch a line into the paint. Bleeding through gampi paper. Ghosting. Puckering. Warping it and rubbing it out.
full moon caught in thornapple
come tit, it is late
Ilona Martonfi is an editor, poet, curator, advocate and activist. Author of four poetry books, the most recent collection is Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019). Forthcoming, The Tempest (Inanna, 2021). Writes in journals, anthologies, and six chapbooks. Her poem “Dachau on a Rainy Day” was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. Artistic director of Visual Arts Centre Reading Series and Argo Bookshop Reading Series. QWF 2010 Community Award.
in the same old chairs
at our sanitized screens.
We plot graphs,
wait for curves
to peak and fall
in the pinks
of passing days
that the febrile figure
at the red door
alight on us
as we splutter
in blue isolation,
in healing light.
Helen Freeman has been published on sites such as Ink, Sweat and Tears, Red River Review, Barren Magazine, The Drabble, Sukoon and the Ekphrastic Review. She now lives in Durham, England after many years in the Middle East.
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