The Werther Effect
Roaming around the musty stacks
at the George Bruce Branch of the
New York Public Library – a 12 year-old
and artless me, eager though indiscriminate
traveler – my only real move being
from Children’s Section to Adult –
I somehow landed on The Sorrows
of Young Werther.
Before I even knew what Sturm und Drang was,
Goethe tossed me this way, and then that:
young Werther hopelessly in love with Charlotte,
who is affianced to Albert, whose pistols Werther
borrows (so right in an epistolary novel!),
as he sets off upon a journey, shoots himself,
and then is buried under a linden tree. Poor Charlotte’s
grief, of course, immense; perhaps she too will soon
find solace under that selfsame tree.
Not knowing fully what this all might mean,
(having just moved to the Adult Section),
I did know it was bad – a puddle
of impossible desires. And so I put my head down
(not quite in Walheim, but at 125th in Harlem,
at the George Bruce Branch), and quietly wept.
I always wondered what had caused my yielding,
so complete, to the pathos of poor Werther:
Was it the tatters of another day spent reeling
in that 6th grade maelstrom? Was it the afternoon’s
receding light in that already dim library? Or was it
just the sudden gush of a pre-adolescent geyser?
It was only decades later that I came across
the curious phenomenon of Werther Fever:
1774, the novel published. . . countless young men
dressed in yellow trousers, blue waistcoats, and long black
boots – all over Europe, Werther mushroomed. . .
drawings, cups, plates, even a perfume – celebrating
Too often were their bodies found, the tearful
book beside them.
Banned in Leipzig, banned in Italy,
banned in Denmark; the clothes, the book – contagious.
Reportedly two thousand young men taken by his sorrows:
the Werther Effect.
Then traveling further, I alighted on a Wilhelm
Amberg painting, from 1870. Five young girls
sitting in a tawny forest. One, in a long dark dress,
reads to the others, and on the rock behind her
rests a handkerchief. A second girl weeps
quietly on a companion’s shoulder. Another,
rapt and sorrowful . . .
Listening, they wear
a look of wondering sadness,
a look the newly blossomed wear.
. . . . . . . . . .
A golden light seeps through the trees;
late afternoon – a turning time. The painting
titled “Reading from Goethe’s Werther.”
The scene a frame in which to set my own tears
shed for Werther’s troubles – now mirrored here,
quintuply-mirrored, in my melancholy doubles.
No longer I, just one disquieted young reader,
but rediscovered finally unto myself – collected –
part of a universal chorus now of grievers!
Helen Bournas-Ney was born on the island of Ikaria, Greece, and grew up in NYC. She served as the Assistant Director of the GED Center at NYU and as the Director of the Learning Center at SUNY Farmingdale, and also taught a number of writing courses. She received the Anaïs Nin Award for her work on Rimbaud and George Seferis. Her work has appeared in Plume, the Cumberland Poetry Review, the New Hampshire College Journal, and the 2019 anthology Plume Poetry 7.
No one else had ever told her that.
Only the shining wasp with a voice clean
as a spinning needle--
how water would hold her closer
than any body. Never betray her.
It would polish her bones like fever.
This is why she pushed her way through
cattails which sprang
like a crown of thorns along the riverbed,
her red slippers going burgundy
in the bloodwarm, tidal mud.
The water’s green meniscus wavered
in the swell of her advance. Abandoned,
her bouquet spread across the surface
like frail arms opening toward the perfect
cerulean sky. Her pale braids unspooled
like scrims of light. The spoiled lace
of her gown, yellowed with pollen
and sun, tangled in a willow branch torn
free in the past night’s storm, and
for a single breathless moment held
her in the shadow of that ancient tree
while, just above her watery eyes,
the black wasp hung, unfurling paper
from its mouth like a delicate scroll
upon which nothing was written.
Or else it was something unbearable as grief.
This poem previously appeared in The Journal and Out of Eden.
Frank Paino was born in Cleveland, Ohio and earned an MFA from Vermont College. His poems have appeared in a variety of literary publications, including: Crab Orchard Review, Catamaran, North American Review, World Literature Today, The Briar Cliff Review, Lake Effect and the anthology, The Face of Poetry. His third book, Obscura, is forthcoming from Orison Books in 2020. Frank’s first two volumes of poetry were published by Cleveland State University Press: The Rapture of the Matter (1991) and Out of Eden (1997). His awards include a Pushcart Prize, The Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature, and a 2016 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council.
Millennium Park, Chicago
Silver archway, upturned u. Watch the specks of colour
as you walk toward it. One of them is you.
Seek the hue of your t-shirt, a splash of handbag.
There you are, high in a corner, near sky.
And though close now, you’re small as though viewed
through the narrow end of field glasses.
Come underneath. Crane your neck to see a face
you’ve known since birth peering down, shining
and safe like a waking dream of your afterlife.
Stroll until nightfall. Bowed skyline lit and reflected,
the Bean glitters like Lake Michigan in the dark. Only here,
you can touch the cool surface with no risk of falling in.
Ona Gritz's poetry collection Geode was a finalist for the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Catamaran Literary Reader, Bellevue Literary Review, Seneca Review, and elsewhere. Ona is also an essayist, memoirist and children's author.
Instead of The Golf Channel he slept through,
he stands at the foot hills of Mount Takao,
arms stretched upwards, and watches white
herons and geese announce our arrival to the cherry
blossoms, lilies of the valleys, wild cherries, passion-
flowers and roses, singing, with silky breaths,
their perfume into the breeze; sweet summer eagerness.
Instead of chilled beer poured in a frozen glass
he drinks hot tea, wisps of steam; warm and pleasant
and inviting, curl the outline of his mustache and open
him up the way a fighting conch stretches out of its shell
to dance in the current, loosening his grip once clenched
behind his barricade door, exposing his soft
pink and orange tenderness.
Instead of folded hands and knelt knees behind a pew,
he dances in a circle, kicking around mud, under visions
of the Pure Land breaking through the clouds beside the sun’s
ascension in the East dissolving the morning’s dew
and exposing permanent meadows softened with running
rivers teaching dharmas, while he invents games for the gathered
listeners like a laughing Buddha, like a dad.
Tate Lewis recently graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University with a double major in English-writing and Religion. This is his third publication ever but his second from the manuscript he is currently compiling. His upcoming book of poetry’s determination is to not only focus the reader’s eye on the ugliness of a futile struggle against death but also his discoveries of his father within and apart from fatherhood. His work has also been featured in Better than Starbucks and The American Journal of Poetry.
A Darkey Hymn “All I Want”
It hardly had to do with her
Shadow Night hymn
In the grief of her song
Dark throat ripped
Like the hem
From America’s gown
in history’s skin
Toss me the blade
I want to split seams
This/our brown child
Slip me the shank
To slit this Night
Lolita Stewart-White is a poet who lives and works in Miami. Her work has appeared in the Iowa Review, Rattle, Callaloo and Kweli. She is a Cave Canem fellow and the winner of the Paris American Readers Series.
Gamine, head down, she looks up
and out, body subdued, it seems, shoulders
hunched, hands together in her lap.
She sits beside a well in the painting I bought,
and she looks out, but she doesn’t stare at me.
Instead, she half-smiles at a man, who wears
on his back a worn leather knapsack, and tied
on top, a folded easel, canvas umbrella,
the tools he needs to paint. I can’t see his face;
it’s hidden from all but her as he leans slightly
forward. In his hand, a canvas, blank, I imagine;
ready stamped on the back with the supplier’s name.
I spend hours staring at the scene and wondering
about the hand that made this fine painting.
Unfinished, the experts think, and so unsigned:
Not worth much. But this painter had a touch:
brushed feathers of light fall across
the shaded well; a mass of greens imply
a mossy stone trough where livestock drink.
Woman at the well. Does the painter, like Jesus,
offer the living water, life eternal?
Does my painting make that claim for art
instead of faith? A radical thought back then.
The painting tells me she belongs to this place,
but he’s a stranger, a student of plein air:
a hint of formality in their conversation.
She is listening; he leans forward.
I see now. The once-blank canvas, faceless
painter: He’s given us the moment that he asked,
May I paint you? This painting, then, her answer.
Sandy Solomon’s book, Pears, Lake, Sun, received the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, published simultaneously in the UK by Peterloo Poets. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including The New Yorker, Vox Populi, New Republic, The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Review, Partisan Review, Threepenny Review, The Gettysburg Review, Harvard Magazine, and others. Her poems have appeared in a number of anthologies including Women’s Work, Orpheus and Company: Contemporary Poems on Greek Mythology, and A Breathless Hush, The MCC Anthology of Cricket Verse. Several of her essays on poetry have appeared in Mentor and Muse. She is Writer in Residence and Associate Director of the Creative Writing Program at Vanderbilt University. She lives in Nashville and, several months of the year, in London.
Buddha in the Mandorla
Centre of all centres, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed and ever-sweetening--
all of this, from here to all the stars,
is your fruit’s flesh: we bid you greeting.
Look, you feel how nothing any longer
clings to you; your shell is infinite,
and the strong juice extends there, pressing it.
A radiance from outside makes it stronger,
for up above, ablaze and full, your suns
have turned around to face you. Yet
in you already something that
endures beyond them has begun.
Susan McLean (translation)
Buddha in der Glorie
Mitte aller Mitten, Kern der Kerne,
Mandel, die sich einschließt und versüßt, -
dieses Alles bis an alle Sterne
ist dein Fruchtfleisch: Sei gegrüßt.
Sieh, du fühlst, wie nichts mehr an dir hängt;
im Unendlichen ist deine Schale,
und dort steht der starke Saft und drängt.
Und von außen hilft ihm ein Gestrahle,
denn ganz oben werden deine Sonnen
voll und glühend umgedreht.
Doch in dir ist schon begonnen,
was die Sonnen übersteht.
Rainer Maria Rilke (1908)
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was one of the leading modernist poets in German. He was born in Prague, but traveled all over Europe. He served for a while as Rodin's secretary and was deeply interested in the visual arts.
Susan McLean is a retired professor of English from Southwest Minnesota State University. She has published two books of her own poetry and a book of translations of Martial's Latin epigrams. She also translates poetry from French and German.
Framing Sarah Malcolm
Halfway along the gallery you hang
quietly in shades of grey and yellow
avoiding my gaze, face implacable.
Irish laundress – infamous murderess.
Flanked by kings, courtiers and classical nymphs,
your place assured by Master Hogarth's craft.
Who, two days before your execution,
called to capture you with oils and canvas.
Each brush stroke holds you in static panic,
knowing that as the paint embodies you,
your life unwinds towards its final frame.
A cart, a crowd, a rope, a drop, one breath
before you plunge to trade your mortal pain
for this work of art – this still life.
from the National Gallery of Edinburgh: "Sarah Malcolm was executed in 1733 at the age of 25 for the murder of her mistress Lydia Duncomb and two fellow servants. Malcolm denied having any part in the killing but was found guilty and sentenced to hang. Hogarth sketched her in Newgate Prison in London two days before her execution on 7 March at Fleet Street. Hogarth then went on to make this painting and an engraving, that was popular due to her notoriety. This picture is said to have been bought from the artist by Horace Walpole and was in the Walpole sale at Strawberry Hill on 14 May 1842."
Jane Baston is originally from Oxfordshire. She lived and worked in Lebanon and the USA for a number of years. She has now settled in Scotland where she spends time writing, walking and dancing. Her poetry and reviews have appeared in numerous places including Stand, Mslexia, Rain Taxi and Lunar Poetry. She has also published essays in Studies in English Literature, Prose Studies and Film and Literature Quarterly.
Guest Editor’s Note:
Thank-you to all of the writers who entered the DALE PATTERSON CHALLENGE; I was impressed by the quality, quantity and variety of the interpretations to Dale’s masterwork.
An over-arching apocalyptic theme emerged as I read through the responses. It seems flying fish and quaking buildings inspire contemplation of doomsday scenarios.
I hope all entrants continue to participate in future challenges, keeping this unique publication vibrant. I know I will.
It Happened Almost Overnight
We all saw it coming, but did nothing
much, hid in our houses.
Already there is no internet, no TV,
no smartphones, no video games.
The sky itself aflame with an eerie
light, not the metallic grey-green
from before the storm,
not the hot-red sky celebrating
forests fires or New York in flames.
But a poison yellow never before seen.
A yellow that curdles the blood.
A yellow that passes through the empty
windows of the skeletal fronts of houses
that once rang with the laughter
of children, the barking of dogs,
the scolding of parents.
The waters blackened by oil and soot,
not quite boiling.
There isn’t much time for evolution,
The birds fall out of the sky.
The fish grow wings.
Rose Mary Boehm
A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm lives and works in Lima, Peru. Author of Tangents, a full-length poetry collection published in the UK in 2010/2011, her work has been widely published in US poetry journals (online and print). She was three times winner of the now defunct Goodreads monthly competition. There were other prizes. Recent poetry collections: From the Ruhr to Somewhere Near Dresden 1939-1949: A Child’s Journey and Peru Blues or Lady Gaga Won’t Be Back. Her latest full-length poetry MS, The Rain Girl, has been accepted for publication in June 2020 by Blue Nib.
Poem, as Abstract Aphorisms
for Yahia Lababidi and Carl Terver
our milk gets infested with ants
we spill more than we rein
it is like a wave – arrives quickly
as it leaves – moments curdle
powdered sky on tuscan terrain
ghosts stalk angular tips of roofs
the mountains have risen
from salt pink as sea-rock
windows are washed in medallion
gold; birds have fled concrete sills
houses swirl in kinetic pools
when the ocean lost its gravity
inside the safe harbour of our minds
winds clang nervously as clumsy bells
our milk has spilled –
ants canvas territory
the tar on roads sweat their foreheads
heat has melted in its pot of indifference
our skins are red bricks of graffiti
dissipating as aerated cans of paints
summers have caramelised
fish wings in thick waters
the sight of blue is a site of grey
forage: ships hunt as water escapes
Sheikha A. is from Pakistan and United Arab Emirates. Her works appear in a variety of literary venues, both print and online, including several anthologies by different presses. Her poetry has been translated into Spanish, Greek, Arabic and Persian. More about her can be found at sheikha82.wordpress.com
Turquoise Dorsal Fins
The storm’s itself a beard—
red herring, if you will—
for wild shenanigans
that take place in its murk
and turn the normal order
fairytale and topsy-turvy
under cover of the squall.
Put on these spectacles,
and see beyond the gale—
town houses snug as peas
in pods as flying fish put
the uakari screeching gulls
and Christian power poles
to flight in flaxen glare.
Or don’t. How partnerships
of odd men out are balanced,
sins become resolved
or sausages amassed
is not for queasy stomachs,
lily livers and faint hearts.
Let blue skies reappear.
Tom Riordan continues living and writing -- in Hoboken, New Jersey now. If you see him swimming in the river, don't call the police, he isn't drowning.
Eager to Stay Airborne
We, the scaled birds of the oceans,
are eager to stay airborne.
The tumult below
might drown every gilled
one of us.
Poseidon just heard
some Mediterrean sailors
praying to some god
for smooth seas to sail.
The wood from these houses
will soon become rafts
for those who denounce Jupiter
& driftwood for the coffins
of those who choose Pluto.
The blue of our right wing-fins
passports us to both sea & sky.
We believe we float forever
on the horizon when we die.
Mike Casetta has many poems published in many small presses.
As flying fish fall from the sea to the sky
in a capsizing world where the oceans apply
all the anger of currents which swirl into storms,
winding faster and faster, their violence forms
a great onslaught of tides, wind, and rain in their race
to remove mankind’s blight from the land, from Earth’s face,
and restore to its atmosphere air which is cleansed
as volcanic upheavals and lightning amends
with their hot, smelting furnace of natural power
pollutants which plague every forest and bower,
each crevice on Earth, on the land, beneath oceans,
the aggregate muck of insidious motions
which feed our fierce need to consume all we can
as man, in his wisdom, exterminates man.
Ken Gosse prefers writing light verse with traditional meter and rhyme. First published in The First Literary Review–East in 2016, also in The Offbeat, Pure Slush, Parody, The Ekphrastic Review, and others. Raised near Chicago, now retired, he and his wife have lived in Mesa, AZ, over twenty years.
Love in the Land of Flying Fish
Summertime, and the livin' ain't easy,
fish are jumpin' high as the sky --
Like birds of a feather fish fly together
their wings held steady in the yellow sky.
Beyond the ocean's tarmac waves the island
has survived in a painting with 28 cap-shaped roof tops
and 28 roof top trap doors all leading upward to the sky;
and 28 cut-glass cisterns called practical chalices
(a fictional alias) filled with rain gathered from a storm
before the sun flames at sunset and you begin
to make Cou Cou the island's favorite dish --
Authentic Barbados Flying Fish. So many of our friends
have said "the fairy tale is over" I'm afraid to tell you
I'm tired of being Princess Rustika my room
beneath the tower unfinished bare beams
and all the paint used up for the roofs; with
your message I care Rusty, I care about us! And
I'm ashamed to say I answered The way Daedalus
cared about Icarus? But I was tired, and the towers
were too narrow for over-indulgence -- second helpings
of flying fish -- and the floors were too narrow to dance
and the beds were too narrow for -- well, you can guess;
and the fish in the legend were coming home to sleep
(some had jumped into boats to sleep in the bay,
lullabye-rocking in the tarmac waves); with fish on my mind
I decided to sleep outside -- what they say, in Barbados
"flying fish" means fish sleeping on land
outside of the sea -- outside where my hands
could reach up for their wings (like birds of a feather
the fish fly together!) when stars are rising
in random locomotion to put forgotten dreams in motion,
leaving their sparkle for fish scales --
& I asked you
to hold the narrow ladder steady in a narrow tower
with a purple trap door if you please hand me fish nets
hand-made in Barbados where this fairy tale is written
though I've never been there to dream about fish wings
like flying mirrors reflecting my future in the shape of a sail --
when wings fill a fishnet my heart holds on --
carried by love
beyond the storm.
Laurie Newendorp lives and writes in Houston, Texas. Her poem won second place in the Houston Poetry Fest, Ekphrastic Poetry Contest, 2018, and her work has appeared in Gulf Coast, Nimrod (runner up for the Pablo Neruda Prize), AIPF, Isotope and Dogwood. A graduate of the University of Houston Creative Writing Department in Poetry, she enjoys reading at Archway Gallery and at various museums and art installations with Art & Words. Recently, she is pleased to have discovered the Ekphrastic Challenge (her first online publication) as poetry, art, archaeology, travel, dogs, horses (actually all animals) and family are her passions. She fished with her grandfather as a child but has never captured a flying fish.
Fish Out of Water
The birds swooped and dived,
“listen carefully to us”,
they sang to the fish.
“We lived in water. Then
we wanted to change
so we came out of the water,
left it below. Then
we swopped scales for feathers,
exchanged fins for wings.
We soared on the thermals
and perched in the trees
so come fly with us now
it’s your turn to leave.”
The fish listened carefully
they were intrigued.
“How do we fly?”,
“Come up and join us,
we’ll teach you to fly”.
“If you fall from the sky
we’ll teach you to swim”
the fish called up to them.
But the birds didn’t hear
until they joined in.
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 and writes hoping to find an audience for her musings. 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, Capsule Stories, Light Journal and So It Goes. Find Lynn at: https://lynnwhitepoetry.blogspot.com and https://www.facebook.com/Lynn-White-Poetry-1603675983213077/
Stormy opinions run down the flagpoles of our TV aerials
And cause our roofs to rattle as they discharge within and without us.
Bold views colour our imagination and our selves,
making us clash or complement with our neighbours.
We reward our tribe with glowing stickers
and like moths, we circle this artificial light.
And then as quiet as the dew
new ideas condense, coalesce and crystallise.
Still chaotic and pastel they cast little shade, and we,
blinded by comfort and compromise fail to see them.
But there is hope.
First our eyes need to be convinced that their vision is incorrect.
Then bravery or foolishness both act as lubricants
to necks made stiff through inaction.
Next our legs propel us to the door
And finally our arms stretch outside, and
instead of hawk or dove,
what settles on our wrist
Is a fish.
Graham is a science teacher who enjoys writing and wordplay. He occasionally wakes up early when inspired to write, and has yet to win any prizes or competitions.
The Dreams of Fishes
The fishes leave the wide salty seas
Leading through estuaries
Of swamped land and marsh--
Crisscross entanglements of
Riparian buffer strips
Nibbled by run-off and wind
And time and space.
No longer knitting together
The underpinnings Mother Earth
Edged her shores with.
Earth—its people swimming in a work-a-day
World, hands glued to wheels
Or bits of silicone from valleys far off.
Night and daydreams lost on greed, lust.
Nothing in the name of Love moves them.
The fishes draped in sky-startling blues
Seek this new land where air becomes water
And the aerial ocean, the bubbled haven
Encapsulating this blue marble at its core,
To their delight, fills with water.
And the gleeful fishes swim
among the glassy-eyed peoples
In this newly deepening blue sea
The flags unfurled—and yes,
The flickering lights--
Taylor Collins writes and paints in Dover Delaware. She writes almost daily in fragmented forms usually taking the form of poetry. She has been published in two anthologies for prose. She makes small chapbooks and larger collages incorporating her poetic work. Taylor has participated in many poetry readings. She is past National President of National League of American Pen Women, is a member of the Mayor’s Art Council in Dover, and assorted arts advocacy related groups and paints and writes daily in her art gallery in the historic district.
The Audacity of Storms
I look at the sky and wonder how I can
stick my feelings in it.
the storm clips a nerve, but I don’t hear any thunder;
my ear, a shell on the sand, fills with echoes,
an inaudible scream
shattering to a million answering lights.
the tumult in the sea below begins to rise
causing a ripple of extinction; a fury
cast and unwound from the mouth
blowing every living thing out of the water;
rooftops dance to the cacophony of gulls,
skyfulls of fish spawn new fairgrounds--
the chaos mirrors the litter I’ve made of my life;
so many canvases washed in yellow defeat,
the mauve-coloured glasses and failed affairs
thrown at the wind’s salt feet.
tarnished crowns of disappointment
hurl from the clouds,
I’ve worshipped all the wrong gods.
my spine, like the easel sloped on the beach,
sinks to the weight of dreaming, to disbelief,
to grieving— I don’t need hope
or flesh or sea-wind; possibility alone
paints the torment in my heart, this unrequited
muted tone of tuna, crushed in a tin
of nacreous oil; an emulsion of longing
darker ever than storms or skies.
Jennifer Jenkins is a Canadian writer from Victoria BC, who lives and works in Central Ontario. Her poetry has been showcased in several publications such as the I-70 Review and The Blue Island Review in Kansas, USA, with a recently published book of poetry and prose.
Never expected the flying fish
to take to the sky. So many centuries
of evolution – building fin strength,
growing auxiliary lungs.
Have they adapted to escape
the oil spills, the tons of plastic
choking the sea? Or did they follow
the example of those first whales
who strode on four legs
into the waves to stay?
Across miles and years, the sea
calls me back. I chose the right day
to return. Some of us just know we’re living
in the wrong time, place, or body.
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.
Jams on the Freeway
Second Sunday August
chaos without parallel
beach houses on the freeway
jammed gable to gable, tight
with headlamps on full beam
going nowhere fast
expletives in profusion
loud and offensive
not what realtors promised
though when do they deliver
just swarm round the periphery
avoiding the obvious
oblivious to the discord
but intent on more bucks
while covering their butts in
stretch lycra and cotton chinos
while a proxigean tide gallops
the coast like headless horsemen
in this age of global warming
water levels rising as yeast
talked about ad nauseum by
the incompetent, the impotent
with God’s children crying, loud
for action in our time
as a murmuration of Beach Boys
harmonise overhead carrying
saffron flavoured rock candy
once available at the 7-11
now liquefied to a ranch dressing
by the nouveau riche of America
with every vacant lot converting
into slivers of beach frontage
creating disturbances in profusion
loud and offensive
to generations gone deaf
with headaches on full ahead
jammed grudge to grudge, tight
life parked through freedom
second Sunday August
chaos without parallel.
Born in Scotland of Irish lineage, Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse achieving success in poetry competitions in Europe and North America. His poems have featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He is particularly inspired by ekphrastic challenges. In September 2019, he was the featured writer for the Federation of Writers Scotland.
We are not the only ones
who dream of reaching
here by some radical magic
fish are flying
not in a slow glide
skimming the waves
not in leaps
ecstatic with release
like whales and dolphins
flinging their bodies up entirely
into the unfamiliar atmosphere
they still can breathe
even though they must
return to water
no–these have no mammal lungs
to meet the stringencies of air
and yet they rise
above our rooftops
into the bird contested sky
or memory of flight
nothing but hope
reaching past the limits
of their biology
to know the feel of air
everywhere around them
the bright caress
of an unfamiliar element
a shout of joy
in that eternal dance
between desire and definition
we recognize so well
Mary McCarthy is a writer who was also a Registered Nurse, whose work has appeared in many online and print journals. She has been a Pushcart nominee and has an electronic chapbook, Things I Was Told Not to Think About, available as a free download from Praxis magazine.
The city grows, it is frantic and furious, there is no stopping it. I will rise in its fury. I have always been that fish that could fly; I have always upturned runes and talismans like sandcastles sweeping out to sea. My trident is a rake for shells and barnacles. My fins are stardust, crackling sapphires. Well, your mouth was full of gummy bears and bottle-cap sours, but mine was a pillar of salt. I looked back, and my dusty fins found eternity’s gaze. Look, the sky is yellow, and the houses are wooden Monopoly toys, or Lego. What if these black fossils beneath us were a lantern, instead of whispers of extinction? What if these leaping sardines were luminaries, instead of omens? The swallows falter in the low distant light.
Lorette C. Luzajic
Lorette C. Luzajic is the founder and editor of The Ekphrastic Review. She is an award winning visual artist whose works are collected all over the world. Visit her at www.mixedupmedia.ca.
Ginny had asked Davy to move the bird feeder before she saw the blood red bird with dusty black wings.
“I changed my mind,” she said. “Maybe you should leave the feeder where it’s at.”
Davy blew on his coffee. He didn’t look up from his phone.
“How come? Those sparrows are crapping all over the deck.”
Ginny got more coffee. She looked out at the bird feeder balanced on a crooked pole a few feet from the deck railing. She remembered how she and Davy had jammed the rusted pole into the soft ground, not thinking it might be too close.
“You’re right,” she said. “About the sparrows, I mean. But there’s this weird red bird coming by that I’ve never seen before.”
“So what? A bird’s a bird. It’ll crap, too.”
“I guess,” she said. “But it looks kind-of sick and dirty and lost. We should help it.”
Davy stood up from the dinette table and put his phone in his back pocket.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s probably just here spreading disease. I’ll move the feeder this weekend. Last thing I want is some deadly virus.”
Ginny sat on the sofa and watched the birds after Davy went to work. The red bird with black wings showed up around 10 a.m., the same time it had the day before. She noticed the bird’s tail was ragged and that its head looked scaly.
She paged through a dog-eared Roger Tory Peterson book and paused on a picture of a scarlet tanager. Flipping to the range maps, she saw that the robin-sized bird wasn’t native. She had heard some things about “accidentals” and jumped on the Internet to look it up.
“It’s a scarlet tanager,” she told Davy when he got home. “It must’ve gotten caught up in some awful weather thing—you know, like a wind shear.”
Davy walked by her to the stove. He lifted the lids on the pots.
Ginny nodded and held up the picture in the Peterson book.
“See,” she said. “Look.”
She waved the book near his face but he didn’t look up from scooping macaroni into a bowl.
“Yeah, I see it.” Davy ladled chili over the macaroni and sprinkled cheddar over the top. “Want this?”
Ginny shook her head.
“No. I’ll fix my own.”
Davy grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and sat down.
“Quit thinking about that bird,” he said. “And stay away from it. You’ll get Avian flu or something.”
Ginny slept in the next morning even though she usually got up with Davy. She laid in bed and listened to the songbirds and metallic clap of leaves. When Davy came in to slip on his shoes, she kept her eyes closed until he nudged her.
“You’re not sick are you?” he said. “I told you that bird was no good.”
Ginny turned over and pulled the blanket over her ears.
“No. I’m just tired,” she said. “It’s not the bird.”
Davy stepped away without saying goodbye. She waited for the door to shut and kicked off the sheets and pulled on a robe. Going to the kitchen, she poured the last cup of coffee and stood by the window in her bare feet. Shreds of pink clouds crossed over the sun, scattering thin shadows on the ground. She blinked as the sun grew brighter, then saw the striped tabby as it prowled on the deck.
Ginny rapped on the window. The cat stopped and stared. Ginny cinched the sash on her robe and stepped outside. She threw a stick. Then a pebble. The cat skirted away.
“Get the hell outta here.”
Ginny shook her fist. A breeze blew her hair over her face as the cat raced into an overgrown yew. Turning to go back in, she noticed a stray candy wrapper from the neighbor’s garbage and bent down to pick it up. Before she could grab it, the wind tossed it toward the feeder and toward the red bird, laying twisted and twitching near the edge of the deck.
Ginny hurried to the red bird and knelt beside it. The bird tweeted violently and spun in a circle, one wing stretched fully, the other crooked and sticking up like a sail.
“Be still,” she whispered. “Sh-sh-sh.”
Peeling off her robe, Ginny mounded it in a pile and sculpted the edges to make a soft pocket in the center. The bird blinked, its gray beak half open.
Ginny cupped her hands under the bird’s belly, feeling the rapid beat of its heart. The bird’s broken wing fluttered as its good wing slapped her forearms.
“Here you go. Sh-sh-sh.”
Ginny set the bird on the robe, watching it struggle to pull its wings back in place. She noticed the missing tail feathers, and the pimpled skin on the back of its head where feathers had been. She wiped the grit from the bird’s back using the tip of her pajama top, and removed a tangle of short dry grass from the bird’s tiny talons.
“What ‘cha got there?”
Ginny turned when she heard a raspy voice. A man in an over-washed bucket hat and crooked aviator glasses was peering through the slats of the deck.
“A scarlet tanager,” Ginny said. “It’s hurt.”
The man stood on his tip-toes and gripped the rail for balance.
“You don’t say.” The man cleared phlegm from his throat. “They don’t usually come up this far.”
The bird chirped as its legs curled toward its belly.
“It’s really hurt,” Ginny said. “I think that cat did it.”
The man shook his head.
“Could be,” he said. “Damn cats.”
Ginny stroked the bird’s downy belly.
“It’s heart,” she said. “It’s beating so fast.”
The wrinkles deepened on the man’s face.
“Best leave it be,” he frowned.
“I can’t,” she said. “It needs help.”
The man smoothed the oily gray hairs that stuck from his hat. He gazed at the sky and pushed up his glasses.
“I wouldn’t,” he said. “Birds like that. They don’t belong here.”
Ginny crouched as the splinters from the worn deck pierced her knees. The bird cheeped quietly as its eyes began to close.
“Better wash your hands,” the man said grimly. “Those migrating birds carry disease, you know.”
Ann Kammerer lives in East Lansing, Michigan, where she works as a freelancer for business and higher ed. Her short fiction has appeared in several regional publications and magazines, and has received top honours in fiction writing contests.
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