The Garden (a story puzzle)
Who am I in “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch?
Nine…eight…seven…six ringing in the darkness. I have to get away, there’s danger back there, they’re going to cut my heart out. I flap my wings smoothly, silently in the night sky, turn, then glide as if gravity didn’t exist and hope they can’t follow me. I coast over a burning city, buildings silhouetted by flames. I bank and dive, see a red sail on a lake and a multitude of humanity, like lice, swarming out of it. Farther away I see ghostly figures lining up at a glowing gate as if there’s some escape, and that’s just the beginning—a tiny part of this vast senseless landscape—so beautiful it must be hell.
As I fly lower, soot starts to burn my nostrils and a cacophony of horns, crackling fire, and cries of agony fill my head.
I fly over a razor-sharp knife slicing apart two monumental ears, which almost stops my heart. I can almost feel it, that knife cutting me—a long slice under my breast feathers—sudden pain, a feeling of life hanging in the balance, of illusion upon illusion, of moments frozen in oil and pigment.
I fly as fast as I can, past a house made of bone held up by bone tree-trunks, a platypus monk, until I reach The-Land-of-Tortured-Musicians. There’s a guy strung up on a harp, one tied to a lute, and one squashed under it with a musical score painted on his bare ass. Some guy’s pointing at it, seems to think it’s hilarious. What did they do to deserve this? Off-key recitals? Derivative compositions?
Nearby I see a lizard wielding a sword which has a heart impaled on it and there’s a man with a hypodermic needle stabbed right through his hand.
Out of nowhere comes the drone of a buzz-saw getting louder and louder. I have to get out of here before it cuts me open. This place is boxed in by wooden columns which, for some reason, I can’t see around. I fly at a column, sink my talons in, flap my wings to get balanced, work my way around and look over it. What I see is an abyss, a plane of non-existence. But I know there are other worlds. I’m the symbol of divine wisdom after all.
The buzz saw’s closing in. I leap, find myself where nothing exists, not even me, then bam, a wooden column comes flying at me. I sink my talons in and swing around it into The-Land-of-Naked-People. They’re all dancing, swimming, sticking flowers up each other’s asses, and making out in glass globes and giant muscle shells. I alight on the first perch I see, which is atop of a pink scalloped stand with human arms and legs frozen in dance. This place is filled with birdsongs, laughter, and the perfume of flowers and fruit, all the sensual delights. I fluff up my down and settle in.
Then I realize I’m a bit peckish. I swivel my head 180° to the right and see a number of giant berries here and there. The trouble is I’m a carnivore, a predator of the night, and the only small prey I spot is a rat in a glass tube. Then I swivel my head 180° to the left. There I see six naked people picking apples from a tree. One of them is carrying giant strawberry.
“I’m starving!” the strawberry man cries.
“Let’s have a banquet,” one of the women says.
I call out “hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo,” hoping they’ll invite me. But just then a faint voice starts echoing in my head saying, “scissors, clamp.”
“Let’s have roast fowl!” one of the men shouts, then “scalpel!”
Someone hands him a huge knife and he comes running at me.
I take off just as he lops off a few of my wing feathers and fly across this land of many creatures, two lakes, a pond, and constructions made of rose quartz and blue marble. People here seem to do whatever amuses them no matter how senseless, like crowding into a red teepee-tree and doing weird things with giant berries.
Soon I reach another wooden column, sink my talons in and shoot across the plane of non-existence, then grab onto a new column and swing into a much calmer place where there’s hardly a sound.
At the centre of this land God is introducing Eve to Adam, which would explain why there are no other people here.
This place has blue and pink constructions too, as well as a pond and a lake. I alight on the edge of a round hole in the rose quartz central fountain. It seems to be made just for me, so I fluff up my down and get cozy.
The place is conspicuously lacking oversized berries, but it does have a lot of small prey—bunnies, lizards, and a bunch of little buggers I can’t identify. I’d go out and kill something but I’ve totally lost my appetite.
This has to be the dullest land in the world’s I’ve visited. There’s nothing to do but stare at a ocelot tormenting a newt. It’s unbearably quiet too, just the sound of the water trickling from the fountain. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears getting louder and louder. It seems important to listen to it. Suddenly—I suck in a breath—it just stops! All that’s left is a dull ache under my breast feathers.
I don’t know what to do so I just nest here and wait for something to happen. It seems like an eternity. God keeps introducing Eve to Adam. The ocelot continues to torment the newt. It never gets dark.
Finally, I can’t take it anymore. I fly out of my hole and back to the wooden column I crossed over before. I dig my talons in, traverse the plane of non-existence, then I’m back in The-Land-of-Naked-People with all its laughter, chatter, and birdsong and realize this is the only place anyone can possibly exist. It’s so crowded it’s hard to find a bare spot so I alight in a shallow pond and sink into its warm water next to a familiar looking boy.
He’s frowning at me with worry, so I say, “hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo,” and give him a gentle peck on the cheek.
He lights up with joy and puts his arms around me which feels so good my heart starts beating again, then--
My eyes open in a glaring white place full of beeps and drones. Things are foggy. I have a strong urge to pull out a tube that’s lodged down my throat. I try, but my hands are tied down. Then… Oh! Everything comes into focus—the recovery room. I’m a forty-eight-year-old medieval-art-historian heart-transplant-recipient. I notice my wife and son standing there. He has his hand over his mouth and she’s crying, but she’s crying for joy.
Sheila Martin: "My first novel, The Coney Island Book of the Dead, An Illustrated Novel, recently won the 2017 McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns First Novel Prize. In addition I have pieces in the current issues of four literary journals: Ginosko (#19), Earthen Lamp Journal (Volume II, issue 1), The Legendary (#69) and Volume 1, Brooklyn. I also have an unpublished novel that takes place in an art school for which I am seeking a literary agent."
On Valentine's Day, we collectively celebrate romantic love. The giddiest, most wine and chocolate soaked day of the year is also one of the most widely reviled holidays. The lonely are either depressed or cynical, and many of the amorous reject being told when and how they should express their love.
Even so, who can resist the annual ritual of Dollarama red crepe hearts and love poetry from the Barret-Brownings? The tangled roots and history of this holiday lie partly in the mists of mystery, partly in the brutal and bloody orgiastic sex rites of Roman Lupercalia, and partly in the Church's hopeful holifying of pagan sex with new emphasis on matrimony and committed love. Today's version is utterly dependent on tacky trinkets, and fuzzy red handcuffs, but it's also a chance for couples to rekindle their romance and commitment.
Whatever one's thoughts on Valentine's Day, its themes have been important to writers and artists from the beginning- and all year around. Love, romance, marriage, relationships, erotica, lust, sex, loneliness, and loss are evergreen themes of literature, right up there with life, death, and God. What poem or book or painting or film or song would be possible without love? A paltry selection, to be sure.
Sex is everything: it is life and death, it is all that is banal and all that is profound, it is all the children we have and all those we don't.
It's about memories of parking with dashboard dice and Meatloaf, about the men we've married, and the men we've locked in jail. It's about women, our mothers and daughters and lovers. It's all the big stories from the Bible and from classical mythology, and it's our petty and profound fears, and our need for beauty, for which we will live and die and kill.
It is the risks men take and sacrifices they make, and their biggest mistakes; it is the ultimate fulfillment of being a woman and also the worst and most painful stories of her life.
Your ekphrastic challenge up until Valentine's Day is to write about art about sex.
It takes courage to write about love and sex. It's easy to fake it...a few dirty words, a tawdry joke, an insipid romance scene with shallow characterization. But what if we find the courage to write honestly, what if we write from the heart, or from the most religious part of our loins? What if we write about the deepest betrayal and grief we have experienced in sex and romance? What if we write about our most ecstatic unions and truest loves? What if we mourn a marriage or menopause or a violation, or try to encapsulate the beauty of the strangest relationship you've ever had? What if you release your anger, recall an unexpected kiss?
As usual, the rules are lax. Try to write about all the artworks, for the full immersion into the exercise. But if you can't commit to that, write about a few. Study the picture. Research the artist and the image if you like, or take the image at face value as a flight of fancy.
Write poems of any kind, or short prose.
I can't wait to see what you are inspired to write. Send your best only, and send them on or before February 14, the sooner the better.
VALENTINES in email subject line please!
I wish I knew
the quiet chaos
their swirling world
among flowers and
catch each breath of wind,
and stained-glass colours flicker and twirl
like tiny speckles of sun through
the eye of a kaleidoscope.
I wish I knew
the quiet chaos
My world is one
where feet stomp,
voices blare, and
fast is never fast enough,
where silence is scary,
colour breeds fear, and
and no one takes the time
to catch the breath of wind.
Shelly Blankman and her retired husband have two sons who live in Texas and New York. Shelly and Jon fill their empty nest in Columbia, MD, with four rescue cats and a foster dog. Shelly spent most of her career days in public relations and journalism, although her first love has always been poetry. Previous poetry has appeared in Praxis Online Magazine, Silver Birch Press, Winedrunk Sidewalk, Whispers, and Social Justice Poetry, among other journals.
Rites: After Mosera
no news to me, news of my death
though telebituaries trace coordinates
of relative history
news-clips flatter their distortions
and those who loved me
research the corners
of archived regrets
fictions of our passings
to see the first passions
of hand-in-hand, intimate desires,
before we seduced ourselves
with stupid, silly distractions --
no news to me, news of my death
among the shades of Sheol.
in the end was the hating word
and that was that —
I knew the track to end the world
under the almonds
a beckoning horizon of veined ocean —
but you came, a curious brown heron
stood like a sea-stone on one foot
fixed me to your insistent life
until I let the fool of a man
it wasn’t all needles and cracked hos
the far city, homeless under aqueducts
wrestling filthy strays over pizza boxes —
in the beginning, beautiful companions
jazz clubs, hit shows,
late-night coffee and smoke in penthouse studios
names and faces of the day, Basquiat on the wall
soap-opera romantics with heiresses
the predictable, worthless fantasies —
those who loved me I broke
under the guilt on my fatherless back.
Talitha, errant mythologies notwithstanding
truth be told, Mystery calls through traffic
and sound-systems of Jeremie Street
on Friday evening, looks over the shoulder
at you on the pedestrian crossing,
is the unknown number ringing your phone
in a bank queue --
when you fall beyond dream
into alien, torrid shadows
Mystery is the somehow familiar, tender wing
that lifts you to Himself.
John R. Lee
Saint Lucian writer, broadcaster, teacher, Bible preacher John R. Lee has a recent publication, Collected Poems: 1975-2015, from Peepal Tree. Click here to learn more.
Ras Mosera is a self taught artist and one of the most celebrated in St. Maarten. He paints from a multilayered Caribbean perspective, focusing on people and the everyday ironies inherent in life. His paintings show widely throughout the Caribbean islands and around the world. He also loves music and says he has a "jazzy mind."
Echoes of Survival
Two information desk attendants
had never heard of the painting
The supervisor came to say It’s on the fifth floor
Locals don’t much like it but visitors do
A beloved writing mentor has recommended
this viewing of his favourite work of art
Glaring through glass, an-oil-on-canvas tree
that some call The Tree of Life
Surely an antithetical nickname for a tree
in the forest of World War II
A distorted blue-veined embryo
sucks me into an anarchy of children
Who hide in snarls of foliage
Faces contorted in grimaces and howls
Severed legs, feet, hands, fingers
and ears intermingle with branches
A colony of babies climbs toward a bit of blue sky
Red of blood, green of bile, yellow of pus
and dark of night smear across the landscape
As though the artist had vomited
the guts of an apocalypse through his hands
Reverberations in universal language
that will keep me awake
with the words You must never forget
this miscarriage of humanity
I will focus on the small blue butterfly’s
whispered echo of survival
Yet I must tell my mentor how
I have become one of the locals
Pavel Tchelitchew's Hide and Seek
The painting doesn't show you our world
dressed in its Sunday best or even
stripped of its pretties.
It shows you what's behind
our world's thin veil of skin.
So you see, spread across its centre,
the ancient tree of life,
its trunk dark as the moment
the past began, its branches' knuckles
gnarled by the relentless centuries,
but its fingers tipped with new blossoms;
you see—intertwined with the tree--
human beings bursting into vibrant life,
their heads flower-faced and with veins
like vines, see arms and legs ready
to join torsos, a whole embryo,
a naked boy alive enough to pee,
while, high on a branch
and wearing a sky-blue dress,
a girl quiet as an unplayed harp
sits dreaming of what is to come
or may never come,
and featured in front
of the tree is the white flutter
of a butterfly's beauty next to a girl,
her dress red as a dark flame,
who embraces the tree trunk so tightly
its charge of power broadens her shoulders,
fills her calves with so much strength
she more than survives in this teeming reality.
Robert K. Johnson
Note from Ellaraine Lockie: "These two duelling poems came about after Robert K. Johnson (one of my editors and mentors) recommended that I see Hide and Seek when I visited NYC because it is his favourite of all paintings. I hated the painting and wrote a poem about why. Robert K., in response, wrote his own ekphrastic response poem. Both poems were previously published, side-by-side in the Chiron Review.
Ellaraine Lockie is widely published and awarded as a poet, nonfiction book author and essayist. Tripping with the Top Down is her thirteenth chapbook. Earlier collections have won Poetry Forum’s Chapbook Contest Prize, San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival Chapbook Competition, Encircle Publications Chapbook Contest, Best Individual Poetry Collection Award from Purple Patch magazine in England Competition, and the Aurorean’s Chapbook Choice Award. Ellaraine teaches writing workshops and serves as Poetry Editor for the lifestyles magazine, Lilipoh.
Robert K. Johnson, now retired, was a Professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston for many years. For eight years, he was also Poetry Editor of Ibbetson Street magazine. His poems have been published individually in a wide variety of magazines and newspapers here and abroad. The most recent full-length collections of his poetry are From Mist to Shadow and Choir of Day.
What can it mean,
This twittering machine
We could just turn that crank
And hear the gears that squeak,
Their tweeting, croaking, birdsong beaks
And watch their heads roll round,
Their bodies bobbing up and down,
A childhood blend of toy and avian.
* * *
But something’s also sinister, are they
There against their will, tied onto the shaft?
Or are they crying ‘cause they lost their way,
Or singing for their supper? Do they laugh?
While almost featherless they still have hope.
It’s almost something else the painting shows:
Are they swallowers of swords on tightrope,
The trampoline or safety net below?
See, the collective of birds' noise without words is poetry.
* * *
Twenty-Five by nineteen inches, in a
Mat and wooden frame, and under glass, in a
Modern Art Museum now, but painted
Three years after Rosa Luxemburg was killed,
A year before Hitler’s Munich putsch--
Then caught and called degenerate and sold,
Hung, now, against the wall, it can not move.
One day, when the window breaks, the birds are heard, and someone turns that crank then all the paintings there will fly away.
This poem was written as part of the surprise ekphrastic poetry challenge on birds.
Eric Fretz has been a student of contemporary visual arts since they were modern, and not contemporary, and a long time reader of modern poetry. He is a published author of art criticism and history, but has only recently been persuaded to share his ekphrastic writing exercises. He divides his time between Brooklyn and Beacon, New York, and between art and politics.
Guild of Surgeons
the once student under your charge--
lift an errant curl of your wig
puffing powder off your lab coat, the white
dust trembles on the black lapel, I
closed eyes? yes
continue peeling back
the ironed shirt,
find the still-warm sternum, pause
I must enact, as you trained,
a proper firmness on the razor as it licks
apart your warm flesh, the way it gaps
into little mouths as it glides
God’s plague drips on the floor.
I catch the miracle in a paper towel,
begin the crossing mark to realize
the ribcage bastion
I will find her inside you
with the steel I summon this reward,
hover the hammer head below your clavicle
upon the door I
breaking only the necessary, the
bits like teeth I tumble into the arms
of sterile stainless platter
a feast for the cemetery worms.
and we meet
shimmering in the anointing of your veil,
the torn aorta frothing the inkwell for the contract,
creaming the seal, warm like wax, dripping
my love, hidden in the cleft of marrow
a wedding of rescue, I
snip, cleave you from your father
how beautiful you are,
outside the human frame
I understand his passion, now
Jennifer Sanders is a musician, artist, and unknown poet living in Northfield, Minnesota with her husband and 16 month-old son. By day, she labours as a Spanish elementary teacher, and by night, an unknown poet. Her chapbook collection received distinction from St. Olaf College in 2013.
Oh, I've seen that look
many times before.
Up against the world.
Alone. This refuge
away from others
for a moment of peace.
Perched above it all
as if on a throne
left by the Watcher.
A stiff upper beak,
they tell you. How
your little heart
trembles. You can't
escape life forever.
The good and the bad
are out there, waiting.
This poem was written for the surprise ekphrastic poetry challenge on birds.
Billy is a hospice case manager. He's been writing seriously for the last ten years. His poems have been published in anthologies and online poetry publications. He has also published short verse: haiku, haiga, haibun, and tanka. Billy is a graphic artist and sculptor as well. He studied cast metal sculpting at the University of Iowa under Julius Schmidt.
Mark Rothko, I Challenge your Claim
Painting following painting after painting,
draped downward as uncertain flags
A roomful of them, in honour of you--
Tower, East side, National Gallery
Circular reading room of sorts,
With a single pew from which to pray
I ask you, “Why ‘Untitled’?”
Would you ever not name a friend,
Or child, born 1955? Here’s what I see:
Orange-brown, black mouth screaming,
The call so loud, it blurs these lips,
A forehead turns dark red in anger
A weaker chin, in white below--
Move closer in, a pink stain shows
I call you Anger on top, whispers
And vapors from steam rising upward
I call you Tremble, black mouth,
Teeth hidden behind the howl
I call you White Question, hiding a hint
Of fright below— you say untitled,
unbridled rage, suppressed dread,
I name it “This Time the Beast Wins”
Lee Woodman is a longtime artist and media producer, whose radio and film awards include five CINEs, two NY International Film Blue Ribbons, and three Gracies from American Women in Radio and Television. She worked for 20 years in leadership roles at the Smithsonian, was Vice-President of Media and Editorial at K12, Inc., and Executive Producer at Lee Woodman Media, Inc. Her essays and poems have been published in Tiferet Journal, Zócalo Public Square, and (forthcoming), The New Guard. c
Lost on the Grand Banks
While the wind howls, their little dory’s tossed --
two men alone on a black and foaming sea,
tipping on a swell, desperate and lost.
Wearied -- no sign of shore, one man’s hopes are quashed.
Broken, their plight now brings him to his knees
while the wind howls. Again the dory’s tossed
on angry ocean waves that surge across
the gunwale. As the dory dips and leans,
they spin on a swell, so desperate, so lost
below a marbled flashing sky, their thoughts
swirls of regrets, of loved ones, of vanished dreams.
Louder the cold wind howls and the boat gets tossed.
One man, who still has hope, keeps up his watch
for land no matter how precariously
they tip on a swell, no matter how lost
they are. As the night nears, desperate and fraught
he looks on and on for what he cannot see.
While the wind howls, their little dory’s tossed.
On a swell they tip and spin, forever lost.
Gregory E. Lucas
The Ekphrastic Review
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