the hard way to heaven
cold night camp
river bridge stolen tent
man, i'm alone
for every wise man but me
ice fog dawn
coffee at the reluctant shelter
am i humble enough
we have words for each others' ears
in languages too frozen to translate
the thousand mile stare
my walk to heaven
no easy path
but i'm not the first lazarus
i'm not even the only lazarus
William Schmidtkunz is the author of Home, and Other Poems, about life as a carpenter in Alaska.
This poem was inspired by the chapbook of art and poetry The Luzajic Variations, a collection of poems by Ekphrastic contributor Bill Waters, after the paintings of Lorette C. Luzajic. There are still a few copies of this limited edition gem- click here to view on Etsy.
Paradise Lost Book II, 947–950
Among the jagged cliffs of an unknown place,
Beneath the dark sobering skies,
In the light of eternal stars,
Our heroic lightbearer succumbs to his tragic condemnation.
A millennia has had him labeled,
Liar, cheat, trickster,
Yet behold a man who defied a God’s,
Tyrannical rule over the minds of individuals.
His grand set of batwings comfort,
The freethinker’s spirit.
A set of quality armor,
Offers a defense to artists threatened.
There are times when I find myself,
Wandering those same cliffs,
Within a melancholy mood,
Wondering what is to happen to my world,
Before looking up and seeing my guide,
The one who offers comfort in dark places,
The one who stood by my side when loved ones passed,
Our tragic lightbearer.
Keith Fallows received his B.A. in English from Neumann University in Aston, PA in December 2016. He now attends the M.F.A. program at Rosemont College in Bryn Mawr, PA. Being an avid reader and writer, Keith has recently taken an interest in Ekphrastic work and often writes at night while listening to a wide range of music.
In Magritte I Can Find No Strawberries
In Magritte I can find no strawberries,
though in Belgium, in June, he must have had
them, luscious, feeding them to Georgette in the afternoon.
Perhaps they sat upon the step
or watched the summer out the window.
Perhaps he saw her face unveiled as no other,
perhaps he told her you are mine
as they fingered the strawberries on plates in their laps,
as they sat by the sea water glistening.
He did not yet see fractures in the sunlight.
He did not yet see blood in the sugar.
He did not yet see the veiled face of the other,
or eggs in a cage at the feast,
or the hat, the feet, the nightmare on the wall.
Anne Higgins teaches English at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg Maryland, USA. She has had about 100 poems published in a variety of small magazines. Five full-length books and three chapbooks of her poetry have been published: At the Year’s Elbow, Mellen Poetry Press 2000; Scattered Showers in a Clear Sky, Plain View Press 2007; chapbooks: Pick It Up and Read, Finishing Line Press 2008, How the Hand Behaves, Finishing Line Press 2009, Digging for God, Wipf and Stock 2010, Vexed Questions, Aldrich Press 2013,Reconnaissance, Texture Press 2014, and Life List, Finishing Line Press 2016.
Monet's Water Lilies, Musée de l'Orangerie
The room is hushed.
People sit or stand as they stare,
awed into silence.
What do they see?
Is it water or sky, clouds floating,
a wonder of blue and lilac,
the surreal float of water lilies,
shimmering splashes of green, pink and yellow,
slender green-leafed pendant branches
of exquisite gracefulness,
moments cloudy, hazy, sun-sparkled in a way beyond beauty
or rippled by momentary touch of passing breeze?
Or do they see the master at his work,
sublime, magical, mystical,
representing the beauty of the world,
without beginning and without end,
ever-changing but forever there,
taking this sense of timeless beauty
and transferring it through his mastery
so that all we lesser humans
can glimpse in the small things-
the shimmering play of colour from light,
the dance of water and wind,
the float of colour upon the blueness-
what is eternally there,
if only we had the eyes to see.
Neil Creighton is an Australian poet with a passion for social justice and a love of the natural world. Recent publications include "Poetry Quarterly", "Silver Birch Press", "Praxis Online", "South Florida Poetry Journal" and "Verse-Virtual", where he is a contributing editor. His poetry blog is windofflowers.blogspot.com.au
Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman
Of course, she is grossly out of proportion.
A woman only fifty feet tall would not be able
to straddle a four-lane highway, hold a Desoto
in one hand as though it were a burrito.
And that car is twice the size of the others strewn
before her. I mention this, because I do think that
size matters — certainly in the instance of this beauty
in her skimpy skirt and top made of bed linens.
For a male growing up in the fifties and sixties,
a redhead with breasts the size of weather balloons
is pretty much the Goddess incarnate. I would
gladly be one of her subjects; I even know which one.
Of the five people between her well tanned legs,
four run for their lives. But the one near her left calf
dashes toward the center of that highway, headed
for the spot where he can contemplate the abyss.
And though he is tiny, less than the size of her thumb,
he has gumption, a can-do spirit, and a stiff spine.
He will rise to the occasion. The others may flee in terror,
but he means to stand tall; he intends to fulfill.
Roderick Bates has published poems in The Dark Horse, Stillwater Review, Naugatuck River Review, Hobo Camp Review, and Rat’s Ass Review (which he now edits). He also writes prose, and won an award from the International Regional Magazines Association for an essay published in Vermont Life. He is a Vermonter and a Dartmouth graduate.
The Photos Were Like Paintings
The envelope of clouds had broken and the sun lit upon me. I pressed into the pink plaster wall and sheltered in a strip of shade. The wall was a pleasing pink, a pale rose pink. For an hour I had been inching slowly forward toward the ticket booth. There was still a long line of people in front of me. I was tired of standing. I was hot. I was bored. Only later did I learn I had been pressing against the outer wall of Claude Monet’s house.
I had long craved a pilgrimage to Monet’s gardens at Giverny. I was an American student in France in ‘74 when first I floated in his murals of water lilies that fill the walls of L’Orangerie in Paris. I had gone back through the years for other plunges into those water garden panoramas of no horizon, those planes of purple, blue, and green paint, the reflections of unseen trees on the surface of the pond. But I had never made the trek to Giverny.
This time in Paris, in 2016, I was with my husband, David. A warm day in May beckoned us out of the city. I would finally weave my traveler’s dream of the gardens. But I was to be let down. We had not accounted for the three-day weekend in France and the crowds of fellow visitors who, like us, had judged the day as perfect for a visit to the magic of Giverny.
Monet’s gardens—the home of the water lily pond—had begun as a simple idea: “. . . I should like to grow some flowers in order to be able to paint in bad weather as well,” he wrote his agent in 1883 not long after moving to Giverny. The gardens became his obsession, his muse. He lavished great chunks of time on plotting and planning. The pond, dug in 1893, was tended by a gardener whose only job was to maintain the lilies as Monet desired them, to remove dried leaves, fight the water rats who ate the bulbs.
Monet worked and reworked the gardens to reach the reality of his vision. Then he translated that vision using paint and canvas. Often dissatisfied, he destroyed hundreds of paintings. Is this not the crux of the artist’s challenge? For vision to survive execution?
The crowds of our fellow visitors at the entrance carried over into the gardens. David and I shuffled along within clots of people following the roped paths between flower beds. Keep moving. Avoid bumping other bodies. Try not to step on someone’s foot. Try not to step into someone else’s photograph (impossible!). I was always in the way of others or was ungraciously pissed off because they were in my way.
I saw, yes, the pale blue forget-me-nots below tulips of cabernet red, the frilly blooms of lavender iris amid blades of green leaves, the clumps of Persian red pansies with yellow centers. Yes, I took in the heavy drape of purple wisteria hanging from the pond’s Japanese bridge, reflections of encircling willow trees, the unbloomed buds of the water lilies. But for me the gardens were fragmented and shattered by the crowds. It was as if I were seeing the broken shards of a stained glass window.
We took the train back to Paris. The realm I had sought remained undreamed.
Back home in Seattle I glanced at David’s computer screen one evening as he edited his photos from Giverny. I was instantly snagged.
David had searched every scene for the best shot. He had reached beyond the jostle of bodies and slipped past the oppression I had felt. David has the artist’s eye and he had been in the garden of an artist. He had captured Monet’s carefully crafted layers of flowers, apple trees, pink house, and green hills. His framing, his edits nipped and cut most of the people. In his long shot of the pond the eye is pulled toward the dark green rounds of lily leaves, the surface reflections of trees, clouds, and sky, the oranges and reds of azaleas around the edges. The mind barely registers the people in coats of yellow, blue, brown, and red that speckle gaps in the foliage.
David’s photos were like paintings. In them I found the Giverny I had craved.
Nancy L. Penrose is a writer based in Seattle. Her essays have been published in Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee Literary Review; 1966: A Journal of Creative Nonfiction; Drash: Northwest Mosaic; the collections of Travelers’ Tales; and the anthology Burning Bright: Passager Celebrates 21 Years. Details may be found at www.plumerose.net.
“Perpetually tardy, I see.”
Trish Mannova stood at the other end of the room, but did not fail to see Amelia slide into the studio. The young dancer dropped her bag and finished tying back her hair just in time to meet Trish’s stare.
“It doesn’t do one good in this business to be late, girl. What if this were a show? Would you let an expectant audience sit and wait while you fumbled around backstage? Would you let your partner hold his leg up in the air for ten minutes before you decided it was time to show up and continue the piece?”
“Well, would you?”
“Then, I expect next time you give me the same respect you appear to have for your colleagues and customers.”
Trish addressed the room. “We’re making art, people. It pains me to think that the people in this sacred studio don’t take it any more seriously than the world outside. We have two weeks until the Lincoln Center show. Let’s get to work.”
Trish wanted to start choreographing the piece for the upcoming show, but nothing she tried with this group would satisfy her. It was like they had never danced together before, despite most of them being in the same company for years.
She closed her eyes, shook her head, and then looked to the accompanist.
“5,6,7,8,” she said, and the pianist started, rocking backward and forward to the 4/4 time of the full-bodied piece.
Trish walked around the room as the ten dancers went through their warm-up, stretching and strengthening their muscles in unison. The Manhattan morning sun filtered through the windows, making the dust sparkle as the dancers created wind with their limbs. Their joints cracked and their bare feet stuck to the pale wood floors as they tried their first turns of the day. Trish’s short hair was dyed a bright red, the only color to break the monochrome black of her daily outfit. Trish roamed through them, wringing her wrinkled hands and stepping carefully, led by the heel of her foot, hips following and long neck lingering to examine the dancer in the back.
Trish Mannova did not like Amelia. Trish had not wanted to accept her into the company.
“She doesn’t get it, Paul,” she had said to the artistic director. “She doesn’t have the spirit.”
“Well, spirit must be lacking here in the big city. She’s the best dancer we’ve seen in a long while. She’s strong. Her lines are impeccable. She picked up the phrase more quickly than anyone else at the audition.”
“Pick any old ballerina and they can do the same things she can. They can all do fouettes for hours, Paul. She’s not that special. She doesn’t know why she moves. She’s empty.”
"You can’t say that. You haven’t ever talked to the poor girl.”
“But I’ve seen her dance. And that’s a language I’m fluent in.”
Now, Trish turned to stand directly in front of Amelia. She looked at the dancer and noticed how she held her breath and never let her fingers move from their porcelain-like position. Like a doll with no life behind her eyes.
“She doesn’t hate you, Amelia. Who could hate someone as beautiful as you?”
The weight of Amelia’s chin bore down on her fist as she glanced up at Joey from the kitchen counter. He turned his head from the stove to give Amelia a goofy grin, waiting for her to smile back.
“Joey, she does. She really does.” Amelia continued, her jaw still clenched. “She yells at me. She makes me do things the other dancers don’t have to. She literally will stand in front of me and just glare while I’m trying to warm-up.”
“Well, maybe she’s just jealous. Because you’re so talented.”
“No. That’s dumb. She used to be beautiful. She’s danced all over the world with the some of the most famous choreographers. She’s not jealous.”
“Well, Amelia. I don’t know what you want me to say. Why don’t you just go put your dance stuff back in our room and relax. Dinner will be ready in ten. I’ll come get you.”
“Joey, this is a real problem. I can’t just take of my shoes and relax. What am I supposed to do? The person who holds the fate of my career, of my whole future, is torturing me every day and has been for the past month.”
“Why don’t you quit then?”
“I can’t quit.”
“Why not? You’re not a modern dancer, anyways. You’re a beautiful ballerina.”
Amelia stood up. She looked at Joey’s back moving beneath his navy cotton shirt as he chopped the red peppers in unequal squares. He scraped the peppers into his hand and dropped them into the pan, resulting in a loud hiss as he stepped quickly back from the splatter of hot oil.
“Whoa,” Joey said. “Almost got me, didn’t it?”
He smiled again at Amelia.
“Yeah,” she said, looking at the ground. “Almost.”
Joey reached out to Amelia and pulled her close to him. “I’m sorry that dance is hard right now,” he said and kissed her on the forehead. “But, it’ll all work out, right?”
She stepped back and looked up at him. A half-smile was still plastered on Joey’s face, but as their eyes met, Amelia wondered if she had ever really seen him before. After a year of living together, he still always looked put-together. His dark hair still somehow stayed in just the right place without any gel and his hands were never too dry or too clammy. But, when she looked into his eyes, she felt herself exerting a great amount of energy to ignore a stomach-turning loneliness. Even though he was there, she still felt alone.
Amelia’s right arm flung to the bedside table to stop the buzzing alarm. Her hand found her phone and brought it to her face. Her eyes adjusted to the screen as she made sure to get rid of all the red notifications that had popped up overnight. Her eyes scanned a few messages from old friends who wanted to catch up. She quickly scrolled through the list of names she didn’t recognize of people liking photos and statuses and tweets.
“I don’t know any of these people.”
Amelia checked the time. 8:17. “Shit.”
Joey had gotten up early for work and left some crumpled sheets and lingering smell of stale coffee.
Amelia pushed herself up and hurried into the kitchen.
She threw a water bottle into her bag, grabbed her shoes and almost forgot to lock the door as she left the apartment. Luckily she could catch the L train just a couple of blocks down. The commute from Bushwick to Manhattan was about 35 minutes with a 15-minute walk to the studio. Amelia went over the math in her head. Nope, no way she would be there by 9.
After securing a seat on the train, Amelia searched for the podcast she had been listening to and put her headphones into her ears. She found it. A reading of Martha Graham’s essay, “An Athlete of God.” Amelia listened. She wanted to believe the words of this woman, who was worshipped by so many of her peers, and especially by Trish. She wanted to be successful in the company she was in now, so different than her dreams of Juilliard and American Ballet Theatre. She wanted to earn the respect of her teachers and peers. She was a hard worker. Amelia remembered how she had stretched every spare moment of the day when she was eight years old, just so she would be the first one in her class able to do a split. And then she had given up public school so she could be at the studio more often. She even moved to New York when she was 17, leaving her family in their small Connecticut town.
But, Graham’s words just sounded like too much. She spoke of spirit and holiness as if dance was some higher form of art than any other. Graham seemed pretentious to Amelia. A crazy old woman with too much hair.
Amelia heard the two-toned ring as the train slowed. “14th Street Station.” She made herself thin, slipped out of the train and fell in step with the crowd climbing the stairs to sunlight. Amelia’s long legs carried her quickly through the Chelsea neighborhoods. Her pin-straight hair caught the late autumn breeze, and her chestnut strands erupted. Gotta tie that back before class.
She checked her phone. 8:59. Well, I’m not late yet. She started darting through crowds on the sidewalk and veered to the far left to bypass other walkers. She was moving remarkably fast. She noticed the brick buildings and tall glass doors blur beside her as she pushed forward, all the while trying to keep her bag from slipping down her arm and messing with her aerodynamics.
She spotted a roadblock ahead. A wide man with large bags was walking right in the middle of the sidewalk. She slowed her pace a little so as not to slam directly into him. She veered to the right — wrought iron gates for the next three blocks. She veered back to the left —a steady stream of traffic and a line of parked cars. She walked directly behind him now, hoping when they crossed the next block, her path would open up. She looked at the back of the head of this man, who stood about a half foot lower than Amelia. He had dark curls that bounced a little as he walked. A black cord with several tangles ran up from his pocket and connected to his massive headphones. His brown sweatshirt had a light stain on the hood and was well-worn around the hem. His jeans didn’t fit right, loose in some places and tight in others. His neck bobbed slightly with every step he took, and Amelia wondered if he was bobbing to the music or the hollow clap of his feet against the sidewalk. She watched his feet and felt her body falling into the rhythm of his steps. Right, left, right, left. The deep sound of his heavy combat boots and the light tap of her sneakers melded into one amidst the chatter of the city. Amelia’s neck started to bob, too. Jutting slightly forward as it went up and down. And then she noticed the man’s shoulders rising slowly and falling quickly. Two steps to breathe in, one step to breathe out, one step, rest. Two steps, in, step, out, step, rest.
Amelia and the man were walking at the same pace, one behind the other. Two specks in sync in the disorder around them. Amelia wondered if their hearts were beating the same, too. Two quick bursts of blood and life to two bodies separated only by distance.
“Amelia! Where are you going?”
Amelia stopped on the sidewalk and looked over to see Dan, another dancer, running toward her.
“You just passed the studio,” he said.
“Oh, right.” Amelia noticed the buildings around her were unfamiliar. “Must’ve not been paying attention.”
She turned around and ran with Dan back one block to the studio.
“Trish is going to kill us, you know. She hates it when people are late.” Dan was breathing heavily. Amelia wondered how long he had been running.
“Amelia, come here,” Trish said, with her head turned away from the dancers.
Amelia walked forward.
“Would you please help me with a demonstration? It seems that we are all having trouble connecting with one another.”
Amelia nodded, trying to smile at Trish even though the woman refused to make eye contact with her.
“Okay,” Trish said, turning to face Amelia, head on. “I’m going to make contact with you, and I want you to react with movement.”
Amelia nodded again, this time not even able to fake a smile. She didn’t know what Trish meant. React with movement? What did that mean? She watched as Trish’s black sock slid along the floor, getting closer to Amelia’s foot, lifting off the floor and tapping the back of Amelia’s calf.
Amelia didn’t move.
“Girl, what are you doing? React, do something.” Trish’s hands were in fists. “Talk to me with your movement.”
This time Trish twisted her arm around and tapped Amelia’s hip with her elbow. Amelia jutted her hip to the other side.
“Good, good. Now what does the rest of your body do? Do your arms move with your hips? What about your legs, your torso, your neck?”
Amelia let her hip carry her backward and her right arm floated upward to tap Trish’s shoulder. Trish spiraled around, looking upward and then shot her knee up to touch the back of Amelia’s, which made Amelia’s left leg soften and her right leg fling forward, her toe nudging Trish’s chin.
They moved along the front of the studio, their bodies carving out space like letters on a page. They lunged and spun, moving more and more quickly, a hesitant conversation morphing into an argument.
Their eyes bore into each other as their bodies sparred. The other dancers in the room had moved back to allow the two free range of the studio. Then, Amelia straightened her back and gently put her hand on Trish’s shoulder. Trish stood, and their gazes softened.
“Very good,” Trish said, the corners of her mouth lifting slightly. She turned to the dancers.
“You see, this thing we’re doing here isn’t just a walk in the park. We aren’t putting on a circus so kids can come and ogle at us. We are communicating with our audience. And we have important things to say. Our work isn’t easy. It’s brutal on the body and it’s even harder on the soul. Our art demands all of us, all that we have to give. So, to start this piece, we must be honest with one another. Not with words. We walk in the realm of words our whole lives. Let’s take it a step further, shall we? Let’s be honest with our movement.”
Amelia was breathing heavily, noticing how something had broken inside of her. It was like she had forgotten she had swallowed a ball of yarn until it completely unraveled inside of her. Her heart was beating too fast and her breath was too hard to catch, but her muscles felt loose, and if she closed her eyes and let her head spin a little, she thought she was light enough to fly.
“Amelia,” Trish turned as Amelia opened her eyes. “Please stand in the center.”
Amelia walked to the middle of the room.
“Let’s begin the piece, shall we?”
The lights broke the black as the curtains lifted. Heavy beams bore down on the stage as the dancers ran on from stage right. The light washed out the complexions of the single line of dancers as it intensified.
Amelia stood in the center of the stage, just as she had rehearsed in the studio. Her head hung down, but she could feel the stillness settle over the dancers beside her. She closed her eyes and waited as her lungs grew until her chest forced her head up. Movement rippled through her body, directed by the ebb and flow of her steady breath. The dancers around her were caught in stillness, but Amelia’s body was liquid. She chased each movement to the end of her fingers, open just wide enough to comb the air around them, until the stomach-punch of an exhale drew her back in to herself, only for her hips to circle and her legs to reach out beneath her, leading to another burst. Though her movement was frantic, Amelia confined herself to an arms-length radius, not touching another dancer, not drawing the audience’s attention to them. Each wave now came quicker. She reached higher and fell lower and threw her body more forcefully, dizzying herself so the bright lights seemed to come from all directions.
Then, she stopped. Her body was extended and frozen, breath held in a moment rigid with tension. Amelia waited here, listening for the breath of those beside her. She drew herself up, faced the audience and began a phrase.
As her right arm swung over her head, the dancer to her right began to follow. As their left arms reached forward, two more dancers joined in. Then four more torsos bent forward and all the dancers were together, one unit floating across the stage, one set of limbs moving up and down, left and right. Their simple movements so undistinguished they became one bright blob of moving muscles, one long exhale of feet sliding and sweat flinging.
Then, the lights faded to black. The sounds slowly ceased. And the audience sat in stillness, listening to the heavy breathing of the dancers, before nodding and clapping and rising to their feet as the curtain closed.
Janna Childers is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying journalism and global studies. She is fascinated by the interaction of art, culture and communication and hopes to work after graduation to amplify the voices of artists and creators.
These paintings represent three generations of women from Mexican families and depict the warmth and comfort of sitting at the kitchen table. They were inspired by the charm of the novel, Like Water For Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel."
Rita Guile is a fine art painter. Her work has been exhibited at galleries and corporate offices throughout Kansas City, along with international and national juried exhibitions around the country. For twenty-seven years, Guile worked as a designer and art director, while painting by night. In 2012, she left her successful design career to work full-time as a fine art painter. She works with acrylic on canvas. www.ritaguile.com
In the chill of the workshop,
the sculptor’s sure hands
cut curves into cold marble,
smoothed the planes of her face,
struggling to perfect an image
of divine Aphrodite,
fitting offering for a goddess.
Behind him, a handful of
lesser finished works
stare blindly, heedless,
as stone softens to flesh,
and she bends like a ballerina
to embrace her creator;
her arms raised as if
to fire an arrow into his heart,
but she herself is the bow;
he bends her as she bends to him,
in supple dance.
So off-guard is he,
so fervent, so reverent
his embrace, that he never sees
Cupid’s sly approach.
The shocked masks
behind him disapprove--
as society always seems to do.
But we, witnesses to a miracle,
a goddess revealing herself in flesh . . .
. . . are forever denied her face.
Deborah L. Davitt
Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada; but received her MA in English from Penn State, where she taught rhetoric and composition before becoming a technical writer in industries including nuclear submarines, NASA, and computer manufacturing. She currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son. For more about her work, please see www.edda-earth.com.
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