On Magritte’s The Voice of Blood
"Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist." René Magritte
I think we should listen more to
old wives and their tales.
Learn how not to get caught in a storm (of fear),
not to enter the (wrong) doors,
how to avoid the falling stars (or catch a ride).
How to let go (and know) when trees are silent they are free.
The voice of blood is captured in the geometry of trees and the lie of open windows. Meandering greys bend in moonlight’s fortune-telling whispers. Listen.
There is no color without light.
to the moonlight shape our monochromatic truth.
Listen, old wives, to our prayers for fairytale endings ever,
grey is washed in morning, graffiti of the light revealed.
Lisa St. John
Lisa St. John is a high school English Teacher who has occasionally published poems. Her newest endeavors include a memoir in progress and, of course, poetry. Her first chapbook, Ponderings, can be purchased at Finishing Line Press. She lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley of upstate New York where she calls the Catskill Mountains home. Lisa has published her poetry in the Barbaric Yawp, Bear Creek Haiku, Misfit Magazine, The Poet’s Billow PKA’s Advocate, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, and Chronogram Magazine. The poem “There Must Be a Science to This” won The Poet’s Billow’s Bermuda Triangle Contest and “Mowing the Lawn” was shortlisted for the Fish Poetry Prize and later published in Fish Anthology 2016. She also has several travel articles posted on GoNomad.com. When she is not reading or writing longer pieces, Lisa enjoys thinking out loud on her blog, Random Mind Movements. http://lisastjohnblog.com
To James Ensor’s Skeletons Fighting For the Body of a Hanged Man
The Hanged Man has lost his costume and his mask.
He wears a white nightgown now that he’s being erased.
It’s still a terrible surprise to have his red striped
pantaloons, his harem pants, sprawled
heaped on boards below his feet –
and the blue silk tunic and black leather boots,
his alter-ego that allowed him to flash,
to clap, to entertain the gathering crowd. Ribaldry,
spit, the percussive click of his heels, cape’s swoop
over spectators’ eyes as his unobtrusive
accomplice with deep-pocket apron slipped
like oil into the layers of their coats.
Then there’s the one who mocks, the one who hates
to be kicked in the shin though she provokes it.
She flaunts her feather boa, she’s there
to sweep out the images that swim through
the eyes of spectators with their greed for
the ghastly, she’s there to see that injustice
is done. Hanged Man was her competitor for
the crowd’s jumpy attention when she performed
the ultimate umbrella trick. He sneaked in behind
her swirling mesmerizer, aped and somersaulted,
holding out his snatching cap just as they were
ready to toss coins into her spread red skirt.
Now that he’s dead, she’ll beat him with her broom.
The one dressed as Death in shambled clothes,
the one with the pole, most wants to win.
But he who is unafraid will win in the end.
If it can be called winning, if it can be called end.
Death’s character, with long pole and forward tilt,
must cross the dark river, propelling the barge
that carries the bones. He must wear the bones.
His face repels, no matter his fancy hats, no
matter his silks and the laugh plastered on his
visage. People turn away, people flee from him
and he can stop nothing.
Grace Marie Grafton
Grace Marie Grafton’s most recent book, Jester, was published by Hip Pocket Press. She is the author of six collections of poetry. Her poems won first prize in the Soul Making contest (PEN women, San Francisco), in the annual Bellingham Review contest, Honorable Mention from Anderbo and Sycamore Review, and have twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Poems recently appear in Sin Fronteras, The Cortland Review, Canary, CA Quarterly, Askew, Fifth Wednesday Journal, poetrymagazine.com and West Trestle Review.
For many years, Andrea rented a small house in the mountains for a month during the summer, and in this house over the mantelpiece hung a seascape in which there was no boat and nothing but waves to be seen. The top half was a stormy sky and the bottom half was nothing but roiling waves, with a few whitecaps here and there. The painting was enclosed in an elaborate gold frame, such as you might see in a museum around an old master, and from a distance it looked quite abstract. It was only when you got up close that you saw the waves.
In the first few summers Andrea searched the painting carefully each time she arrived at the house, looking for the boat. She couldn’t believe that there was only the gray sea, with its chop, and the storm over it. She searched the horizon between sea and sky with particular care, thinking the painter had put the ship there, approaching from a great distance. There was a speck that one could see only from a certain angle, but it always turned out to be nothing. A flaw in the glass, perhaps.
After awhile Andrea stopped looking for the boat. She concluded that someone had painted the scene from shipboard, leaving out all trace of the ship, and for some reason this irritated her. If it had been her painting, she would have thrown it out, but of course it belonged to the house, which she only rented. Nor was she able to ignore it, because every time she had a guest, the guest would stand in front of the painting, sometimes for a long time, looking for the boat. A gentleman guest once said, “Funny there’s no boat. Maybe it’s underneath,” which Andrea thought was one of the stupidest things she’d ever heard. Underneath what? But hadn’t she herself turned the painting over once, looking for a clue? On the back was a sticker that read “Onde.” Waves.
One summer she arrived to find a different painting over the mantelpiece. When she asked the house’s owner what had happened to the seascape, she was told that the frame had turned out to be very valuable and so it was sold. And the painting? Worthless, she was told. It had disappeared.
She stopped coming after that. She began going to the shore instead, where she discovered that the painting had not disappeared. It was now inside of her, its storm unabated, the gray sky still lowering. Even on a sunny day the sea always looked dark and roiling, and she had no trouble anymore imagining what lay underneath.
Michele Stepto lives in Connecticut, where she has taught literature and writing at Yale University for many years. In the summers, she teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont, where this image hangs in one of the faculty houses. "Seascape" is one of sixty-five brief stories written in as many days, one per day, in the summer of 2007. Some of the others have appeared in NatureWriting, Mirror Dance Fantasy and Lacuna Journal. She is the translator, along with her son Gabriel, of Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World.
Fanning the Flames
Let the city burn, for I carry you
saving you from its bellicose sky
and empty streets.
Together we’ll watch the flame
burghers, those who never gave us
the time of day.
We’ll cross their final bridge,
behind. You will open to me, petal
Others, though curious, will never see
This poem was written as part of the surprise ekphrastic poetry challenge on Magritte.
Devon Balwit writes in Portland, OR. She has five chapbooks out or forthcoming: How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press); Forms Most Marvelous (dancing girl press); In Front of the Elements (Grey Borders Books), Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders Books); and The Bow Must Bear the Brunt (Red Flag Poetry). More of her individual poems can be found here as well as in The Cincinnati Review, The Stillwater Review, Red Earth Review, The Inflectionist; Glass: A Journal of Poetry; Noble Gas Quarterly; Muse A/Journal, and more.
What He Sees
is your body
layered like a set
of nesting dolls
each one diminished
less and less complete
the smallest at the center
closest to whole
an armless headless torso
the body’s core
rising from the shell
of a pelvis
that rises from the cradle
of your sex
both offered and
given the lead
magnified and closer
than any other fragment
daring us to notice
what is missing-
the hands, the face
This poem was written as part of the surprise ekphrastic challenge on Magritte's paintings.
Mary McCarthy has always been a writer, but spent most of her working life as a Registered Nurse. She has had many publications in journals, including Earth's Daughters, Caketrain, and The Evening Street Review, among others. She has only recently discovered the vibrant poetry communities on the internet, where there is so much to explore and enjoy.
René Magritte: The Unexpected Answer (1933)
Later you will wonder
how I locked the bedroom door
from the inside. “Open up!”
you’ll yell. Try the knob, barge
in without an answer.
For the rest of my days,
I’ll relish imagining that moment
you find the room stripped,
empty as your heart.
This poem was written as part of the surprise ekphrastic challenge for Magritte.
Alarie’s latest poetry book, Waking on the Moon, contains many poems first published by The Ekphrastic Review. Please visit her at alariepoet.com.
Story of an Erasure *
Robert Rauschenberg was nervous,
standing in front of de Kooning’s door,
clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Don’t be home, he prayed, but he was.
What he wanted was a de Kooning drawing,
not to hang, he explained, but to erase.
Collectors were snapping up de Koonings
for unprecedented sums, a de Kooning
had just sold for $10,000, even a sketch had value.
I kept trying to show that it wouldn’t be
destruction, although there was a chance
if it didn’t work out that it’d be a waste.
The painter wasn’t going to make it easy
It has to be something I’d miss—he thought--
several female figures from different angles
It took two months, and even then, wasn’t
completely erased. I wore out a lot of erasers.
The result—a blank sheet bearing a few smudges.
You heard of it by word of mouth, often described
as the artist’s most controversial although
much of his work questioned the nature of art.
It is labeled an oedipal act,
but Rauschenberg maintained that never the point
It’s not a negation, it’s a celebration.
nervous in front of de Kooning,
What he wanted
was a drawing,
A de Kooning
had just sold for $10,000:
even a sketch had value.
though if it didn’t work
It has to be
something I’d miss--
It took two months:
The result—a blank sheet
bearing a few smudges.
You heard it described
an oedipal act,
but, Rauschenberg maintained,
not negation, celebration.
A de Kooning
If it didn’t work,
something I’d miss--
a blank sheet, a few smudges.
*Created though an erasure of Abigail Cain’s ARTSY editorial July 14th, 2017. Click here to view original.
The poet says, "I saw this review on Robert Rauschenberg's erasure of a de Kooning and thought it would a cool challenge to make an erasure from Abigail Cain's story about the erasure. Then I thought it would be a challenge to see how much of my poem I could erase and still retain the essential story. Here is the poem."
Devon Balwit writes in Portland, OR. She has five chapbooks out or forthcoming: How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press); Forms Most Marvelous (dancing girl press); In Front of the Elements(Grey Borders Books), Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders Books); and The Bow Must Bear the Brunt (Red Flag Poetry). More of her individual poems can be found here as well as in The Cincinnati Review, The Stillwater Review, Red Earth Review, The Inflectionist; Glass: A Journal of Poetry; Noble Gas Quarterly; Muse A/Journal, and more.
leaving an exhibition of drawings by Richard Serra
The day unwrites me
nothing more than a passing texture.
I wear my own exposure
turned white by smoke-damaged gravity.
Nothing stops soon enough
in the square
I walk away with my eyes
sore with the city before them
with the ruin of too much light.
Daniel Fraser is a writer and critic living in London. His work has featured in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Berfrois, Gorse, the Quietus, Music and Literature, Black Sun Lit and 3AM Magazine among others. Find him on Twitter @oubliette_mag.
I was holidaying in France on the night that it occurred.
The summer evenings had faded gradually into a bleak, funereal autumn, and the air was heavy with the smell of wood smoke and leaf mould. Feeling the chill of the evening - and my hosts remarkable lack of affability – I had taken myself to bed early that night and had drifted into slumber with unusual celerity. I am often troubled by insomnia; especially when sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings such as the ramshackle inn that was my home for the night in that alien region of the Loire valley. I must have slept from some time before I was awoken by a relentless, rasping sounds.
Zig, zig, zig.
The rhythmic, recurring cadence of the night.
Rising from my bed, I ventured across my narrow, ill-lit chamber. Pushing open the heavy oak shutters I gazed from my window. All was darkness in the tavern in which I stayed, even the most enthusiastic of revellers having quieted now. The countryside too showed few signs of life, and after a few minutes contemplation I returned to my bed and tried to go back to sleep.
Zig, zig, zig.
The sound scratched at my brain. Although not loud it seemed to bore deeply into my consciousness. It ran like sandpaper over my mind. Rising again, I strode back to the window and flung the shutters wide furiously. This time I had been quicker. On the pathway below, briefly caught in the moonlight between the trees, I perceived a cloaked and hooded figure. He hurried away towards the slumbering town. He did not glance back.
Hastening back across my room, I pulled a shirt over my head and boots onto my clumsy, fumbling feet. Moving swiftly and silently, I crept through the darkened house and let myself out into the yard. Bright moonlight lanced its way across the scene, casting illumination and shadow in equal measure. Within minutes of seeing the apparition I was on the road; racing along the rutted track that wound its way through the village. Not a light showed, nor a breath of wind moved the leafless linden trees. I moved as briskly as I could along that broken road, I dared not move faster for fear of twisting my ankle. There was no other track however, and I continued along my lonely and unsettling pilgrimage. With every step the sound grew louder, and always in the same triplication;
Zig, zig, zig.
I left the village and stumbled on into open country. Before me the road wound away, and in the near distance the spire of the church arose high above me. I shuddered in the chill night air. The noise itself had reached a huge crescendo now and had taken on a beautiful yet sinister melody.
Zig, zig, zig.
As I drew nearer however, I caught a clearer glimpse of my quarry. He flickered in the strips of light and whipped ahead, the hem of his robe flicking around the corner of the church and into the cemetery as I approached. He moved lightly, as if floating over the ground rather than treading it as a man should. The yard itself was hidden behind the bulk of the church, however I hurried around the corner before halting abruptly in amazement, at the very moment that the church tower beat out its mournful midnight toll.
Throughout the churchyard, and with more flocking to join at every moment, were an army of skeletons. It looked as if every corpse in Christendom had been called to participate in that macabre ballet.
These were not however dry heaps of bone, but animated, leaping, twirling, dancing skeletons. Running and spinning, joining together and then springing apart, and all to the morbid song of that deathly dance-tune. Oblivious to my presence, they waltzed and pirouetted in the blackness of the night; marionettes of that most fearful and grotesque of puppet-masters.
For He is there, oh yes. He, with his violin clasped tightly in his skeletal hands, his funeral shroud clinging to the bare bones of his form.
Death stands alone; lord of all that he surveys. His violin sends forth a torrent of notes as his boot heel strikes out the rhythm of the dance upon the tomb stone that he bestrides. At the centre of the swirling mass of cracking bones, he calls the tune that the dead must obey. At the heart of this grim and macabre spectacle stood He – and as I gazed upon him his countenance slowly turned upon me. Not once did he break from his unholy melody, however he inclined his head mockingly, almost as if to say;
“Soon, soon enough. Soon you shall join my dance, like all the others.”
The flashing white of the bones as the skeletons pass. The discordant shriek of the boot upon stone, harmonizing, rhapsodizing with the eerie wail of the violin and the moan of the wind through the trees and tombs. I stood entranced; unable to move. I cast a terrified glance towards the church; the glimmer of salvation in the dark. Nothing stirred in response, no help could be called forth. It were as if Christ and all his angels slept.
Meanwhile the dancers frisked about me until abruptly;
The nightmare draws to its inevitable but temporary close. The cock crows and the servants of death must return once more to their earthy sarcophagi. He stands above it all, defiant to the last. Shaking his fist and rasping out his anger, his frustration, his certainty. He looks once more at me - his knowing smile still haunts my fevered mind – and then he is gone. Slowly, thoughtfully, I quit the dance floor. My mind whirling and swimming, dragged round in a vortex of delirium. Slowly I awake. Slowly I return to the world of the living. The sun has risen on a clear, cold Autumnal day. The 1st November has arrived; signalling a new month, a fresh start, a rebirth. His music is quieted; for now.
I made my way back through the still slumbering town – only now do I notice the heavy bars and bolts that hold doors and windows closed on this most unhallowed of nights. Is it my imagination or do they all look newly-fitted?
I return to my tavern bed, but sleep eludes me. I desire only to put as great a distance between myself and this accursed place as possible, as quickly as possible. I rise and pack my things. Stumbling towards the door to take my leave I come upon my host. He says not a word, but holds the door open for my exit. As I leave he flashes me a brief, knowing smile.
As I move away I seem to hear on the breeze a distant and familiar cry.
Zig, zig, zig.
This short story was inspired by artwork by Remedios Varos, music by Camille Saint-Saëns, and the poem of the same title by Charles Baudelaire. Click here to read it in original French and also in English translation.
Steve Hosking is an emerging UK-based writer. He enjoys a wide variety of literary genres; however
historical fiction, horror, fantasy, science fiction, and gothic are amongst his favourites. His literary
influences include, but are not limited to, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Robert Harris, CJ Sansom,
and Stephen King. Steve has had one story published so far – The Princess and the Tower – in
Aphotic Realm magazine (Apparitions, June/July 2017). Another of his stories – The Writer – will be
appearing in CLA Magazine in August. Aside from short stories, Steve also writes poetry and flash
fiction, and has had a Sestina published online. He is working on his first novel currently and hopes
to have completed the first draft by Christmas 2017. When not writing, Steve enjoys running,
walking, swimming and tennis.
The Myth of Talent
Would you ask a violinist “how much do you practice?”
or a ballerina about her grueling daily dance routine?
Everybody writes. The poet writes like she prays, with passion.
Athena emerged fully-grown from the head of Zeus.
She saw everything and knew everything.
To be born, the writer enters a state of curiosity,
waiting for the moment when
the poem opens up and tells her
what it wants to be about.
No thrills of discovery for the goddess.
Miles Davis said, my future
starts when I wake up every morning.
Gaby is the American translator of Henri Meschonnic’s work, a contributor to Lexington’s poetry blog (http://lexpomo.com/) and a teacher at Eastern Kentucky University. While a grad student in Comp Lit, she co-founded the University of Iowa Museum of Art Bulletin. Her publications include a photo essay in Italian Americana: Cultural and Historical Review, a book review in Poet Lore, photos in Ground Fresh Thursday, and an article on rhythm as historicity in New Literary History. Her poem "Singing in the Pool" is forthcoming in The Voices Project.
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