Dante & Virgil in Hell
Two men grapple, and I mistake them at first
for the two poets, wondering which is Dante,
and which Virgil. I marvel at how passionately
they consume one another, the way
their four hands cling and dig; the vampiric
mouth, seeking the jugular. I have known
such kisses, both in the giving and the getting,
one knee pushing away even as my arms
cling. Passion confuses, so much like hate,
hunger, annihilation’s overture. Locating
the painting’s namesakes disappoints,
so retiring are they, so shy in their looking,
gazes not even askance, but elsewhere. Dante
comforts Virgil, there, there, as tenderly
as a mother, the laureate’s robe between
his teeth, pacifying. A demon fixes both
with a belligerent stare as if to say, man up!
He hovers, ready to uncloak them, two more
for the pile, baring what must burn
beneath, the secret torrents of the blood.
This poem was written as part of the ekphrastic Halloween poetry challenge.
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.
After Diane Beatty’s Photograph, “History Abandoned”
Empty drawers piled high in an attic--
Where else but in a woman’s house
Or in the house of the man who keeps her?
Floor littered with tiles of neglect
The ceiling aches to break free
This is my house
Rows upon rows
Some opened and emptied
Others locked and secured
Privy to storms and crimes
Swept to oblivion
Like ossified bones
Refuse to let us see the
Dust of centuries that
Becomes other things
What if in these tiny cells
Women’s voices speak?
What if they sing?
What if among the rafters
Where birds’ feathers catch in flight
Respondent echoes refract
Like cracks of light
And everywhere, inside and out
Only the whorl of women’s voices
Arya F. Jenkins
Arya F. Jenkins poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and zines such as Agave Magazine, Black Scat Review, Brilliant Corners, Blue Heron Review, Cider Press Review, Dying Dahlia Review, The Feminist Wire, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Front Porch Review, KYSO Flash, Otis Nebula, and Provincetown Arts Magazine. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her flash, “Elvis Too” was nominated for the 2017 Write Well Awards by Brilliant Flash Fiction. Her work has appeared in at least three anthologies. She writes jazz fiction for Jerry Jazz Musician, an online zine. Her poetry chapbooks are: Jewel Fire (AllBook Books, 2011) Silence Has A Name (Finishing Line Press, 2016). Her poetry chapbook, Autumn Rumors, has just been accepted by CW Books and is slated for publication September 2018. Her latest blog is https://writersnreadersii.blogspot.com.
Self-Portrait in Watercolour at Twenty-Nine
"Do I believe in God? Yes, when I am working."
I wore only a sarong, pale
turquoise with yellow stripes,
tied loosely around my waist;
a beaded necklace, amber
and blue, fell between my
breasts; the closet door
opened to angle the mirror
right, I rested my shoulder
against the wall; I remembered
my unease with a photograph
of the artist as an old man, seated
but leaning on his cane, studying
the convergence of his standing
model’s thighs; watercolour
is an unforgiving medium,
the paper as light, as space, as
the color white, overworked
and the image gets murky;
was Matisse gathering the lines
of perfect communion in his
gaze? I can still hear the thwack,
thwacking of the great cable on
Jackson moving the cable
cars that day, the conductors
ringing rhythms with the bells as
the fog lifted and then—a stroke
of sunlight on my skin.
Virginia Barrett’s work has most recently appeared, or is forthcoming in The Writer’s Chronicle, Narrative, Poetry of Resistance (University of Arizona Press), New Mexico Review, and Forage. She received a 2017 writer’s residency grant from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of Taos, NM. Her chapbook, Stars By Any Other Name, was a semi-finalist for the Frost Place Chapbook Competition sponsored by Bull City Press, 2017. She holds an MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco and a MAT in Art from Rhode Island School of Design.
It's not the kind of cafe for shedding coats
despite the crushed velvet
heavy on your shoulders:
the fur collar’s genuine, and warm.
Your hat stays too, its broad brim
an awning for downcast eyes.
Outside the winter varnishes the streets,
contracts the lit windowpane
that frames you with nocturnal black.
You feel it vast against your back,
a sea trawled by yellow lights
barely breaking surface.
You remove a glove for coffee
made tepid by the chill,
anticipate an artificial taste,
wonder as you lift the cup
if the apples in the fruit bowl are real.
Were the chairs around you occupied
you’d ask for an opinion;
or search for someone else who might
appreciate the value of warmth.
Paul McDonald runs the creative writing programme at the University of Wolverhampton, England. He is the author of fifteen books, which cover fiction, poetry, and scholarship. His work has won a number of prizes including the Ottakars/Faber and Faber Poetry Competition, The John Clare Poetry Prize, and the Sentinel Poetry Prize. His academic work includes books on Philip Roth, Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison, narratology, and the philosophy of humour.
They're Still Stealing Van Goghs
While researching Nazi art thefts for a novel, L.A. Hardscape, I was brought up short by the audacity and sheer scope of the crime. I had seen Monuments Men, but that had seemed like an entertainment, an embellished tale based on fact, and it didn't really dilate my cortex like the tons of print that you can dig up on the thefts and I just scratched the surface. Hermann Goering's "collection" alone, amounted to almost 2,000 works of art when you count sculpture and tapestries along with the 1,400 paintings. And, like a true obsessive bureaucrat, he and his minions catalogued every single one. Including who they stole it from. These guys were nothing if not methodical. And it should be mentioned here that the entire amount of stolen art and artifacts is much greater than what adorned the walls of Carinhall, Goering's chalet. The Third Reich 's amassment of looted objects was in the hundreds of thousands and storage in salt mines, caves, warehouses and tunnels from 1933 to the end of the war are legend. A lifetime could be spent researching the thefts. Goering's collection alone has taken researchers years to trace. Efforts are ongoing.
I found myself looking up painting after painting and, being an artist myself, sighing over each and every one. This guy surrounded himself with beauty and splendor, the best of the best--I don't know what the metaphor is here; this truly evil ratbastard of sewer/vomit heart and mind making his grand chateau outside Berlin, Carinhall, the depository of the world's art genius. There is no metaphor so I won't struggle for one. Hitler's number two man was one hell of a collector, emphasis on hell.
I was wasting a lot of time looking at great paintings (Can that be time wasted? If you're trying to get a novel done, I suppose it could be.) many of which I'd glimpsed in art history courses in art school. My eyes were glazing over. Just one of these paintings could set me up in fast cars and tall cotton for the rest of my life.
At this point I was eyeing Van Gogh’s Bridge at Langlois in Arles. And that's when I made the decision to follow the Nazi trail of theft through one artist, thus paring down the time spent and making the task less gargantuan. I looked up this painting and found that the bridge at Arles was the subject of four Van Gogh oil paintings, some watercolours and a series of drawings. All of these are just superb, as you would think. He was about thirty-five when he produced them in 1888 in Arles, France, where he lived at the time and where he enjoyed the height of his career and productivity. In less than fifteen months he produced more than 200 paintings.
The bridge reminded him of his homeland, the Netherlands, and he sent a framed version of it to an art dealer there. One of the 1888 versions was taken by Goering and it was one of his favorites. He stole Van Gogh's Portrait of Doctor Gachet as well, but ended up selling it in 1937. But not the bridge. That stayed at Carinhall. But where is it now? I lost the trail at Carinhall, though a book might provide some clues.
A 518 page book, "Beyond the Dreams of Avarice: The Hermann Goering Collection," published in 2009, could possibly shed some light on which bridge painting was in that collection, and also provide a trail of provenance, which in many cases is labyrinthine. The only information I could find on Van Gogh's Portrait of Doctor Gachet was that it had reportedly been sold. To whom, was not divulged. But another, third, Portrait of Doctor Gachet, of which only two were known, showed up in Greece in the inheritance of a struggling author, Doreta Peppas. It had been "liberated" by her late father in a Resistance attack on a Nazi train. They'd been after ammunition, but Peppas' father also made off with a crate of paintings. One of the paintings was the Van Gogh and other items included a notebook of his drawings. Nazi stamps on the backs of the items were validated as official, and the items themselves appear to be indisputably authentic. Why isn't Doreta rich? No one will touch the art, possibly because it may cast doubt on the authenticity of other Van Gogh paintings now hanging in galleries and private collections. It's a byzantine story but suffice to say she may be the richest poor struggling author in the history of literature, and by way of the Nazis, the art world. She remains penniless, and the art is in a temperature controlled vault which further drains her meagre income.
The art trove is hers, having been traced as far back as possible, and no one has come forward to claim the pieces. Not the family from which they were stolen, or anyone else. It's quite possible the previous owners were the last of a family line and met their end at the hands of the Nazis. The crateful never reached its intended destination, where it would no doubt have been catalogued.
The notebook alone is probably worth $3.5 million and a respected authority said he believes it to be Van Gogh's student workbook from the Royal Academy of Art in Brussels. The age and the paper have been confirmed in separate tests. Other tests and samplings have further corroborated the pieces as genuine. The Van Gogh Museum offered to authenticate the Gachet painting but a contract they sent stated they would keep it forever. For free. Meanwhile Ms. Peppas has lost her home due to search, storage and authentication costs. The Nazis, it appears, have left their mark, and curse, on Van Gogh and the world's fine art market once again.
The total estimated worth of her crate of stolen Nazi art, which includes a Cezanne nude, is over $100 million. Conspiracy theorists are blaming a bullying art cartel for refusing to legitimize the find until they can get their hands on it some other way. I don't know who is to blame in such a bizarre situation, but it does irk me that the art isn't shared with the world. Isn't that the point of great art? It's almost a sure thing that the art is real--none of the tests would seem to indicate otherwise. Begs the question WTF?
Anyway, the trail ran cold on Nazi looted Van Goghs. But mysteries abound and who doesn't love those? Especially mystery writers. (literature seems to be intertwined in this stolen art business) Bestseller Lynne Kennedy (The Triangle Murders, Time Exposure, Pure Lies) came upon just such a mystery while researching Deadly Provenance, a novel of deception involving a Nazi looted Van Gogh oil titled Still Life: Vase with Oleanders. Who better to pursue it? The Brooklyn-born author worked with the San Diego Sheriff's Department and SDPD Crime Lab in forming forensic studies for teachers and students. In adding authenticity to her books she worked with museum and historical experts as well as crime-solving officials at a time when the CSI tv shows were becoming popular. Great credentials for investigating a lost Van Gogh. While she solved the case in her novel, the painting remains missing in real life, and Kennedy herself is still on the case. If anyone has any leads they are encouraged to contact her; a good start is her website, lynnekennedymysteries.com There, you'll find fascinating links to interviews and progress notes.
The painting, also known as Vase on Yellow Background, was one of thirty or so that had been at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in Paris. Suspecting an imminent Nazi raid in 1940 the owners packed them off to Chateau de Rastignac near Bordeaux. In 1941 the Nazis tracked them there, looted as much as they could, and burned the chateau to the ground. The paintings, including the Van Gogh, have not been seen since. And Lynne Kennedy has unearthed some very interesting information in her search, having contacted people and museums who are close to the source.
Nazis weren't the only thieves interested in Van Gogh paintings. Two of his paintings were stolen in 2002 from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, a seascape and a painting of a church in Neunen where his father had been pastor. The burglars climbed to the roof using a ladder, broke through a window and exited out the side of the building using a rope. The theft seems like the stuff of movies. During an investigation of the Camorra Mafia family in Italy, the oils were recovered in 2016.
At the time of the crime, the paintings were worth about $4.5 million. Works by Van Gogh have sold for up to $82.5 million at auction, but the stolen works were from his Hague period, and of a style that sell for a good deal less.
Another vase-and-flowers Van Gogh oil Poppy Flowers, was stolen in 2010 from Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo. Its value is around $50 million and one can imagine a white-suited, red-fezzed Sydney Greenstreet bargaining with Humphrey Bogart for its return. Egyptian officials believed they had caught the perps of the painting pilferage, arresting two Italian suspects attempting to board a plane at Cairo International Airport. No deal. It's still among the missing Van Goghs. It had been stolen previously in 1977 from the same museum and recovered ten years later in Kuwait. If you see a small painting of a bunch of yellow flowers and a couple of red ones in a vase, give the museum a call.
If you have a Van Gogh or two, you might want to beef up your ADT alarm system with some of those impenetrable lazer-ined security mazes that only George Clooney could negotiate. Or was that Cary Grant? In one of my books, Ruined Days, a New Orleans art gallery uses holograpic images for its most expensive sculptures. A Degas ballerina revolves under a light, for all intents and purposes a solid bronze figurine, until someone reaches for it and touches only air. As the gallery owner explains to the main character in the story, "Some collectors prefer to have the original in a vault somewhere. We make these up for them so they can appreciate the piece with no reservations about it being damaged or stolen."
Perhaps in the future, Van Goghs, Titians, Klimts and Caravaggios will be exquisitely projected images. Once the lights go out in the museum or gallery, so do the paintings. You're still in the presence of genius, once removed. And you're not supposed to touch the works anyway. Sort of like zoos of the future; holographic images, and if your kid jumps into the gorilla cage they won't have to shoot anything. That, to me, is preferable to jailed animals. But hey, that's me.
Back to Van Gogh, Nazi loot, and paintings of questionable authenticity that continue to surface. This one, signed Vincent, was purchased for a few hundred guilders in the Dutch city of Breda around the time WWII began. A still life featuring an open bible, clay pipe, and some other items such as a bottle, and a drape of some kind behind, is primarily monochromatic yellow ochres and greens. The owners, Catherine and Malcolm Head from Guildford, believe it to have been painted at the parsonage in Neunen, where Van Gogh lived between 1883 and 1885. They've spent a great deal of money on age testing and other samplings which do corroborate the time, if not the artist. But the Van Gogh Museum dismisses the painting as a fake, citing stylistic differences. They stated that it is more likely the oil was by the lesser-known female Dutch artist, Willemina Vincent. Hence the signing "Vincent" in the lower corner. Although, to me, it looks like Van Gogh's signature style, but it is slanted uphill. As art restorer Robert Mitchell says, "It could well be a genuine painting by Vincent Van Gogh but everyone in the art world will say no before they say yes." That one's been around since 1997 and shows no sign of conclusion.
In the "You just never know" department, Van Gogh's Portrait of Doctor Rey, which now hangs in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Russia, has an interesting backstory. It was once used to plug a hole in a chicken coop. Dr. Rey worked on Van Gogh after the legendary ear incident, and to show his gratitude, Van Gogh painted his portrait. Rey never liked it much, as evidenced by its disposition as chicken house insulation. I wonder if whoever found that painting had any problem making people believe it was genuine. "I was tearing down an old chicken coop and there was a Van Gogh on the wall inside. Yeah, I think it's real, don't you?"
By the way, that ear thing? Nobody cuts off their own ear, even if severely depressed. Or, as some have said, suffering from the tormenting tintinnabulation of tinnitus. There are much easier forms of self mutilation. A new German book, Pakt des Schweigens (Pact of Silence) contends that he made up the story to protect his friend Gaugin, who, perhaps unintentionally, whacked off the ear with his sword during a contentious argument in the dark. Gaugin was a fencer, and he could have been protecting himself. The authors, Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, believe that the two artists had a hellacious fight because Van Gogh was upset that Paul was leaving, going back to Paris. It was common knowledge that Van Gogh was infatuated with him. At any rate once the shit hit the fan and the ear hit the floor, the two made a hasty pact to keep mum, Gaugin, to avoid jail time, and Van Gogh, to keep the friendship from disintegrating further. The incident took place near a brothel, and Van Gogh wrapped the ear in cloth, presenting it to a prostitute, who passed out when she realized what it was. Van Gogh went home and passed out as well. He would probably have bled to death had not the prostitute alerted police, who found him in his blood-soaked bed. They took him to a nearby hospital where he asked to see his pal, Gaugin. But Gaugin refused to visit him, left that day, and they never set eyes or ears on one another again.
Van Gogh wrote to Gaugin saying, "I will keep quiet about this and so will you." Some years later Gaugin wrote to another friend that Van Gogh was "A man with sealed lips. I cannot complain about him." Van Gogh's brother Theo also had some knowledge of the night that hints at circumstances other than self harm.
It all took place in Arles in 1888, no doubt interrupting Van Gogh's supremely prolific period during which the bridge paintings and drawings and hundreds of other works had been produced. The Nazi highjacking of Bridge at Langlois in Arles took place years later, and its whereabouts are still somewhat clouded. No one has heard anything about the ear, though it was supposed to have been kept in a jar of preservative. One hopes Dr. Rey didn't dispose of it in the chickenyard. What was it with that guy, anyway?
It wasn't long after the hearing loss that Van Gogh died in the arms of his brother, July 29, 1890. He was only 37. And even his death has an ear, I mean air, of mystery about it. Anyone with his roller coaster ups and downs would have been diagnosed as manic-depressive or possibly bipolar these days, and medicine might have smoothed it out some, extending his years of incredible creative genius.
His death: no suicide note, but days before, an ebullient letter to Theo. And he had just ordered supplies and paints. Moodwise, he was on an upswing, if anything. And the fact he'd been shot in the stomach is another question mark. Grossly evident powder burns from the sooty gunpowder of the day were missing indicating the weapon was fired from a distance. The position of the wound would have been extremely difficult for Van Gogh to accomplish, especially with his right hand--and he was right handed. Plus he had been receiving accolades and painting busily, even after the loss of his ear.
It should come as no great surprise that a bioengineered replica of Van Gogh's ear enjoyed a New York debut in 2015. Titled Sugarbabe, the auditory oddity actually contains natural DNA from Van Gogh and a direct male descendant. It was displayed at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. The genetic donor was Liewe Van Gogh, Theo's great-great grandson. Created ("It's alive. And it hears...") by Diemut Striebe, it employs a computer processor which stimulates nerve pulses allegedly allowing it to hear. One wonders if it was embarrassed at the opening. Some gallerista having imbibed too much free wine can be imagined to say "Ears to you, Vincent." or "Anybody got a Q-Tip?" or maybe whispering sexual innuendos into it.
Some words of advice: if it needs cleaning, don't stick anything sharp in it. Or around it. And guard it carefully. If they're out there plotting to steal Van Gogh paintings, they'd sure as hell want his ear. Or a close relative.
While the Van Gogh Museum may not be interested in Sugarbabe, and often declines to accept surfacing paintings as authentic, they do, through diligent research, welcome the ones they deem worthy. Sunset at Montmajour is such a painting and it's not even signed. Inventoried in the collection of Theo Van Gogh, it was sold in 1901.
No record of it existed until a Norwegian industrialist bought it and displayed it in his home. Advised that it was not a Van Gogh, he stored it in the attic. In the 1990s the Van Gogh Museum dismissed it because it was unsigned. "Hey, not so fast," someone said. In 2011 they started a two-year investigation. Exhaustive tests and a letter of provenance from Vincent to Theo resulted in a 2013 unveiling and hanging of the oil in the museum.
Meanwhile they're still plotting thefts out there. And fakery abounds. But I just saw one on eBay. "Vincent Van Gogh Painting. Bearing "VINCENT" Signature at bottom left. This piece appears to be in decent good condition and will be sold 'as is.'". Hmm, where's the phone number of the Van Gogh Museum? This might be the break I've been looking for.
This piece originally appeared in Resurrection of a Sunflower, a Van Gogh anthology by Pski's Porch.
Guinotte Wise writes and welds steel sculpture on a farm in Resume Speed, Kansas. His short story collection (Night Train, Cold Beer) won publication by a university press and enough money to fix the soffits. Three more books since. His fiction and poetry have been published in numerous literary journals including Atticus, The MacGuffin, Santa Fe Writers Project, Shotgun Honey and The American Journal of Poetry. His wife has an honest job in the city and drives 100 miles a day to keep it. Some work is at http://www.wisesculpture.com
Café Terrace at Night
A little café terrace at night tucked away
in the dark of a narrow city street, bathed
in golden lantern light beneath the awning,
dismissing the rest of the somnolent world,
might just be the best space for a serendipitous
meeting—two perfect strangers seduced
by the blues of the night sky and the hues below.
(Van Gogh would know Hemingway had it right--
there is something about a well-lit place.)
And should no romance roam in along those
kindled cobblestones, maybe one could still
steal something from the other patrons’
warm and ambient din… and, after the slow slow
sipping down of an espresso, would step away
from the rusted-orange of the terrace—
and all that yellow glow--
out, out into the indigo evening,
and on the solitary walk home
might feel just a little less alone
under that S t a R r y s T a r R y sky.
Dorian Maynard lives and teaches in Los Angeles where he tries to get adolescents to appreciate how the written word shapes our world and helps us carve out a window to our place in it. He writes, in his spare time, fighting for a better view.
In your orgasmic stupor, you sleep
with a man’s severed head in your lap
and in the man’s head, a dry tongue
dead as a slug in late September.
In nature, brutality is law and there is nothing
more beautiful than the body of another
being whipped or chained or scoured because it means
that we’ve survived.
What else is ecstasy but the light
Cairo has chosen to paint you in.
Even the natural shadows that rest against
your eyes, soft and grey as unfurled sails
are at peace with the small wreckage
like a gift in your hands.
I know it’s something stronger than sleep
which takes you now--
you’re tired of enduring.
Walking down Broadway at night, I imagine
mutilating every tongue that harasses the body
I perceive as mine.
Herodias, teach me not to feel
regret, to like the sound a neck makes
when it breaks, the blade cleaving
clean through bone. I’d give anything to know
the pleasure you feel when pain makes pain
regret what it’s done. Show me. Put a knife
in my mouth. Leave a hole in my body
big enough for you to touch.
Isabella DeSendi is a Cuban-Italian poet from Florida residing in New York City, where she's in the midst of completing her MFA in Columbia University's Writing Program. This past year, she was selected as a finalist for the 2017 June Jordan Fellowship, Narrative’s Ninth Annual Poetry Prize, and awarded a teaching-artist residency through New York City's Community Word Project. Her poems have been published in Two Peach, The Grief Diaries, and are forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage.
Judith Slaying Holofernes
Let us walk down the hall to the murder scene
with our heroines—Judith and Abra—busy in the bedchamber
where Holofernes lies stretched across the mattress,
chiaroscuro controlling this biblical story
the artist has brought his blood to the foreground
so we might smell its sticky sweetness
see in detail the rivulets streaking the bed sheets,
weigh who tips the scales: revenge or forgiveness
Judith wears a royal blue dress to mark the occasion
dabs of pigment push her sleeves up muscular arms,
her left hand outstretched, pressed to his head
her right hand holds the cross-shaped sword
the maidservant Abra, in her carmine dress, assists
the widow’s hand, both braced against the frame
until the work is done. Have you ever held a knife
and thought how some light might save your life?
Sharon Tracey is a writer, editor and author of What I Remember Most Is Everything (ALL CAPS PUBLISHING, 2017), her first full-length collection of poetry. Her poems have appeared in Naugatuck River Review, Silkworm, The Skinny Poetry Journal and are forthcoming in Common Ground Review and Ekphrasis. Art and nature are recurring themes in her work. She has enjoyed a varied career as an environmentalist, policy analyst, editor and communications director. She is currently working on a series of poems featuring women artists of the past five centuries.
Alienated Majesty: Edward Hopper Trio
"In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts;
they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." —Ralph Waldo Emerson
One does not see the gleaming wall of glass,
its nickel slots and plates of apple pie,
the scores of harried customers who pass.
Reflected in the window’s blackened eye,
two rows of matching ceiling fixtures light
a way to nowhere through the city night.
Inscrutable as an unsculptured stone,
between the brass-railed stairway and the door,
we see a woman sitting all alone,
a quiet presence in a stark décor.
Her posture mimics, spiritless and still,
the fresh fruit posing on the window sill.
A little radiator crouches near
the wall, and yet the woman wears a glove,
a knee-length, fur-trimmed coat, a hat. Career
girl? Budding actress? Maybe she’s in love . . .
She’s staring far beyond the coffee cup.
I wonder if some man has stood her up.
The empty wooden chair, the empty plate,
the downcast eyes beneath the cloche’s brim,
suggest he was expected. Now it’s late,
and any prospect of his coming’s grim.
She weighs her options, as she slowly sips
and seems to pout with daubed vermilion lips.
Perhaps she can’t find work, and soon must pack
her dreams and bags and board a Greyhound bound
for where she swore she never would go back.
Perhaps it’s just her favorite stomping ground
where no one blinks at tables set for one;
where one can wallow in oblivion.
I want to tell her that I know. I know
she can survive whatever’s brought her here;
that glad and sorry seasons come and go;
that there is nothing and no one to fear --
I’ve owned the loss, I’ve worn the coat and hat.
I am the woman in the automat.
Early Sunday Morning
There’s something comforting and intimate
about the line of small shops in the glare
of Sunday morning. Something clean and spare,
bounded but suggesting infinite
extent. Then all at once we take a hit
to the solar plexus— we become aware
of storefront windows whispering Beware,
and that the quietude is counterfeit.
The atmosphere is placidly bereft,
devoid of movement and of human face;
the softened desolation of the street
suggests a hyper-emptiness, a trace
of absent presences, a bittersweet
tristesse, as though the world has just been left
alone to face the heft
of enigmatic darkness to the right,
a monolith that leads our line of sight--
through Hopper's scumbled light--
away from consolation toward concern
as we approach our point of no return.
Sun in an Empty Room
Sunlight streams into an empty room
through an undraped window to the walls and floor
in silence, like the silence of a tomb.
Don’t go looking for the bride and groom.
They’ve split. No, they don’t live here anymore.
Sunlight seeps into an empty room,
where absences—a trace of her perfume,
the stark adumbral corners—underscore
the silence. In the silence of a tomb,
in the hush and stillness of impending doom,
at angles most observers will ignore,
sunlight swirls into an empty room
that’s now for rent. The landlord took his broom
and, whistling, swept old sorrows out the door,
the space deserted, mute as Joseph’s tomb
on Easter morning. Past the window, gloom
lies juxtaposed with the interior:
the frenzied, elemental tree/the room
a silent, sunlit, unappointed tomb.
"Automat" was first published in Quadrant.
"Early Sunday Morning" was first published in Mezzo Cammin.
"Sun in an Empty Room" was first published in Frostwriting.
Catherine Chandler is the author of three full length collections of poetry, Lines of Flight (Able Muse Press), shortlisted for the Poets' Prize; Glad and Sorry Seasons (Biblioasis); and The Frangible Hour (University of Evansville Press), recipient of the 2016 Richard Wilbur Award. Her award-winning poetry, translations, essays and reviews have been published in journals and anthologies throughout the English-speaking world. Catherine currently lives in Saint-Lazare-de-Vaudreuil, Quebec, and Punta del Este, Uruguay. She holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship.
An open mouth bears piranha teeth.
Thin arms grapple reeds at the waterfall.
Next to the owl and the birch, she trapped
herself in a four-corner cell of sticks and
limestone. The reeds grow where her hair
would be. Nesting sparrows shriek at the
reflection in the moon-lit lake. Could be
a canary, hollow-eyed, bald. Would be,
though she pecked away her feathers. Oh,
if only to reach those branches suspended
in air, might make a home, escape.
A fish-bird, she waits, curls her bottom lip,
and avoids eye contact with the wood-
carved, spindle-hung pheasant without flight.
Alifair Skebe is author of four poetry collections, most recently the books Thin Matter (Foothills Publishing 2017) and The Voyage of the Beagle, an excerpt (Benevolent Bird Press 2017). She is English/Writing Lecturer in EOP at the University at Albany.
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