Hélène is Restless
The child is half-held,
awkward arm over mother's shoulder,
a looking-elsewhere child.
The mother is half-hid,
blood-red scratchings are her garment,
her hair is black.
The scene is indiscernible,
smudged blankness, dull cream, dull green, ochre.
A nowhere place, most likely walled.
The artist is observant, entering,
or restless herself,
intensified as she works down the canvas.
But the child is a looking-elsewhere one,
whole-faced, thoughtful-eyed, active-minded.
She is herself, and at the centre.
Shirley Glubka is a retired psychotherapist, the author of three poetry collections, a mixed genre collection, and two novels. The Bright Logic of Wilma Schuh (novel, Blade of Grass Press, 2017) is her latest. Shirley lives in Prospect, Maine with her spouse, Virginia Holmes. Website: http://shirleyglubka.weebly.com/ Online poetry at 2River View here and at The Ghazal Page here and here.
When one escapes the language
and frees the screaming bird,
perches above letters rising,
there is little she needs to say.
This poem was written for the surprise ekphrastic challenge on birds.
John Riley lives in North Carolina, where he works in educational publishing. His fiction and poetry have appeared in several print and electronic journals, including SmokeLong Quarterly, Connotation Press, Willows Wept Review, Loch Raven Review, Dead Mule, and Blue Five Notebook. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the Dead Grass of November
Dan opened his fist and there
on his muddy palm, a pocket-knife, red,
holding two blades. soon as I saw it
want came to me the way a pig
goes to slop, just pushing its snout in,
not caring what’s in the trough--
open-mouthed and swallowing. so
only thing to do was take it, easy
enough when he hung his coat
and took his seat. now I carry it
in my pocket and it pecks at me
like a blackbird, wearing a deep hole.
can’t nobody tell me I done wrong
because I already know.
only take it out when I’m alone--
big blade good for carving, small
for poking holes like the eyes
of a pot shot crow.
Judy Kaber's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Eclectica, Crab Creek Review, Miramar, Off the Coast, and The Comstock Review. She is a retired elementary school teacher living in Maine.
Why am I an artwork when that is not,
Said a urinal put down on a plinth.
Philosophy was raised, but from the work;
The consciousness of art then knew itself.
From then on art became philosophy.
But why not, then, just write it down, make up
An example of two objects? But, look,
A urinal! It’s disingenuous
To say it could be anything. How male.
But curved and open, how female. How like
Brancusi’s white, suggestive, abstract works,
Made that same year. The question’s time was right.
He called it “Fountain,” what was that about?
It makes you think the liquid will shoot out.
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.
Owl in the Bathroom
what would you have said to me
as you saw me laying there
feeling the cold tile aspirate drops
popping up and down again?
or maybe you would’ve said,
“you’re better off going in blind,
you’ll choke if you know beforehand
all there is to torment you with…”
i would only have understood my own fear,
not the quiet light behind your eyes
telling me it was going to be fine
because i had no confidence back then,
and hiding out in the bathroom,
cover up on the toilet,
seat down and ready for business,
that was no way for me to live:
it was never someplace to hide--
even you couldn’t just fly away…
me, i just wanted to, which wasn’t the same thing
as jerking off on the bathroom floor
wishing i was anywhere but here
This poem was written as part of the surprise ekphrastic challenge on birds.
Garth Ferrante is a complete unknown who teaches, writes, and makes games out of challenging his own creativity. He writes because he loves to, because he finds meaning and purpose in it, because if he didn’t, life would be lifeless.
Mediterranean Nocturne: Warm Horizon at Dawn 1999
after Stephen Hannock
"What you hear is not my voice"
sonically enhanced as it
travels the wide spread
palms of water, blue-
blackened in the distance
near dawn; signal fires
appear at the base of
water spouts, the tide
slackens, the air still
as withheld breath
Editor's note: Alan Catlin's poem was inspired by the work of artist Stephen Hannock, whose stunning landscape paintings can be viewed at http://www.stephenhannock.info.
Alan Catlin has been publishing for parts of five decades in little, minuscule, not so little, literary and university publications from the Wisconsin Review to Tray Full of Lab Rats, to Wordsworth’s Socks and The Literary Review among many others. His chapbook, Blue Velvet, won the Slipstream Chapbook Contest in 2017. He is the poetry and review editor of Misfitmagazine.net, an online poetry journal.
Girl on the Beach, 1957
You can’t judge sugar by looking at the cane — Willie Dixon
When the canvas was white before its “pristine surface was besmirched,” the artist must have imagined he lived in an occupied country run by a puppet government. Centuries after Vermeer took a boat ride from Delft to Leyden, picturing not a secular madonna but the narrative possibilities in a woman crying by the river, Diebenkorn painted a figure into the layered impasto of sand—transformed it into Girl on the Beach.
I wonder that she’s so far from the centre. I’d guess she’s half a mile from the almost black Pacific, thin ribbon below broader ribboned blue-cracked sky.
Strangely, I’ve always been attracted by the centre. Something about its vocabulary, how it offers a canopy to the surrounding architecture. The girl, who simultaneously appears both defiant and buoyant, reminds me of mating elephant seals drawing blood in Drake’s Bay or the wary Tule elk of Tomales Point. Thick strokes conjure orchid petals. One or more of her parents must be multi-floral. The painting’s odour is tropical, the smell of an epiphyte after blooming.
It’s more than fifty years and she’s reading the same hardcover book. Twenty years from now I fear I’ll still be trying to describe her.
Is she flat like drizzle falling on the beach is flat
or is there depth to her like the beach has depth?
Is it raining? She hasn’t ears,
they’re hidden by pasted down hair (from the rain?)
For weeks a castoff sofa has lain on Industrial Drive’s blind corner by the sheet metal works. I saw a couple standing behind it, embracing. I’m sure the woman was weeping even though I couldn’t see her face. There were tremors of reconciliation like the convulsions of a sobbing child finally done crying, gasping for air. With Girl on the Beach, I’m looking straight at her and can’t tell if she’s white, black, dead, alive. It’s the oval face of a mannequin, of a harlequin, the face of the American brushing her teeth in the horror film when her cheeks flake off in her hands.
She has her own weather.
Smudge of burnt ochre is her neck.
She hasn’t a mouth.
Not one gull flaps through her space.
I can’t discern what she’s wearing—striped skirt or is it a towel across her legs? Or is a towel draped about her arms? Covering her chest could be a white blouse beneath a grayish top. Her left leg, bent, a mass of pigment looking like a drumstick torn from the slaughtered bird. Her right leg: shapely, supple, finely contoured. But nothing else has definition.
There’s a beach chair but she’s sitting on the sand, maybe on a blanket or a sheet, one sandal visible beyond her feet, crooked elbow of right arm resting on the chair. Her centrality is off. Her eyes lack pupils. Light without sun. Sun without heat. She’s neither inside nor out.
Though here she is, coming at you, sitting there reading,
Girl on the Beach.
Howard Faerstein’s full-length book of poetry, Dreaming of the Rain in Brooklyn, was published in 2013 by Press 53. A second book, Googootz and Other Poems is forthcoming from Press 53. His work can be found in numerous journals including Great River Review, Nimrod, CutThroat, Off the Coast, Rattle, upstreet, Mudfish and on-line in Gris-Gris, and Connotation. He is Associate Poetry Editor of CutThroat,A Journal of the Arts, and lives in Florence, Massachusetts.
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.
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Emily Reid Green
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Jean L. Kreiling
Stuart A. Kurtz
Tanmoy Das Lala
John R. Lee
Gregory E. Lucas
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M. L. Lyons
Ariel S. Maloney
John C. Mannone
Mary C. McCarthy
Megan Denese Mealor
Patrick G. Metoyer
David P. Miller
Stacy Boe Miller
Mark J. Mitchell
Mark A. Murphy
S. Jagathsimhan Nair
Heather M. Nelson
James B. Nicola
Bruce W. Niedt
Kim Patrice Nunez
M. N. O'Brien
Pravat Kumar Padhy
Daniel J. Pizappi
Melissa Reeser Poulin
Rhonda C. Poynter
Marcia J. Pradzinski
Anita S. Pulier
Amie E. Reilly
Ralph La Rosa
Mary Kay Rummell
Janet St. John
Lisa St. John
Kelly R. Samuels
Christy Sheffield Sanford
Janice D. Soderling
Kim Cope Tait
Mary Ellen Talley
Liza Nash Taylor
Janine Pommy Vega
Sue Brannan Walker
Martin Willitts Jr
William Carlos Williams
Morgan Grayce Willow
Shannon Connor Winward
William Butler Yeats
All works of art or literature are used with permission of the creator or publisher, OR under public domain, OR under fair use. If any works have been used or credited incorrectly, please alert us so we can fix it!