We are pleased to present the responses for this famous Jean Francois Millet piece. Like many artworks, there is so much more to this painting than meets the eye. I was curious about what angles writers would discover or choose. We had a lot of submissions for this prompt! I chose around thirty and, unfortunately, sent many times that away. It is always difficult to curate a selection from the prompt submissions. We strive to represent interesting perspectives and originality, as well as classic ideas about the work. We want to share poetry with beautiful language. We want to give space to our regular participants who become part of "the ekphrastic family" and also to new voices joining us. It's not an easy task to return work or to choose it.
It is my hope as editor of The Ekphrastic Review that every participant benefits whether or not their poems are selected for that challenge. The practice of contemplating a diverse range of art, discovering new works and rediscovering favourite paintings, and finding a way to express what we find is special. Those of us hooked on ekphrastic writing have found the process to be a kind of mindfulness: it helps us pay attention. It is a key to history, to other times and other lands, a way into the imagination of another, a point of reference where our own memories and inventions can take root. Thank you to everyone who joins us.
Ora et Labora
Under hallowed skies,
Haloes of pink clouds in the distance,
Wheat bows reverently,
And the seeds of faith are sown.
Prayer and work
Nourish the humble souls,
As the sun benedicts the land
In its dance across the horizon,
The liturgy of the hours
Is written across the skies,
The hallowed skies,
Reminding the faithful of their grace,
The angels who await.
Light and shadow,
Gold and straw,
In the kingdom,
They are more than homespun.
Richly blessed, they shall not want,
No light hidden under a bushel basket.
Give us this:
Dawning in dusty hues
Once rosy as a dream
Held by a young heart.
Baptized by the fleeting rays of warmth,
Are silver threads of grass,
Pastoral bliss, embodied,
Observed, after the work of the gleaners
Is done, and they pour forth
The hopes in their hearts,
That they may be made worthy
Of the celestial promise,
Heaven’s eternal embrace,
So close, and yet
Above Monet’s grainstacks, just a suggestion
An impression, a sketch,
And Millet’s seasons of planting,
Months of growth and harvest,
Still, the only constants
Are the church spire,
And the Angelus,
Those familiar words whispered, weathered in the long days,
Known like the back of a calloused hand,
Prayers sown into the earth,
Our daily bread.
Kathryn Sadakierski’s writing has appeared in The Bangor Literary Journal, The Ekphrastic Review, the 2019 Zimbell House anthology The Marshal, the Piano Microstories Project, and elsewhere. Her poems are also forthcoming in Nine Muses Poetry and iō Literary Journal. She graduated summa cum laude from Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Massachusetts with her Bachelor of Arts degree, and is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree.
And the Word was made flesh/And dwelt among us
In the shadows of themselves, almost faceless,
bent in prayer, obedient to the sound
of bells, three times ringing.
Hail Mary & the holy trinity:
the bells, the night,
the earth releasing its roots.
At dusk the distant steeple peals.
In the field workers breathe out the dust,
slump like Christ upon the cross.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the holy trinity,
the rake. The potatoes in the basket
like a baby in its bassinet
rest before the blessing.
The wheelbarrow a carriage
to transport them home, fingerlings
to lie beneath hot stones. The peasant,
the maiden, regeneration --
starch to silence hunger's moan.
Hail Mary, full of grace.
The holy trinity: man, woman,
the tri-pronged rake.
Betsy Mars is a prize-winning poet, an educator, photographer, and recent publisher. Her Kingly Street Press released Unsheathed: 24 Contemporary Poets Take Up the Knife in October 2019. Her work has appeared in a number of anthologies and journals, including The Blue Nib, Panoplyzine, The Poetry Super Highway, and Rattle (photography). Her chapbook, Alinea (Picture Show Press), was published in January 2019. Betsy lives in the Los Angeles area and works as a substitute teacher and test proctor to support her love of animals and travel.
I Tell the Waitress I Can Taste the Dirt Where
the Red Chile Grew Next to Potatoes in the Field
and I Mean That in the Best Possible Way
She bows head, clasps hands.
He holds a hat as bells ring for the Angelus
basket of potatoes from the field at their feet.
I taste the dirt where they were grown.
I taste the Americas where the dusty fruit started.
I taste where they traveled from a mountaintop
up a trail and across what divides North from South
America to a hilltop where people lived in bowls carved
by wind and snow accessible only by footholds
and ladders brought up behind as you climbed, fruit
planted in irrigated fields from a meager run of river
along with squash and beans, turkeys in pens beside.
The fruit finds its way to an island across an ocean
becomes the main sustenance for my people
who when the crops fail and no help comes
cross the same ocean as the potato back to its origin
live in tenements in Jersey City for decades
until one finds his way to Phoenixville, PA
to work in the ironworks that builds bridges
across America so trains could traverse rivers
back to where the potato first grew in dusty soil.
This is not about a field where the couple prays
but what they pray over, and how each time I taste
the dirt of the places it’s been to get there.
Kyle Laws is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Ride the Pink Horse (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing, 2018), This Town: Poems of Correspondence with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015), and Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014). With eight nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Germany. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
for my first grandson Joe Jeffrey
You had lived with your
child for five months
on September 30, 1991,
that morning, the sonogram:
“Mama, the doctor says,
‘the baby has no heartbeat.’
I have to be induced.
The spine was not connected.”
Eldest daughter, twenty-five,
I was there at the Jewish General,
when the nurse injected
a saline solution to start the
contractions. I was there,
when your child was stillborn
it was around four in the morning.
“Let us have silence, there is a
corpse in the room.”
The doctor placed him
into a white enamel basin
I was there, when she
carried the baby into a lab
cut open the caul with scissors.
Turned the tiny body around
the young father
picked up his dead son,
cradled him in both hands.
Oh how he wept.
My Brother’s Ashes
Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.
Estuary loons. White egrets. Dragonflies. Marshes and sea grasses.
The sun shining through cloudy skies. Said, “…these lives that were sacred...” Thirty-seven unclaimed ashes from Pierce County.
Said, they didn’t know your hobbies. What brought you love and joy. Your faith. They didn’t have a photograph, Öcsi, little brother. I wanted to tell them, he had a small scar on the right side of his face. Stretches of azure waters. Fenced trailer park by the Pacific: Westport, his last address. Indigent.
Said, to find next of kin, they checked jail bookings, medical records. Previously from Salt Lake City, Utah. I wanted to tell them, a dropout, began to deal drugs. Married a couple of times, three daughters and twin sons. Terminal liver cancer.
“Martonfi, Joseph Frank (case #15-0971)—Age 66, Died June 4, 2015 in Tacoma.”
Said, at high tide ashes would be loaded onto a Sheriff’s patrol boat. Scattered near the northern shore on Puget Sound. I wanted to tell them, Magyar ancestors. Summer. Mountain black cherries. Blueberries.
llona Martonfi is an editor, poet, curator, advocate and activist. Author of four poetry books, the most recent collection is Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019). Forthcoming, The Tempest (Inanna, 2021). Writes in journals, anthologies, and five chapbooks. Her poem “Dachau on a Rainy Day” was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. Artistic director of Visual Arts Centre Reading Series and Argo Bookshop Reading Series. QWF 2010 Community Award.
An-Nur Al-Ain: Du'a (Reprise)
for Laura M. Kaminski (Halima Ayuba) and Scott Thomas Outlar
They'll be gone before we know;
picked crops have shrivelled.
The sky is overcast like coffins -
there is relief - there is dismay,
and there are aerated words.
They'll be gone to be thankful,
to tell of the scythe and sickle,
of the story of every breath
laboured; of their beds warm
beneath cold sheets, of the arid
dusk whistling a dead breeze.
We shall each receive a barrow
to pile our sacks of intent - there
is bread - there is grains - fate
falls wet as rain; trimmed roses
casked and lowered. The chariot
will arrive on rusted wheels
under a clamouring sky; our body
as shaft where seeds didn't sow,
as a tunnel that made no journeys,
and house that no one visited.
When feathers tell the breeze
to find our feet, we will receive
a vision - there is light - there is
melody - our bones fleshed with
renewal; our skin, a shining beacon.
Sheikha A. is from Pakistan and United Arab Emirates. Her works appear in a variety of literary venues, both print and online, including several anthologies by different presses. Recent publications are Strange Horizons, Pedestal Magazine, Atlantean Publishing, Alban Lake Publishing, and elsewhere. Her poetry has been translated into Spanish, Greek, Arabic and Persian. She has also appeared in Epiphanies and Late Realizations of Love anthology that has been nominated for a Pulitzer. More about her can be found at sheikha82.wordpress.com
Can You Hear the Bells?
My grandmother, Mary Malone, told me once
how her grandparents, the Malones and the Clarkes,
survived the harsh Irish potato famine
in the stony fields of Connaught by praying.
A French peasant couple bow their heads over
their potato basket in the haggard fields
of Barbizon, stooped in solemn repose
as if mourning the death of their infant child--
they are barely surviving too, but at least
they have the solace of saying their prayers.
On the hour, three times a day, at dusk, noon, and dawn,
they stop in potato drills, to the ringing bells
from the distant church tower on the horizon—
lay down the wheelbarrow, pitchfork, and basket
as well as their heads—they raise their dusty hands
across their chests and close their eyes to pray.
Eamon O'Caoineachan is a poet, originally from County Donegal, Ireland, but living in Houston, Texas. His work is published in Vita Brevis Press, and The University of St. Thomas's literary magazines, Thoroughfare and Laurels. He is the recipient of The Robert Lee Frost-Vince D’Amico Poetry Award and the Rev. Edward A. Lee Endowed Scholarship in English at the University of St. Thomas, Houston. He is completing his MA in English and his first poetry collection.
Working the Fields
The painter Appleton commissioned it;
the buyer failed to take purchase. Millet
revised his painting--
With the added steeple,
prayers for the potato crop
transform into a sunset prayer,
a rejoicing for Christ’s
incarnation. The steeple in
the distance delivers its
meme. More profound,
the prayer of the labour itself
offered by man and woman--
the digging and bending,
the loading and pulling,
the roughening of the palms,
the sweat in the armpits,
the ache in the back--
a plea for health, for strength,
for a generous harvest.
Millet’s own devotion is seen
in the laying aside of
the pitchfork, the bent
of the woman’s body,
the beneficent sunset across
the fields, the smell of earth,
the light which could be
yet a reverent sunrise
at the ringing of the bells.
Carole Mertz’s poetry is at Eclectica, The Ekphrastic Review, Indiana Voice Journal, Prairie Light Review, Praxis Magazine, and elsewhere. She writes in rhymed and free verse. Her 2019 poetry chapbook Toward a Peeping Sunrise is available at Prolific Press.
A Child Lost
Church bells echo in the distant rolling fog.
Fond memories are shallow when a child dies
so young. Mourning is the luxury of the rich.
Peasants labour to survive, and when their
children die, there are still potatoes to plant.
They pause to pray over a soft-dirt grave, but
their tears empty into an unquenched field,
where work is left to be done before dark.
After all, families wait for dinner to be served.
Shelly Blankman lives in Columbia, Maryland with her husband, Jon of 39 years. They have two sons who live in New York and Texas. Their empty nest is now filled with three rescue cats and a rescue dog. Shelly spent the better part of her career in public relations and journalism. Now she has returned to her first love, writing poetry. She also enjoys making memory books, designing greeting cards, and of course, refereeing pets. Her sons surprised her recently with the publication of a book of her poems, entitled Pumpkinhead.
Epithalamium for the Seeders
Once there was a ruby-cheeked teenage girl in brand-new
Cuban heels, clicking through the cotton patch to the Justice
of the Peace to tie the knot with her lanky, spit-shined beau,
a few years her senior. With a heifer and wood stove, they
would thrive at river’s edge, churning butter, making clabber,
and stoking fires. They cut timber and sawed planks and drove
nails for the simple dwelling from which they would string
their story. They argued about whether seed potato cuttings
should have single or multiple eyes, about whose sprouts
would produce more potatoes to bank for winter. But at
day’s end, he called her Rouge, and the river serenaded them.
Today the old homeplace is in ruins, and mold beleaguers the
earth where the couple strawed and stored their food supply.
A single headstone marks their lives together, as does the Bible
chronicling their history. Amid the clippings and clutter and the
yellowing and stains lie the scribbled names of two sowers -
the two from whose seed banks a bountiful crop, offspring
too many to number.
Jo Taylor is a retired, 35-year English teacher from Georgia. Her favorite genre to teach high school students was poetry, and today she dedicates more time to writing it, her major themes focused on family, place, and faith. She says she feels compelled to write, to give testimony to the past and to her heritage. She has been published in The Ekphrastic Review, in Silver Birch Press and in Heart of Flesh Literary Journal.
The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
At the six o’clock bells, she pauses.
Her hands that had been preparing
breakfast, now clasped in front of her, drift
down to rest over her womb,
which, like Mary’s, conceals
And the Word was made flesh,
And dwelt among us.
As everyone in the market stops
buying and selling to pray
at the noon bells, she reflects
that another’s flesh is forming
within her, dwelling
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
The evening Angelus rings
across the field. As she stands
bowed beside her husband,
she beseeches God that this time
the promised child
will be born.
Joanne Corey lives and writes in Vestal, NY. Her work has appeared most recently in The Ekphrastic Review and in In Transition, an anthology of finalists in the QuillsEdge Press chapbook contest accompanying the winner Skin Gin. She is a proud member of the Grapevine Group, a supportive circle of Binghamton-area poets, and the Boiler House Poets Collective, with whom she has been in residence at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams annually since 2015.
Across flat land where rain
has soaked the ground, the grain,
you dug roots
for a harder harvest:
backs half-broken, bent
below a goose-skeined sky--
under the looming weight of winter.
At last the angelus
has summoned you
to cease: to plant your feet
in soil for one still moment.
So you rest
your heads, your hands
upon your breast
as lambent rays come
angling in to bathe
the belling spire, setting
your toil-dark faces.
Here, then, the holy breath
of God whispers manna down
to you on wings of angels,
their flight ferrying peace, too,
to your laboured souls.
You breathe. You bow.
You wait and know
that now the Host is lifted high
in that distant sanctuary.
And, overhead, wild geese
in the western light
clamour all God’s gentle glory.
A published novelist between1984 and 1996 in North America, the UK, Australasia, Netherlands and Sweden (pen-name Elizabeth Gibson), Lizzie Ballagher now writes poetry rather than fiction. Her work has been featured in a variety of magazines and webzines, including The Ekphrastic Review, She lives in southern England, writing a blog at https://lizzieballagherpoetry.wordpress.com/.
There Is No Shame In Weeping
Monsieur Millet does his best to hide our pain
But there is no shame in weeping, my love.
He is only trying to help, as those who make
Trite remarks at times such as this think they are helping.
He cannot speak to us so communicates with his brush
And, with it, has changed our empty cradle
Into a basket of broken dreams.
Does he not realise that his foolish pitchfork
Symbolises the piercing of our hearts?
And what is the handcart for?
Perhaps for me to push you in
When you are too weak from grief to walk.
He won’t fool people with the sham peace
Of his bucolic evening scene.
It doesn’t take a Dali to see we are at
A graveside and our hearts are breaking.
Bless him – he is only trying to help.
There is a chill in the air.
Let me take you home, my love.
At home, away from his palette and brush,
I will hold you and we will weep together.
Stephen Poole served for 31 years in the Metropolitan Police in London, England. He studied Media Practice at Birkbeck College, part of the University of London and also trained at the London School of Journalism. His articles and interviews have appeared in British county and national magazines including Hertfordshire Countryside, Hertfordshire Life, The Lady and The Artist. He has also been published online. He has been passionate about poetry since boyhood and was a contributing poet to The Strand Book Of International Poets 2010.
To Jean-Francois Millet Regarding The Angelus
Both steeple new and altered name
have strengthened moment left the same
in light that scarcely skims the field
where faith addresses fruited yield
and labour that begins anew
that it must humbly bend to do
to prove by such unshaken trust
that life can rise again from dust
and God is here within us all
if we but hear, like Mary, call
to strength that fear cannot displace
and love that is the living Grace
by which we are her image seen
becoming hope that others glean.
Portly Bard: Old man.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
Autumn Morning Invocation
A scene from some unfinished movie,
maybe a lost morality script by Bergman:
the Norwegian farmwife, Inga,
her taciturn Swedish spouse, Knut,
praying in a northern Minnesota field
before committing their fourth child,
stillborn, to the uncertain earth.
As if what angels live here are deaf,
have been struck mute or forgetful.
As if life were not hard enough,
little more than harsh repayment
for tending the heartbreaking fields.
As if God has emigrated elsewhere,
far beyond caring for this landscape.
Lutheran, their words are not the Angelus,
some supplication for Mary's Grace,
certainly not Latin but a Viking's tongue.
Still the basic sense is similar, a plea
for paths to understanding miracles
that never find fruition, never ripen,
calling us to not abandon Hope or Love.
Lennart Lundh is a poet, short-fictionist, historian, and photographer. His work has appeared internationally since 1965.
church bells ring
work day ends thank god
for deformed tuber bounty
search again at dawn
another malnourished night
tired child sleeps forevermore
Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. His new, frightening book of verse, Spirits for Sale, is now available on Amazon from Pskis Porch Publishing. Some of his work found a home here, and in other publications such as Burning House Press, Visual Verse, CarpeArte Journal, Fishbowl Press, The Blue Nib, Red Fez, Spillwords, and Nine Muses Poetry. Jordan is an editor at Red Fez, and a regular guest editor at The Ekphrastic Review. His poetry has also been translated in Vietnamese and Farsi. To see more of his work go to: https://jordantretheweywriter.wordpress.com.
In this thickening dark
I almost fall back
into that old dream
that old world
where we had nothing
but work and prayer,
a bare bones life
in an unforgiving world
and just one dream
for sweet comfort,
of eventual relief
But it doesn’t fit,
I can’t find my place
back in that soft light
heavy with incense
a heavy fabric
yet my hands go right through it
as they try to draw it close
and it dissolves like fog
flimsy as a rag
of some once splendid cloth
strange as the words
of an old spell
that never was much good,
that I choke on here
where there is nothing
to beg mercy
Mary McCarthy is a writer and artist who spent most of her working life as a Registered Nurse. Her work has appeared in many print and online journals and she has an electronic chapbook, Things I Was Told Not to Think About, available as a free download from Praxis magazine.
To Cultivate a Garden
"'All I know,’ said Candide, ‘is that we must cultivate our garden.’ – ‘You are right,’ said Pangloss, ‘for when man was placed in the garden of Eden, he was put there 'ut operaretur eum', so that he might work: which proves that man was not born for the rest.
— Voltaire’s Candide
Neighbours flocked around the garden fence like curious children, their faces frozen in frowns as they glared. My parents crouched, fingers clutching at vines with strange furry growths, pointed like fountain pens but thicker and green. And next to them were a row of tiny yellow bulbs with crooked necks and pods that held something other than green peas. Introverts, Mom and Dad cowered, pulling weeds, comforting the plants, afraid of being more different than they already were: a newly minted preacher’s family and Texans planting in Iowa soil. It was the 1950s.
Church bells called my wandering father to prayer and the seminary, as surely as faithful peasants in the fields of Millet’s Angelus were called to bow their heads in prayer. An abused child, WWII and Korea veteran, he felt he’d lived a life of sin. He confessed it was time to tend his own garden, then to nurture goodwill wherever he would be sent.
Every week, the stained glass windows of his first church cast their deep reds and blues across the faces of both the young and the aging, his assigned plot of congregants. Fifteen on a good Sunday in this town of 400. Fern Rogers opened each service, striking the piano keys slowly and with emphasis, as though fast motion would break the sacred spell of her religious fervor. And later, she closed with “Just As I Am, I Come,” her pace providing ample time for a procession of hundreds, though hardly anyone came to dedicate his life to God. Participants were either too young, their parents having dropped them off and gone for coffee at the only café, or too old and already secure in their salvation on Judgment Day. But my father persevered like any gardener, who knows there will be good years and lean ones.
At their first harvest, my parents picked corn, beans, and tomatoes, canning them for the long Iowa winter. And the once-mute watchers at the fence—having laid down their harsh judgments of the preacher, his children, dog, the strange vegetables—appeared again. This time with open and extended arms, they accepted the foreign fruits of the couple’s garden: recipes typed on white cards stuck in make-shift baskets filled with okra, yellow squash, and black-eyed peas.
Sandi Stromberg facilitated “Writing a Woman’s Life” classes for twenty years at the C.G. Jung Center in Houston, Texas, and through the International Women’s Writing Guild (I.W.W.G.) at its summer conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. Her aim was to help women access the stories they have to tell.
Three times a day the bells remind the air
that eternity is not that far away
and that flesh has found its fulfillment.
Dawn comes with the incarnation of the sun.
God's promise of light unto the nations
is heralded in the fulness of those bells.
An angel's voice bows before
a lustrous handmaiden who will carry
his annunciation—that mystery—in her heart.
At midday more bells join in the feast
of the Virgin's yes and the earth's blessings
with the bounty of fruitfulness.
Night lingers until the last chorus of bells
sounds a holy jubilation. Heaven's daystar
dwells among us as our work is finished.
Philip C. Kolin
Philip C. Kolin is the Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus and Editor Emeritus of the Southern Quarterly at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has published more than 40 books on Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Adrienne Kennedy, Suzan-Lori Parks, as well as nine collections of poetry, the most recent being Emmett Till in Different States (Third World, 2015) and Reaching Forever: Poems (Poiema Series of Cascade Books, 2019). He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been featured poet for Delta Poetry Review and Third Wednesday. He has served as guest editor for a series of journals including the Mississippi Quarterly, Names, Arkansas Review, and Valley Voices. His business and technical writing textbook, Successful Writing at Work, is now in its 11th edition with Cengage.
nothing but the sound of church bells
Editor-in-chief of Pi(e)-ku Poetry: Bites-sized Poems to Help Fight Hunger - a throwback print-only zine of #Piku314 microverse which is sold to raise money for Delmarva-area Food Banks. Developer of Pi-ku Poetry (a geeky & challenging new form of contemporary haiku), and current Delaware Beat Poet Laureate.
The Prayer of Angels
Dips its light
Behind the edge
Of the horizon
As a church bell
Rings its reprieve
Across the fields
Of our toil
Our wearied eyes
As night calls
All things to silence
Bowing our heads
In relief and faint hope
Praying the prayer
For the birth
Of another tomorrow
And the kiss of the ground’s
John is a social worker working in the field of disability management and holds degrees in social work, rehabilitation services, and psychology. He is the author of two books of poetry: March and The Seasons of Us (both published in 2019). His work has appeared in the Arlington Literary Journal, The Rye Whiskey Review, Poetica Review, Drinkers Only, Literary Yard, The Alien Buddha Press, Montreal Writes, Mad Swirl, The Avocet, Sparks of Caliope, Harbinger Asylum, Black Coffee Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Cajun Mutt Press, and the Adelaide Literary Magazine. John is a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee and lives in Caledon Ontario, Canada with his wife and two children.
Mary the bells are silent
the birds the wings are gone
Mary each breath holds darker
the fields lie barren ungrown
Mary behold our children
each one returned unborn
Mary which words will save us
they mock us as we mourn
Mary your moon is waning
into skies that bear no dawn
Mary the spirit leaves us
the end has come
A resident of New York City, Kerfe Roig enjoys transforming words and images into something new. Follow her explorations on her blogs, https://methodtwomadness.wordpress.com/ (which she does with her friend Nina), and https://kblog.blog/, and see more of her work on her website http://kerferoig.com/
Earth's immemorial tillers
face toward each other at eventide
beneath a sky streaked with day's
golden residue, hope.
The patient tools of their tilling,
seed basket and hoe,
lie lax on the ground, blessed
by the prayer
that is blown to God's ears.
Earth's human tillers
bow their heads humbly,
offer thanks for their lord's incarnation,
imbued, blood and wine, in their crops.
Strong, weary bodies turn
to the sacralized earth,
seeing the god who gives life.
Surely their prayer will be heard by the land,
who will yield the grace their lord promises--
green and hopeful, incarnate blossom of life.
"I teach writing and literature to adults in Southern California. My fiction and poetry have appeared in The Peacock Journal, The Southern California Anthology, North of Wakulla: An Anhinga Anthology, The Sow’s Ear Poetry review, and many other literary journals, online and in print."
School closes for the last week in October. Here in Normandy we call it the potato pickin’ holidays; in Paris they call it All Saints. Mama’s brother digs our field and mama gathers. This year we have been loaned to the d’Orseys. We are to work the six days so mama can borrow their horse for two.
The work is hard - 12 hours a day, dawn to dusk. Mama’s brother kept the good fork for his work. We use the old one with the bent shaft papa kept for spreading straw. Our clogs just slip off its sloping tread though, so our palms and fingers blistered on day one from the pushing, levering and twisting. Our hands had got really soft in just seven weeks of school. I do the digging now and manage by binding them with strips of cloth. I can’t do anything though with the ache in my arms and legs and back and shoulders although I know from saving the hay that after a week the body starts to get stronger. Sis gathers and fills the sacks from the basket. She is 15, a year older than me.
Each day Grandma brings us lunch to the field - bread and cheese in a basket on one arm and cider in a flagon dangling from a finger on the other. She leaves wine as well and insists we drink it later to keep the evening chill off our backs and chests. She kicks through the mounds of soil as she makes her way across the field in case any small potatoes have been missed. She likes to keep them for seed; puts them under the cloth in her basket - says the d’Orseys won’t mind, they buy a load of seed every year.
As she left earlier she said “remember what night it is” and didn’t wait for a comment. She doesn’t normally remind us to say our prayers; she did that every day for 12 years, making us stop what we were doing to observe the Angelus.
Today the sky tells me we will only have thirty minutes of light left after the bells and M d’Orsey won’t be pleased with less than four sacks from this last session. We will have to dig a bit faster — 16 peres on the hand cart takes some pushing over soft ground and we can’t rush the trek out to the road in case the cart tips.
When I look at it I always remember papa filling it with hessian sacks, setting sis and me on them and racing all the way down our field with mock collisions and last-minute banked turns. The exhilaration of play and being safe in the face of danger bound us close to him in a cloak of trust.
I remember too, flying through the air high above his head as he threw me and caught me, threw me and caught me, sis shouting “my turn! my turn!” and me shouting “do it again papa, do it again!” The woollen top mama had made for me stuck to the calluses on his hands; i can still hear the soft ripping noise it made as it plucked free each time he released me.
The 6 o’clock bells begin. Tomorrow is All Souls. Tonight the Angelus is for the departed. I glance at sis and she at me. We bow our heads, start the prayer for papa and try to hold back the tears.
Cameron McClure was brought up on a farm in the north of Ireland where he still lives. Now retired, writing is his attempt to prove to himself that he is human after all.
The hidden coffin in the field,
unwonted crop, nostalgia’s shield;
toll legacy, grandmother’s mood,
remaining after gleaners gone.
Devotion on the workers’ walls,
insistent peal in living space,
and Dali’s school, another art,
tower added to inspire dusk hope.
Did Thomas doubt, forget collect,
not realise the gold he missed?
How Salvador should know the ground,
aspect of bodies, sunset gloom?
The angelus, story unfolds,
and untold frame - so little left;
death, memory, earth-gathered food,
far bells to ring in all our ears.
Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), retired to Wales from ministry in the Methodist Church, has had pieces accepted by over a dozen on-line poetry sites, including Ekphrastic Review; and Gold Dust, The Seventh Quarry, The Dawntreader, Foxtrot Uniform Poetry Magazines & Vita Brevis Anthology. https://poetrykingsnorth.wordpress.com/
And the Word Was Made Flesh
The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
In a dystopian future, a young
woman is forced into sexual slavery.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
Be it done unto me
according to Thy word.
The ancient world honours
the Mothers of Gods.
Horus was born to Isis
from a golden phallus.
Upon her violent death
the Aztec earth mother Coatlicue
gave birth to Huitzilopochtli,
fully-grown and armoured.
A magic flower impregnated
Juno with Mars.
Jiang Yuan miraculously
conceived Qi by stepping
into a giant footprint left
by the supreme God Shangdi.
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord,
Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom
the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son
was made known by the message of an angel.
In the stillness of a summer evening
a couple pauses their work in the fields
because they believe.
Comforted by the message of an angel
and the gentle rhythm of a prayer
they hope for redemption
promised to all by the divine son
of the Mother of mothers.
Rose Mary Boehm
A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm lives in Lima, Peru. Author of two novels, one full-length poetry collection and two chapbooks, her work has been widely published in mostly US poetry journals. Her latest full-length poetry MS, The Rain Girl, has been accepted for publication in June 2020 by Blue Nib. Her poem, ‘Old Love’s Sonnet’, has been nominated for a Pushcart by Shark Reef Journal where it was published in the Summer of 2019.
Right To Follow*
Alone on our domaine against a crepuscular sky
together we stand united in prayer, desperate
as our crop flounders, potato late blight, while
from Chailly-en-Bière the church bells toll:
our toil is at an end today, perhaps forever.
Yet from the corner of my eye, I see voyeurs
in unison pointing, then ticking off la brochure
another masterpiece viewed in Musée d’Orsay
only two score more before the pronouncement:
our gallery is closing today, opening tomorrow.
How I envy their vision, their artistic appreciation.
How I dream of life without field lumbago, the pain.
How I wish I could benefit from droit de suite
but cognisant that the family of Millet never did
though his legacy survives as the right to follow.
*droit de suite : right to follow granted to artists or their heirs,
in some jurisdictions, to receive a fee on the resale of their works of art
Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse. Of late, he has achieved success in poetry competitions and featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He particularly enjoys ekphrastic challenges. In 2019, he was a Featured Writer of the Federation of Writers Scotland.
At journey’s end
once bright day fades
faces to the mother
giver of life
place of final rest
the bells toll
for the setting sun welcomes darkness
their prayers ushering in the shadows
their prayers for the fruits of their labours
married to the ground
scars dug and re-written
over faces weathered and worn
fragile as the precious cloth cap
do they hear the church call?
the bird’s swansong or the eventide?
only The Angelus, falling from seared lips
through the mud as the sky lifts the brown
the gloom begins on land
creeps into the clouds
god swipes a large hand
drawing a veil of solitude
the cold hand
of lonely death
the day ends
as everything does
with cobalt call to silence.
Zac Thraves is a writer and performer, as well as a mindfulness practitioner. He is performing shows across the South East of the UK, and his poems have appeared in a number of publications. The Ekphrastic Review offers a wonderful challenge. His novellas are available at Amazon for Kindle of paperback.
Potatoes, Prayers, and Sunfish at Dusk
My maternal grandparents emigrated from Sweden --
a down-to-earth, persevering couple,
they made their home in Minnesota.
As a kid, I’d watch Grandpa Emil “Namie”
harvest potatoes. His hilled rows faced the lake.
I made dirt piles while he worked the soil.
Weekends at Crosslake were carefree, comforting --
we fished, swam, searched for shells, took walks,
explored, played Slapjack, Crazy Eights,
Kings in the Corner. These grounding activities
became sacred, a form of devotion.
Like Millet’s painting, I’m reminded of Grandpa
and Grandma, the Smiths. I imagine Emil and Edith
outdoors, bowing their heads, cart, pitchfork nearby.
I wonder, did they hear church bells,
pause for prayer, honor the Incarnation,
repeat biblical verses, recite the Angelus?
Hail Mary, full of grace; the LORD is with thee . . .
One bright weekend, I recall catching a sunfish.
Oh, how it wriggled, until it stopped. Heartbroken,
I held the fish — all day.
At bedtime, I placed it in a pie tin, next to me,
near my pillow, prayed for its recovery,
recited my own childlike version of the Angelus --
let this fish live again,
swim in the everlasting shimmer
of Crosslake in summer,
Jeannie E. Roberts
Jeannie E. Roberts has authored four poetry collections, including The Wingspan of Things, a poetry chapbook (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), Romp and Ceremony, a full-length poetry collection (Finishing Line Press, 2017), Beyond Bulrush, a full-length poetry collection (Lit Fest Press, 2015), and Nature of it All, a poetry chapbook (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Her second children's book, Rhyme the Roost! A Collection of Poems and Paintings for Children, was released by Daffydowndilly Press, an imprint of Kelsay Books, 2019. She is also the author and illustrator of Let's Make Faces!, a children's book dedicated to her son (author-published, 2009). Her work appears in North American and international online magazines, print journals, and anthologies. An award-winning poet, she is a member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and is poetry editor of the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs. When she’s not writing or editing, you can find her drawing and painting, or outdoors photographing her natural surroundings.
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