As objects, they serve no function,
draped as they are on a table’s edge
except to say art travels well
and gives is own, rare blessings
to pilgrims who seek to behold it.
Carpets serve no other purpose
than an accent to a flood of sunlight,
but being a part of the gifted moment
they make the woman appear more lovely.
Each carpet knot is so perfectly painted
you must take your shoes off
to admire its beauty as it tells the story
of a voyage to the room, the sweltering
caravans thirsting for horizons,
the scent of spice in a wedding knot.
The woman is depicted as if the painter
decided he could not improve on nature.
Her shadows, her articulate soft arms
and highlights in her tied-back hair
declare that she is not of this world
but adored as the saint of time.
Can a gravid belly clothed in April green
be a counter-balance to judgement’s tears?
She is weighing souls, luminous and round,
pearls made neither by birth nor death
but from suffering and respite from pain.
She touches them and is touched by grace.
Bruce Meyer is author of books of poetry, short fiction, flash fiction, and non-fiction. His most recent collection of poems is McLuhan's Canary (Guernica Editions, 2019). He lives in Barrie, Ontario.
Factoring the Fulcrums
We are worn, some of us,
some shaved by honest cheats or
prey for cheating inks and nibs,
rougher than the callouses
of hands on herring buses.
All were still when broke from rock,
all smelted into quickness.
Some underweight at birth and
even these have traveled far:
gasps and coughs at Potosí,
haggles among felt cap gaggles,
patron to the patronized--
and at each weigh-in bringing
hidden powder, easy-lit,
to damage collateral
and obliterate stock if
found to fray the city’s thin cloth.
But now this sideboard, thick and cool.
We lie on solid grain,
planed, sanded, varnished, so still
and cool to hold off judgment,
thick so that we seem a glint
of zero mass, wink and gone.
Still, though they are soft, those hands
will quicken and assay with
spindly slashes in the air
who scythe their verdicts, no stop
in swinging, swinging even as
the wharf winds catch their breaths.
Then, a stillness to end stillness,
the fulcrum shadowed by the frame.
And still it’s not enough,
she does the math again,
factoring the oils,
And still a whiff
comes through the cloth,
by the spires
this, the price of
light—an inward laugh,
a rustled linen,
Still it’s not enough,
factoring the kick.
to do, inclines
her head for a
warm bit of sun,
factoring the fulcrum
spread across the canvas
shadowed by the curtain
and looking on her covered crown.
A clink and then a clink
and then a pause in
long accounts of fleshy exchange,
so, for a moment, we lie still.
Isaiah Silvers was born in Washington, D.C. He is now an English teacher in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan.
Woman Holding a Balance
In front of me languishes my jewels
cascading from their velvet lined boxes.
A poet lies on a hospital bed in the ER
waiting in his fifth hour for a doctor to reinsert
the feeding tube
that was a good idea when all three of us agreed
poet, wife and son
when I was not alone with the aftermath of decision.
Poet—here and not here—reminds me what I suspected
that he can leave behind an unpleasant world
by will. Temporarily.
What am I to do with the jewels?
Wait patiently for a time when they can be worn?
Or place them on the scale?
Breath of a poet on the other side of the balance.
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.
As I Remember
In my grandmother’s house,
there were few windows--
casements, rarely opened--
and what light came through them
was soft, and washed by rain.
In the one warm room,
a coal fire in the grate,
a dropleaf table, four chairs,
a cabinet of little wonders--
and a window looking out over
the flagstones between the coal shed
and the scullery, to the washing line
and the gate to the back lane.
I could read there, in that light,
or do the mending. Or just stand
a while and take the measure
of the hour and the season:
I remember a noon, midwinter,
midpoint between the tasks
of the morning and those
of the afternoon, between my life
before and my life after:
someone was moving in the next room
and was about to enter, and there was
my own breath, breathing.
Maura High came to the United States from Wales and now makes her home in Carrboro, North Carolina, where she works as a freelance editor and poet in the community. She has published a chapbook, The Garden of Persuasions (Jacar Press) and poems in many journals and anthologies.
Matters of Weight
The scale is small in fine fingers,
but capable of measuring a soul
against a table filled with riches
that appear so incredibly
large: An illusion, with the spirit
weighing more than them all.
Both gravid and widowed,
she thinks often on the soul,
how it seems massive
yet infinitesimal at once,
wondering if she contains two
or if the baby shares hers for now.
And she wonders about hearts,
how large a scale she'd need
to weigh the love that filled her.
She places a hand to her chest,
feels what must be her husband's
beating in the place hers broke.
Lennart Lundh is a poet, short-fictionist, historian, and photographer. His work has appeared internationally since 1965.
In the Balance
Serene In blue and white, she’s an earthly icon,
face calm, eyes lowered to the golden scale
as though at prayer. Yet she’s dressed in rich
brocade, sleeves trimmed with ermine. Pearls
and gold glow before her, like the moon through
tangled branches. Behind her, an image of the Last
Judgement, where souls are weighed and measured,
fitted for heaven or its alternative. For Vermeer,
the light and shadows, tones and folds of fabric,
the body and its rucks and pleats are next to
heaven, though they do not last. Without them,
there would be no art, no heaven we could imagine.
The spirit on one side of the balance; on the other,
the scents, the substance, and the colour of this world.
Robbi Nester shelters in place in Southern California. She is the author of four books of poetry and editor of three anthologies, one of them in progress.
A pearl is still a pearl; be it most-rare,
retrieved from ocean’s floor, or
nestled inside a mollusk's shell, it is
a talisman of love.
A pearl, regal as soft blue velvet
tossed atop an open etagere, given
in adoration and expectation of
A pearl - soft, smooth orb, a
blessing upon the babe in the
womb, this small miracle
conceived in love.
A pearl among baubles inside
an open box – a link with the sun
as it comes through yon window
speaks of love.
Jane Lang has had her work published in several on-line and print publications. In 2017, she sent her chap book, Eclectic Edge, to family and friends in lieu of Christmas cards. Jane was nominated by the editor of Quill and Parchment for the 2019 Pushcart Prize, receiving an Honorable Mention.
Balance of Light
As light came up beyond the high window
in Vermeer's studio, his brush began to translate
marital domesticity, a symbolic moment in earth tones,
saving his exorbitantly expensive pigment -- the lapis --
(natural aquamarine) for the dress of a woman
he remembered from the Flying Fox,
his father's Inn (passed down to him) a fox
flying on the wooden sign outside the Inn's window;
and inside, in a red dress...the laughing woman
sipping wine...how his brush had once translated
folds in satin fabric, purpling small shadows using lapis
beneath the red, colours like the Dutch sky's tonality
mixed with what the eye can see at twilight, tones
of mixed emotion like nocturnal wings of a flying fox
carrying its body into unexplored places in the prescient lapis
blue lazuli night. Outside the second floor window
of his studio in Delft, the light seems to be able to translate --
perhaps to balance -- his feelings about women,
one, before him on the canvas, holds a balance, a woman
with new life inside her, sacred to him in unworldly tones
of passion, a painting of the Last Supper translating
their religious belief above her, counter to the Flying Fox,
the tankards of brown ale. night deep at the window,
art on the walls -- his peers' work, for sale -- the lapis
bought at great cost, extravagant, his lavish lapis --
that beautiful blue of the madonna -- now brushed on the woman's
jacket trimmed with fur, how he details her beneath the window,
all the meaning of his work suddenly in balanced tones
of light near a mirror where nothing is reflected, and where a box
filled with jewels in a simple treasure trove of gold and pearls translated
as purity and sunlight, the way her heart translates
her children playing in a park somewhere near, the lapis
sky filled with Dutch clouds translating pearls outside the box,
their shapes formed by nature, like the body of the woman
taking form as the artist embraces all this means -- the tones
of her serene expression --
the light inside transfigured,
measured by the window.
Laurie Newendorp survives and writes in Houston. Her book, When Dreams Were Poems, expresses her belief that like, like poetry and art, is challenged and created by both reality (individually perceived) and dreams. I could write of Vermeer only by using a form, the sestina (a form that always tricks me into saying what I think I can't say) because it's so hard to imagine how Vermeer created such amazing work when his life was shadowed by plague, war, economic crisis (personal and devastating) and the Delft Thunderclap, an explosion that destroyed a large section of the city; yet he captured the opalescence of the pearl, and the warmth of interior light, the balance of love and light within him.
Woman Holding a Balance
how is your convalescence
from the coronavirus? Remember
that painting Woman Holding a Balance
by Vermeer? We saw it last December
when we were in the National Gallery.
Softened by golden curtains, the embers
of a charming seventeenth-century
sunset brighten the smooth face, neck, and hands
of a woman nearing maternity.
Behind her linen cap, the saved and damned
rest or writhe near a brilliant aureole
surrounding Christ at the Last Judgement, and
all is still. The moment is ephemeral.
Dangling her jewels above an empty scale,
above pearls and coins set on a table,
the quiescence of her spirit prevails.
Deep shadows cross the gray-walled room, dulling
some of her treasure’s gleam. To what avail
are many of our material things
when we’re faced with our mortality?
Hang in there. Be patient. You’re recovering.
This pandemic -- how and when will it end?
It got me, too. Pray. Peace and love. Amen.
Gregory E. Lucas
Gregory E. Lucas writes fiction and poetry. His short stories have appeared in magazines such as The Horror Zine, Dark Dossier, Yellow Mama, and Pif. His poems have appeared in prior issues of The Ekphrastic Review and in many other magazines such as Blue Unicorn, Miller's Pond, Ekphrasis, and The Literary Hatchet. He lives on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
In the Balance
She weighs love
and war, destruction
death and life
but though human hearts expand,
they also contract,
and break under too much weight.
The goddess pauses--adds hope,
Merril D. Smith
Merril D. Smith is a poet and historian. Her poetry and stories have appeared recently in Rhythm & Bones, Vita Brevis, Streetlight Press, Ghost City, Twist in Time, Mojave Heart Review, Wellington Street Review, Blackbough Poetry, and Nightingale and Sparrow.
She pulls blue velvet up over her shoulders,
holds my hand in hers, delicately as she did
when she once taught me to ride a bike,
she pushes me awake. Murmurs
something about missing my plane
and urges me to slip into the jeans
she had folded neatly.
She navigates the road with a
certainty I admire, glancing
at my teenage skin and nodding
as she registers me a man.
I pull my bags from the trunk,
she hands me my new coat and says
something about East Coast weather.
She smooths my shirt as we exchange a final remark;
she reminds me of the frailty of her fingers,
she smiles with the sadness only a mother could possess.
She waves as I walk,
with the hands that will forever hold
the balance of my childhood.
Niko Malouf is a teenager living in Los Angeles. "I enjoy writing about the things that surround me, stimulate me, the events of my adolescence as well as the happenings of the world. I hope to share my experiences and perspective with others and inspire them to do the same."
To Johannes Vermeer Regarding Woman Holding a Balance
Those moral see her empty scale
as test for will that should prevail
where paths opposed are weighed to see
when balance tipped begins to be
the shadow coming over light
that spills from heaven's greater height
through windows they will also drape
as if obscured they might escape
the scale much larger they await
where measured life will mete the fate
now looming past their last goodbyes
as pain in closed and pensive eyes
illuming softly fervent faith
as if it were already wraith.
Portly Bard: Old man.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
The masters call him Javier. It is the only name he remembers. The others say “this is our own country.” That they belong to it and it belongs to them. The glaring brilliant sea. The saturated palms that lick the clouds. But they only say that when the sky goes dark and the chains link them together. The masters keep them from their women to ensure they sink. They must not float. Women make men float.
My feet have spread wider than my belly. I can’t see them but I feel their expanse. They press. They bear. My husband has no recommendations. My feet do not concern him. They are only tools. Apparatuses which transport. He prefers I laugh when he ignores my feet. How they’ve changed. How they hurt. How they produce worry. My child will be born quite soon. I receive her messages in sudden desperate grasping. She must be like me. She doesn't like to be inside.
An oyster’s mantle uses minerals from its food to produce nacre. Nacre is the substance that makes up the oyster’s shell. If an irritant, such as a grain of sand, gets stuck between the mantle and the shell it aggravates the mantle. Like a splinter in a foot. To protect itself the oyster masks up the irritant, the mantle employs the scab of nacre. Layers and layers. They are the mother of pearl.
A shark is not nearly as destructive as a woman. Javier and the others dive. They are cast like nets. He carries a small net that ties him to the boat. He also wears a stone tied to his body to plunge him deeper to the prize. Javier’s friend was taken from a larger island. He has taught the others his ways. An oyster may fit beneath an armpit, sometimes in the mouth. Pressed smooth between wet and soft. Pressed within. His masters do not know this: he has hidden a pearl. Just one. It belongs to him and he belongs to it.
My husband gives me precious things. Gifts. Beautiful cobalt lengths for a cloak about my shoulders and strings of pearls for my throat. I don’t like to embarrass him. He prefers I smile when he presents favor. The room my child will see first is my favourite room. There is a painting. There is a box. There is a window with creamy morning light. When she arrives I will show her the pearls. I will weigh them against her worth and she will be the more exquisite because she is mine.
The substance which should create the shell now forms a pearl. Natural pearls lack symmetry but are more expensive because cultured pearls, though more perfect, are not as rare. The colors may be gray, blue, green, white, or black. Pearl harvesters open oysters, cut small slits in mantle and insert irritants. They harness perfection to create cultured pearls. The process is long. The irritant is the catalyst. The shell becomes the pearl. The refuge becomes the prize.
His hands slice through the water. The stone pulls him down. His lungs do battle with the stone; his arms peel back the sea. Below him is the shell. Beneath him is the shield. The fortress sleeps under his belly, waiting, refusing, impatient for glory. He scoops up the glistening pocket, the iridescent asylum, and unties the stone. And floats up, up to an explosion of light.
Christina Rauh Fishburne
Christina Rauh Fishburne is a writer, Army wife, and mother of three currently living in England. She has an MFA from The University of Alabama, has self-published two novels, and is at work on her third. She blogs at smilewhenyousaythat.wordpress.com
Two Women, Two Lives, Three Centuries Apart
He asks you to stand at a leaded-glass window,
an umber and ochre palette warming the walls,
their ambient light creating a calm softness
in your face. He often paints you here
on the second floor of your mother’s herenhuis,
similar to mine three centuries
later, a few kilometers away.
Three stories of old brick, a lifting hook hanging
from the attic, a steep staircase, a cobbled street.
To see a Vermeer painting is to travel back
to lost days, the lively clatter of my weekly
market, the smells of boiled cabbage and
strong coffee, the full-voiced gutturals of Dutch.
Like you would have heard in Delft, Mevrow Vermeer.
You are pregnant with a child who will be
your husband’s namesake, but you don’t know that yet.
Gender surprise at birth still yours in that epoch.
In the painting a year before, you are reading
a letter by the same window, pregnant
with Beatrix. Johannes always paints you
lost in thought, a reflective stance
that suits your quiet and tender nature.
For this tableau, he has moved the chairs away,
hung different artwork, and given you
a delicate balance. Does he pose you
as pragmatic, preparing to weigh the gold
and pearls spilling across the richness
of lapis lazuli, his favorite colour?
You are, after all, Dutch. Thrifty people,
I quickly learned on arrival, tight with
money, exact in calculating change.
Or are you contemplating how to balance
your life and Catholic faith with this man
whom you will love enough to bear fifteen children?
The making of each child a sweet joy.
The sadness of the four who died. There will be
a few more paintings, only 34 survive.
Yet those in which you stand, Catharina--
wife, model, mother, too young widow--
conjure my blue-tiled kitchen, its umber
and ochre walls and the flowering almond
whose branches tapped at the lead-paned window
when breezes blew inland off the North Sea.
Sandi Stromberg began writing poetry after learning Dutch and translating her teacher’s poetry into English. Her years in the south of the Netherlands were rich in language and literature, times she’s happy to remember through Dutch paintings like those of Johannes Vermeer.
Justice & Peace
for family & friends
“If choosing one, meant losing the other,
What would you pick?
My brain formulated yet another question, for the list.
“Peace.” he said,
“Read this poem of mine; ‘Heart and Mind”,
You will understand.”
“Without the heart,
But a lone orator—
Of an empty pot.” *
But without the mind,
Without his sword and shield.
“Peace” she said,
“Justice is not human being’s responsibility.”
Hence she had faith in;
The Final Judgement
She has a way of ensuring both,
And when the roads get too narrow,
She does leave, Justice behind.
“Justice” she said,
“Peace has no meaning without justice.”
She is a firm believer in
The Final Judgement,
Hence she takes on;
The role of God,
She had taken the scales in her own hands.
“If a field cannot provide food for its own farmers,
It should be burnt down, so it provides for none” **
“Justice.” he said,
“Without justice, how can there be peace?”
For him, Justice was Peace.
“Oh bird from the heavens! It is better to starve to death,
Than to have food (prey); that deters your flight.” ***
Peace is Justice
“Peace.” she said,
“Because there are already enough justices.”
She implied that everyone had their own definition(s) of justice,
Hence it can never be ensured.
It is peace. that we can ensure, instead.
“Justice.” she said,
“Like children are to a mother,
Your younger sister is to you,
A kingdom is to a king,
We all have someone we are responsible for.
And it is our duty to be fair,
To be Just.”
She has spent her life fighting,
And being Just to everyone.
But she forgot;
To be just to herself.
Hence she lost both;
Justice & Peace
All of them were
By their choice(s).
“What would you pick?”
All of them asked.
We have to keep weighing
Justice & Peace;
In every situation,
At all times,
And see for the moment;
What has more weight.
Some don’t bother weighing,
Either they are waiting for,
They don’t believe in
The Final Judgement.
And some keep weighing,
Either they are waiting for,
They don’t believe in
The Final Judgement.
Not one answer
to this question.
Why we take a decision
Matters more than;
The decision itself.
We all have to judge,
And to decide.
No choice is wrong,
No choice is right.
*This is an excerpt from a poem, “Heart & Mind” by Saad Ali.
**This is my literal translation of a verse of Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938)
“Jis khet se mayassar na ho dehqaan ko rozi
Uss khet kay har gosha-e-gandum ko jalaa dou”
*** This is my literal translation of a verse of Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938)
“Aye Tair-e-Lahooti, us rizq se maut achi
Jis rizq se aati ho parwaaz me kotaahi.”
Maraam Pasha is a poet and business student from Pakistan.
I Will Hold
If I could weigh truth, the balance is yours.
There are raised, outstretched hands all over this country.
If I could have this baby, all the jewels are yours.
Light spills over every golden curtain.
Hands reach up from every open jewelry box,
pearls and gold spilling over.
If I could balance truth, the weight would not feel so empty.
Do not reflect as if I am his wife, Catharina.
A blue cloth rests beneath a mirror. A window
focuses on treasures. A painting of the Last Judgement
hangs on a bare plaster wall.
A sturdy table.
If I could have this baby,
the balance is yours. Each day peels
away like apple skin.
Every curtain spills light.
John Milkereit is a mechanical engineer working in the oil & gas industry, who lives in Houston, Texas. His poems have appeared in various literary journals including The Ekphrastic Review, San Pedro River Review, and The Ocotillo Review. He completed a M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, WA in 2016. His most recent collection of poems, Drive the World in a Taxicab, was published by Lamar University Press. He is working on his next collection of poems.
Compose, delineate by draught,
to judge frame set, below, above,
the weight between the pearls or price,
choice made before the box is closed,
but pregnant maid now wimple hint,
rich trim of fur, a question mark?
Vermeer invites to peer within -
who would not welcome, seen at home,
to celebrate our core of life,
or distance us from its abuse,
to draw contrast, privileged tour,
but most, on course, our history books?
But what the story, steered response,
who painted words but victory -
whoever vanquished, patron gained?
If won by jewels, hang, the face,
intensity of commonplace,
rare string, glance gold, posed glimmer sight.
The dimmer brick, silk buckled blue,
who threw rich cloth, firm table top,
an exercise, some Mary view,
chance mediate, loyal a truth,
unbroken mould that rules the roost,
manipulate, thrice cock to rue?
Light upper left that seeks to seep,
as if epiphany at hand,
but will it pause by window veil,
while meditate on what before?
Will it prevail that darker place,
stark eroteme, interior?
My creed tells stain birthmark is strong
and black holds sway within our room;
but age, my route, suggest a wrong,
that folk who move where I have walked
the better scene, their street seems good.
The art, theology alert?
Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), retired to Wales from ministry in the Methodist Church, has had pieces accepted by some twenty on-line poetry sites, including The Ekphrastic Review; and Gold Dust, The Seventh Quarry, The Dawntreader, Foxtrot Uniform Poetry Magazines, Vita Brevis Anthology Pain & Renewal & Fly on the Wall Press Identity. https://poetrykingsnorth.wordpress.com/
The Ekphrastic Review
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