Guest Editor's note: First, I want to thank Lorette Luzajic for this opportunity to go behind the scenes at The Ekphrastic Review, the journal that comes closest to being my home. Writing to art is my quickest fix for writer’s block, and I know many other writers here must feel the same way.
Next, thanks to all the writers who participated in this challenge. I even enjoyed reading the writing I turned away. I apologize for being picky, but I chose to make this a true challenge by accepting only what I considered the top 10. I know I’ll be called to pay for my heavy heart when Anubis weighs it against a feather. Readers may not notice I made cuts, since many of the poems are long.
I was looking for the usual surprise and delight that comes with writing competitions. My hope was that by selecting a wide range of approaches, I could balance some of the inevitable subjectivity of taste. I generally prefer shorter, compressed poems, but you’ll see that most of these are not short. Finalists ranged from prose poems, free verse, and a sonnet to haiku. Some stuck to ancient Egypt, some modern, some personal, some universal, and the haiku by Gabriel Rosenstock managed to combine the personal, universal, and eternal in just 17 syllables.
If a picture, any old picture, is worth a thousand words, I hope you’ll agree that this ancient Egyptian funerary boat is worth twice that and more.
Please visit my website: alariepoet.com.
Not a Toy
This small boat was made
to carry our souls
across the last dark river --
not to some insipid heaven
but to a new world
rich and familiar
as the one we knew
where we would feast again
on dates and honey
wear perfume in our hair
and gold collars at our necks
our bodies robed in linen
fine and light as air
as we watch dancers and acrobats
Instead we’ve come to rest
in a strange world
past the gates of eternity
from our beginnings
And yet the hands of those
that hold us here
can see and understand
how each small piece
was shaped and set
the skill that made us
so carefully and well
to fit the laws
of labor and desire-
as their hands meet ours
across time’s deep chasm
where our wooden oarsman
staring back at them
with ancient ivory eyes
Mary McCarthy has always been a writer, but spent most of her working life as a Registered Nurse. She has had work appearing in many print and online journals, and has an electronic chapbook, Things I Was Told Not to Think About, available as a free download from Praxis Magazine online. Currently she is enjoying the water and birdlife in such abundance here in Florida, as well as the wonderful community of poets and writers active on the internet — both endless sources of inspiration and delight.
Ancient Egyptian Funerary Boat
Over and over, the weighted line goes down, down, down
into the mouth of the roiling river to gage its depth as we
move downstream, our mast furled. A north wind threatens
to blow us off course if we aren’t careful.
My men strain at each oar. I am frozen in place like a
statue. Dare I move beyond this seat under the canopy? The
closed lotus in my hand begins to wilt. Its significance is
not lost on me.
I have seen the lotus close at dusk then drown. I have seen
it resurface again at dawn, rose-tinged with first-light; rose-
tinged and reborn. I know its meaning. I no longer ask
where we are going.
No, I no longer ask how long we will be gone or why the
libation vase is being filled, or ask who is worthy of its
offering, or why my men have shaved their heads. There
won’t be the usual picnic at the end of our journey.
No tears. I am simply touched by the poignancy of my
favourite singer’s lush songs that float across the water like
so many sprinkled flowers; each song accompanied by the
blind one’s harp and the sound of the plashing oars.
Jenene Ravesloot has written five books of poetry. She has published in The Ekphrastic Review, The Ekphrastic Challenge, After Hours Press, the Caravel Literary Arts Journal, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Packingtown Review, The Miscreant, Exact Change Only, THIS Literary Magazine, and other online journals, print journals, chapbooks, and anthologies. Jenene is a member of The Poets' Club of Chicago, the Illinois State Poetry Society, and Poets & Patrons. She received two Pushcart Prize nominations in 2018.
going to my own funeral
again . . . again . . .
no beginning . . . no end
Gabriel Rosenstock is a poet, tankaist and haikuist.
His multicultural blog (mostly in Irish/Gaelic):
His Amazon page:
Ancient Egyptian Funerary Boat
Carved in wood, these rowers of the dead
forever stare upon an endless Nile,
each with two eyes and fully-rounded head,
unlike the gods in flattened-out profile
on painted artifacts within this tomb.
These men are slaves, but men with power at last
to pull this boat beyond some fearful doom
the spirits drag in from their living past.
Flat on papyrus, one-eyed deities
have no perspective and assume a pose
that never changes, fixed within a frieze,
while every figure of a boatman rows
through godless time and space, his body free
in four dimensions, to eternity.
Sonnets are a special interest of Barbara Loots, whose poems are collected in Road Trip and Windshift, both from Kelsay Books, available on amazon.
My high school students were farm kids unaware of Art.
They knew dairy cows whose steamy breath condensed
into clouds of tiny droplets on chilly Wisconsin mornings.
They knew newborn calves and mangy barn cats
who wouldn't live to see the pink and orange dawn.
They knew uncles who had sunk to their waists in grain bins,
little cousins whose shirts got stuck in augers,
grandpas who had died when their tractors rolled over.
One year I chaperoned these students on a tour
of the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison
to see Picasso. Goya. Especially Grant Wood.
Culture — and Art — in a short course.
With rafters taller than barns,
the rooms echoed as snowy, booted feet
slapped against the cold marble tiles.
The girls giggled, pointing at Diana by Kenyon Cox,
a modest representation of the academic tradition
of the nude; the guys stole glances at the girls.
On the third floor and down a narrow corridor,
ancient art collections stood behind glass,
preserved by some miracle of grace.
In front of an Egyptian funerary boat,
several students halted, mouths open,
to see the carved men taking the dead
across the River Nile to the afterlife,
black spear-shaped oars clutched in
wooden hands whittled smooth and
rounded like small mounds of hay.
No one spoke; the great hall fell silent.
But the moment passed.
A student groaned, “When’s lunch?”
Briefly I had imagined they were awed --
funerals and death — Art worthy of study;
the Nile, I wanted to tell them,
was the source of fertility and farming.
It was many years later when I stood at the bank
of the Oconto River where my son scattered
Mother’s ashes into the swift current,
as was her dying wish.
I remembered my students
and their wide, gaping mouths.
Yes. Death is a passage, undiscovered,
a room taller than barns or galleries.
Art approaches death. But it cannot cross over,
which my students learned
long before I.
Sandra Frye is a retired English teacher who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. She has written poetry since the age of ten. Recently her focus has been on completing her memoirs. She has published her first memoir, African Dreams, about teaching English with the Peace Corps in Malawi from 1969-71. Currently she is writing her second memoir, Fatherless, about growing up in the 1950s as a child of divorce. Many of her poems are included in the second memoir.
Driftwood, Sweat, Blood and Pain
Took me two years of
Driftwood, sweat, blood.
Dabbing on paint for closed eyes,
For modesty cloths,
Pillars and oars. But
In those days of
Pre-trauma with toxic
Tar in my gullet,
Paddling was my vocation,
Death my premonition. This
Was how I remembered us
Until the tsunami struck when
Only three survived:
Brother, cousin, me and
The horror of that day. My
Needing an escape.
Needed something tangible
To overcome pain. For
I cry every night
Thanking Ra I was spared.
Grateful to see to touch
My replica funerary boat
Lamenting those lost. The
Toughest call is blame.
Mine alone to bear though
Deep down I know
I cannot bring ankh back
No matter the icon. Just
A humble model created.
My tribute, my crutch.
Hardly a penance,
Only my memory in
Driftwood, sweat, blood.
Born in Scotland of Irish lineage, Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse achieving success
in poetry competitions in Europe and North America. His poems have featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He is particularly inspired by ekphrastic challenges.
August, and Everything After
"For every joy, there is a price to be paid." -Egyptian proverb
row row row your boat
There is no air in my lungs. I am in flip flops and a black dress. I am too young to be here. An August funeral, beachside, Lake Ontario. In the pictures, my lipstick is perfect, my hair is windswept, I am pretty, I am reasonably composed. All lies: I am disintegrating. I can't tell what is real, or remember why I am crying. All of us are standing there, dazed and hollowed out. The sky is as clear and beautiful a blue as ever. Sailboats float past, carefree, and on the horizon, the ships dot the vista as if painted in where you'd expect them on a canvas. They do not know that our beloved has finally gone over that edge he courted for so long. We all file down to the shore, open our hands and spill sea salt into the fresh water. It was a small symbolic gesture, because my husband was a sailor. He should have been buried at sea.
gently down the stream
A few years ago, archeologists unearthed a sixty-foot long boat next to a necropolis in Egypt. Dated from the Third or Fourth dynasty, the vessel was some 4500 years old. It was intended to take the dead safely over the Nile and into the other world. The Egyptians' quaint and clever custom of burying everything important with its dead has long ignited curiosity from every corner. We sift through papyrus clues to the past, we feel the gravitas of centuries gone while contemplating curious ceremonial objects and mysterious gods. Is this small-scale sculpture of rowers on a funerary boat a sacred object, or a toy? I imagine a beautiful brown boy towing it through the sand. I dreamed about this boat before I saw it: rowers tugging us through a river without water. I felt grief expand as the boat began its descent to the underworld. I joined the women with raised arms, keening lamentations. Sometimes I still follow that ship into the night, floating into the emptiness and getting lost there. I kneel at all my tombs in the shadows where no one can see me.
merrily merrily merrily
After that terrible August and a handful of summers had gone by, I was sitting on a sidewalk patio, and overheard a woman talking to a friend. Sharing how she had survived the car crash that took her father and her son. She had an exquisite scarab pinned to her sweater that looked like a careful replica of an ancient amulet, and she explained to her companion that she'd been drawn to its historical significance as an emblem of renewal and rebirth. "It wasn't easy," she was saying, about all that she had lost. "For years, it was like I was choking on sand, buried alive in the desert. But one day I realized something important: there is more to life than death." Her words have always stayed with me.
life is but a dream
There is Bernini, and violets. There are olives and mangoes. There are books not yet read. There is champagne. We manage some ecstasy. We find laughter and jazz. We come to epiphanies, that imperfect love is perfect, that for now must be enough.
Lorette C. Luzajic
Lorette C. Luzajic is an award-winning mixed media collage artist from Toronto, Canada, whose artwork has been shown in galleries, museums, theatres, pubs, laundromats, banks, offices, billboards, and reality TV. She is also a writer, with poetry and prose pending or published in Cultural Weekly, KYSO Flash, Bookslut, The Fiddlehead, Grain, Rattle, and many more. Lorette is the founder and editor of The Ekphrastic Review. Visit her at www.mixedupmedia.ca.
A Pilgrimage to Abydos
We’ve ennobled death
By being made.
Dancing on urns,
Or in our boat--
Four feet of wood,
By linen twine,
The hull green,
Green as the trickster
Osiris – six-
Teen of us
Our stillness re-
Called the dead
Gods “the living
Ones,” and we
Are living too,
On the way
Not to our death,
But to a play
By being made.
David M. Katz
David M. Katz’s books of poems include Stanzas on Oz and Claims of Home, both published by Dos Madres Press. He’s also the author of The Warrior in the Forest, published by House of Keys Press. In addition to The Ekphrastic Review, poems of his have appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, The New Criterion, The Hopkins Review, Crab Orchard Review, and The Cortland Review. He is currently working on a new poetry collection, tentatively entitled Money.
I remember them—those, black, kohl-edged eyes.
I painted them on people I sculpted from clay
those days when teachers let us play to learn.
My statues didn’t row a funerary boat with
Egyptians looking distracted as if oaring
halfway between sleep and dreaming.
I grew and forgot them until kohl-rimmed eyes
re-appeared on some of my students. Mideast
girls at the university painted them on eyelids
to emphasize their black, fluid eyes. Then,
one night, hundreds of black-rimmed eyes
formed kaleidoscopes festooning my walls.
They landed there during a sleepless night
when Uncle Will almost died, pole piercing
his chest, like a stake through a vampire’s heart.
But the eye prisms didn’t see that. Glazed
over, they stared at me instead—cut into my chest.
Sometimes, they still sneak into my dreams.
Lindsey Martin-Bowen’s fourth book, Where Water Meets the Rock (39 West Press 2017) contains a poem that reaped an Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest’s 85th Contest. Her third book, CROSSING KANSAS with Jim Morrison (in chapbook form) was a finalist in the Quills Edge Press 2015-2016 contest and won the KAC 2017 “Looks Like a Million.” Her poems have appeared in many lit zines, including New Letters, I-70 Review, Thorny Locust, Flint Hills Review, Coal City Review, Phantom Drift, and Rockhurst Review. Poetry is her way of singing.
Of Pomp and Circumstance
What frail ship they left,
that pottery could shepherd me
across cold river, grey dead water.
Set adrift to find divine
course to a beneficent shore.
Instead my decaying molecules divide,
fall away from one another,
their memories lost
in an unending vacuum,
my detritus food for new life.
Better to take the fragile clay of life
for what it is, and rejoice.
Melissa Rendlen is a pseudo-retired urgent care physician who has been devoting more of her time to writing poetry. In the past three years, she has had poems in Poets Reading the News, Ink in Thirds, Underfoot Poetry, Nixes Mate Review Anthology, The Missing Slate, Indolent Press What Rough Beast, L’ephemere, and the Plath Poetry Project to name a few. Her first chapbook is forthcoming from Clare Song Birds this summer.
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