where you hide
broken pieces of yourselves,
fragments stolen from others,
tokens of your gods.
interiors draped with make-believe
to shield bogus souls
inhabiting glassed-in houses
founded on thin air.
the cheapness of words – they pile
like leaves, the dark side of caresses –
they come to blows, the lie of harmony –
when conflict sells each channel.
reflections of reality
adrift on an irreal plane, smiling
stranger-faces like clouds
promising rain, spreading drought.
stringing pleasures and talismans
onto shiny chains bound
to drag the gullible to bondage.
competing dreams, diverging lives,
love assailed by possessiveness--
embattled insight slip-sliding
into the black hole of paralysis.
Darrell Petska's poetry has appeared in Muddy River Poetry Review, Chiron Review, Star 82 Review, Verse-Virtual and widely elsewhere (see conservancies.wordpress.com). Darrell has tallied a third of a century as communications editor for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 40 years as a father (six years as a grandfather), and almost a half century as a husband. He lives outside Madison, Wisconsin.
Spectral Pegasus/Dark Movements: an ekphrastic collaboration by poet Jeffery Beam and artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins
The Ekphrastic Review Interviews Poet Jeffery Beam
TER: Tell us what inspired your ekphrastic book, Spectral Pegasus/ Dark Movements, in collaboration with artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins? How did the project ignite in mind, and what brought it to fruition?
Jeffery Beam: Welsh painter Clive Hicks-Jenkins and I were introduced, virtually, by a mutual friend, novelist and poet Marly Youmans. Clive has contributed phenomenal art for a number of Marly’s books. Many poets have been drawn to Clive’s work and there is even an anthology of poets’ responses, including work by Marly. She was convinced that Clive and I should work together. We committed fairly quickly in November 2014 to work on a project Beastly Passions, paintings and poems which would take as their theme, in Clive’s words, “the darker, Penny Dreadful realms of Staffordshire pottery groups, in which unspeakable doings such as murders by brutes and savagings at the sharp-ends of escaped menagerie beasts, were commemorated in naive imagery straight from the world of the Regency toy theatre.” One image and poem were completed.
At that time Clive was engaged on other projects too, one involving a dancer in New York, Jordan Morley. Suddenly the Jordan project morphed into a re-visit to an earlier theme entitled The Mare’s Tale (2000-2001) which had manifested as a group of quite large monochromatic black, blue, and gray conté drawings. The new series of paintings were to embrace the same theme as the earlier series, but with a difference. Both painting groups have at their foundation an ancient Welsh New Year’s mumming or wassailing tradition involving a spectral mare, the Mari Lwyd (a person costumed traditionally with a real operative horse’s skull, a white shroud, ribbons and bells), accompanied by a band of the walking dead. Clive had discovered when his father Trevor was dying in 1999 that he had been terrified of the Mari Lwyd his whole life, and was being visited by her in his death throes.
In 2000, Clive began to draw his grief. The Mare’s Tale is shocking, terrifying, and powerfully moving, incarnating Trevor’s end days employing the characters of Trevor, a young man I interpret both as a young Trevor and Clive, and the Mari in her age-old trappings intensified into the macabre. But in some sense the grief and terror remain untransformed in the end. In the new series, Dark Movements, Clive explores and expresses a more transformative, and quite colourful, outcome.
Clive has a blog Artlog: views from the artist's studio on which his followers can witness and comment on the creation of his works from concept to finished art. As soon as I saw the first postings about Dark Movements I became entranced. The subject called to me, summoning the death of my own father, and my long-time interests in the Hero’s Journey, shamanism, nature spirits, and Death and Resurrection. And too, the trauma and losses of the AIDS epidemic. This also impacted Clive’s imagination, as well as the death of a very close friend of he and his father’s, poet Catriona Urquhart, who passed, too young, not long after Trevor, and who had collaborated with Clive on The Mare’s Tale. Clive welcomed me to the project, as did his audience once it became apparent that we were collaborating.
Clive was definitely the fulcrum of Dark Movements, but was amazingly open to the interactive flow of dialogue through the blog. I like to say that there were really six collaborators: Clive, myself, the dancer Jordan Morley; but also friend Marly, Sarah Parvin – a brilliant, smartly perceptive and wise British art blogger and a trained Jungian (who ended up contributing a major essay to the book), and blog follower Maria Maestre in Spain, who all contributed observations that set either Clive or myself, and oftentimes both of us in other directions. Add to that the writers of the two exhibition reviewers whose pieces are reprinted in the book, Mary Ann Constantine and Claire Pickard, and Trevor and the Mari Lwyd and you have ten collaborators.
Ultimately I added music to some of the poems. For example, the painting and poem "Pale Horse" became a ballad in the form of a traditional old English/Scottish/Celtic ballad which led to my working with folk singer and song writer Mary Rocap in North Carolina, and recording that song and the whole group of poems for the accompanying CD. Thus Hubert Deans of Snow Hill Music, CD designer F. J Ventre, and Jackie Helvey who designed my new website, became participants also. And then there is Joy Mlozanowski of Kin Press, my publisher. This is her first published book and her first book design, and as you have seen, it is incredibly beautiful. Gorgeous is not too strong a word. The Joseph Campbell Foundation gave permission to reprint an important quote from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces; British novelist Lindsay Clarke granted permission to reprint an equally important quote from his novel The Water Theatre. These are essential to the book, in my opinion. I owe so much to Jungian expert Dr. Susan Rowland, and poets Joseph Bathanti, Damian Walford Davies, and Kent Johnson for the extraordinary blurbs they contributed for the cover. We should count my husband Stanley who “tended” me and the Mari and helped me construct a Mari Lwyd to use at readings (you can purchase a kit from trac: Music Traditions Wales), Clive’s husband Peter who “tended” him, and the two friends Dennis and Steven who played the role of the Mari at readings. My sister-in-law Trish passed away in October 2018 and left me some funds to pay for the CD production. We are up to twenty-six collaborators, not to mention all the bookstores, libraries, museums, and art galleries that have sponsored readings. We have a Pegasus Village!
TER: Throughout your body of work, the dominant themes that recur and intersect are ecology and nature as spirits or spirituality, gay male sexuality, and the arts. For those of us not well versed on esoteric philosophies, can you break this down in a simple way to explain what drives your creativity and ideas?
Jeffery Beam: As a child, as young as three, I frequently experienced visions rooted in the natural world and resonant with spiritual meaning. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s in a semi-rural area of the largest industrial town in North Carolina, within circumstances that were quite dysfunctional but also abundant with soul sustenance. For example, to escape the dysfunction I spent hours wandering the fields and woods communicating with the spirits I found there, but also hours reading folktales and mythology, and secluded in prolonged interludes in my own world of imaginative splendour. I learned to wait and listen, dream and create.
My mother had the “Sight” as we called it in our Scots-Irish background, and she was also very strictly “letter-of-the-law” Methodist. My paternal grandmother was my best friend and somehow, unschooled as she was, recognized my poetic being and spent time with me gardening, cooking, and singing hymns. The grandmother of a playmate was steeped in the stories and legends of the Old World and spent hours telling the neighbourhood children tales of the supernatural and the Spirit World. These three women conveyed to me the transcendent nature of the material world in a way that my own visionary experiences were acknowledged as not only natural, but vital, essential, and welcome. However, as they were also grounded, no-nonsense women, they also instilled in me a mindfulness of the ordinary and the necessity to receive such communications with humility, recognizing the contradictory character of their uniqueness, but also that being a recipient did not place me above anyone or anything.
I began writing poetry around the age of 14 and was significantly encouraged by my teachers, although before that I was already making visual art and singing. The clairvoyant aspect of my character and surroundings, and my being what was then called “sissy,” amplified and enriched my sense of outsiderness. As a result, I felt much more safe, content, and free in the preternatural world. At an extraordinarily young age I recognized my queerness although I had no name for it. So my private world and my time in the natural world vibrated with a pagan pantheistic sexual energy. I came to associate the Divine or Spirit World with the body. And the body and the natural world merged as one sacred sexual quintessence and primal source of poetry. Think of a Charles Burchfield painting (I was later to write a sequence a poems inspired by his paintings and diaries). I saw, felt, and heard the vibrating world as cosmic energy and holy ground. I ate the world.
Although I found much nourishment in Christianity, and still do, I found myself at odds with the church, itself, during the period of Civil Rights integration when I was entering junior high. I left the church. I was reading the great mystic and Romantic writers such as Blake, Clare, Dickinson, Emerson, Keats, Lawrence, Rossetti, Rilke, Sitwell, Thomas, Thoreau, Whitman, and Yeats, but also discovering avant-garde and Modernist work such as that of Rimbaud, Jean Genet, Anais Nin, Eliot, Stein, and the Beats. My interest in visual art grew and I spent hours reading histories and studying the art of Surrealism, the Symbolists and Decadents, Art Nouveau, and the Aesthetic Movement. My first “adult” works written then and in my first year in college, were Surrealist, Symbolist, and heady with sophisticated nature imagery.
Fortunately, in undergraduate school, I found myself in a unique experiment in education [Bachelor of Creative Arts] at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte inspired by the long-closed Black Mountain College. There were no classes, only seminars and inspired gatherings and activities, and in many senses students worked as apprentices with the faculty. Students were expected as much as possible to participate in, to attempt work in – preferably collaboratively – all of the disciplines the program offered: visual arts, dance, music, theater, and writing. The first year I was the only writing student. I thrived. I did it all. I fused as many disciplines as I could. Each semester students crafted a singular project of which the end result required proof of some level of success. My first project “product’ was a sequence of poems inspired by the paintings and writings of Vincent Van Gogh. The second focused on the Goddess religions. In the BCA I found confirmation, permission, the language for what I had always unconsciously been effecting … as you say in your question, intersecting in my creative life ecology, nature, spirituality, gay male sexuality, and the arts.
This was also when hippie culture was permeating my generation’s culture. I began in junior high exploring the Desert Fathers and then other religions which meshed well with my childhood readings in folklore and myth. First Vedanta and Zen, and as I entered undergraduate school Sufism and the Tao. Later Celtic Christianity, Anthroposophy, Gnosticism, Buddhism, the philosophy of the Enneagram, and the work of Deepak Chopra informed my world-view and my artistic attentions.
At UNCC I found myself amongst a group of aspiring writers many of whom were lesbian. My first advisor was well-known lesbian novelist Bertha Harris. Two art department professors Rita Schumaker (fabric artist) and Catherine Nicholson (theater) encouraged my multidisciplinary leanings, and my interest in the Feminist Movement and the nascent scholarship into the Mother Goddess religions and patriarchy. Rita, a Jungian, also taught me about synesthesia in the arts, while Catherine urged me even further to break the bounds of my small town experience. I was to meet Adrienne Rich and Robert Bly, and was chosen for a special seminar series with writer and spiritual philosopher Elizabeth Sewell [The Orphic Voice] whose presence and work solidified my affinity for combining poetry with spiritual pursuits.
Ultimately I needed, and found, an important balance in Eastern poetry, and the work of writers [a partial list] William Carlos Williams, H.D., Merwin, Plath, Rich, Akhmatova, Annie Dillard, Millay, Stevie Smith, Doris Lessing, the Deep Image of Robert Bly and his school [James Wright, Spanish Surrealism for example], James Broughton, Lorine Niedecker, Jonathan Williams, and even the music of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. That’s when it all finally came together in a way that had been for most of my decades of writing, after the explosive youthful work, a spare nature-based spiritual revelatory mode.
I finally had a language and path for celebrating and telling the Unity I had first felt in my boyhood visions.
TER: How do you approach ekphrastic writing? Do you contemplate a random image until words come together, or do you wait until a work of art speaks to you and find your way in from there? Do you research the background of a painting or photograph, or the biography of the artist, or do you let the image alone spark your words?
Jeffery Beam: [Laughter]. All of the above. It has been different every time, although I would never say any image has been random. I come across an image that perhaps I just simply love, or an image uncovered in research about an artist or place I am drawn to, or perhaps the Universe sends me an image [as when a friend sent me the image of Andrea del Sarto’s John the Baptist, although this friend didn’t know that for years I had been fascinated by the Baptist’s story and the many works of art of him]. I think generally the discovery of an inspiring image has come out of my readings and studies of art and art movements or visits to museums, and less frequently biographies. Once the image has me the response can be very different. On some occasions the poem births immediately. Other times I have returned to the knowledge base about the work or the artist or the subject and then let the poem come. Always, though, a moment arrives when you have to let the image speak. I have been fortunate in that throughout my writing life I have seldom had much revision to do after the first draft; what revision needed is accomplished aloud.
The new book, Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements, as mentioned above, came out of a sympathy and love for the work of Hicks-Jenkins. He was working in subjects that beguiled me, and in that case, Clive chose the subject, and I became its captive. It was the first and only time I have written ekphrastic work that was chosen for me. The essay in the book, "I Dreamed a Dream," by Sarah Parvin explains how I entered the project thinking I was going to be writing in my customary distinctive style “often elegant, sometimes aphoristic, Objectivist, concisely crisp, Gnostic and Zen-like.” I quickly realized the poems weren’t flourishing. I gave myself over, as a result, to a sort of automatic writing, much like my youthful surrealist work. Meditating in front of an image for hours and waiting for it to speak. It always did and each poem, every time, gobsmacked me … I can’t think of a better term. The encounters were great fun, and each time felt like becoming a child again. Those unexpected visions.
TER: You have written poetry on a wide variety of artwork, from erotic antique photographs to Japanese woodcuts to sculptures to Durer paintings. What is your relationship to visual art beyond ekphrastic writing? How did it become so central to your poetry practice?
Jeffery Beam: I made note above that even before the age of 14 I was making visual art. I spent a lot of time alone as a child, “making” things, even sneaking behind my mother on Sundays because using a pair of scissors was “work” and one wasn’t supposed to work on the Sabbath. I became a great reader, led by my grandmother, even before I entered school, and we used to spend hours looking at Life and Look magazines. In elementary school I began collecting classic children’s literature in editions that had lovely illustrations. I also had a View-Master, the stereoscopic toy popular in the 50s and 60s, and would spend hours viewing art and images of foreign countries. I remember entering a city-wide art contest in the second grade and winning an honourary mention. My plan then was to become a painter. These must have been the first inspirations and sources of my interest in visual art.
I don’t remember particularly being directed toward visual art by any teachers, although I had a third grade teacher who enthusiastically directed my passion for reading. There was a Language Arts teacher in junior high who really pushed me as a poet, but also encouraged students to think and respond with visual art in her class. Certainly the time in the Bachelor of Creative Arts program, with its insistence on merging disciplines, must have been a generative moment. But I look back to my intense interest in visual arts in junior high and high school and the reading of and collecting of books of art history and truly can’t remember the original impulse other than these childhood providences of Look, Life, illustrated books, and a View-Master!
The Surrealist, Symbolist and Decadent, and British Arts and Crafts movements, all cross-pollinated visual and literary arts. I found that invigorating and stimulating. Although I wasn’t writing ekphrastic poems at that time, to read them now you would sense how visual they are. Word paintings. Anaïs Nin, whose work I was also studying intensely in the BCA, and who wrote like a painter, demanded that one “Proceed from the dream outward ... alchemize the life of the mind into the life of the senses.” I took that as a prime imperative.
I suppose the first ekphrastic poems were the Van Gogh ones, but soon after that came the five poems written in response to Dürer etchings, which became the central section of my first book The Golden Legend (Floating Island Publication, 1981). Both the Van Gogh and Dürer poems were written in response to my advisor, Rita, advocating integrating more synesthesia in my work. I had already become enthralled by Auden’s poem about Icarus, Musée des Beaux Arts, and William Carlos Williams’ sequence Pictures from Brueghel and I think it was those poems that motivated me to generate these first ekphrastic projects. After writing the poem, "St. Jerome in his Study" for the Dürer poems, I never looked back.
Writing ekphrastic poems is just something I do with joy. I love the challenge of re-creating and elaborating the image and its story while remaining true to it. So often when I was growing up I was told to “write what you know.” But I have always been intensely interested in what I don’t know, and seek out readings and experiences that nourish that longing. Ekphrastic writing allows me to step outside of the known and enter unknown territory.
TER: Your creations are elaborate and complex collaborations. It’s not just you and Hicks-Jenkins’ artworks, really, but an intense tapestry of connectivity with countless imagineers of poetry, mythology, music, art, and more. Can you simplify some of these relationships for us to help us understand how you are inspired and how you create?
Jeffery Beam: Of course, I have six decades of curiosity and its accumulated lore about spiritual texts and spirituality, religion, art and art history, mythology, folklore, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and even botany, horticulture, and physics from which to draw. I am by no means a genius or savant; my knowledge base is idiosyncratic and very personal. Ekphrastic meditations and creation rises out of my foundational “scholarship” and a keen willingness to learn and know; the process being as important as any product that might result. Process was an integral part of the BCA. Our primary, really only, textbook was potter/philosopher/teacher M.C. Richards’ book Centering in Pottery, Poetry and the Person. She wrote: “The material is not the sign of the creative feeling for life: of the warmth and sympathy and reverence which foster being; techniques are not the sign; 'art' is not the sign. The sign is the light that dwells within the act, whatever its nature or its medium.”
With Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements the nature of Clive’s blog led to a convocation of voices and talents in its creation. As for the rest of my ekphrastic work, and my work in general, it is my nature to absorb “globally.” Perhaps it is the result of the sympathetic shamanistic seer-like nature I was born into? Genetics? Those Celts! Perhaps it is a kind of schizophrenia, which I do think, as many artists are, I am on some spectrum of. What’s the term? Emotional intelligence. I am not a detailed person when it comes to creation. My memory is of impression, not necessarily fact. Within the Enneagram, I am a perfect Four, variously called The Tragic Romantic, The Individualist, a “feeling type.” The evolution outlined in my previous answers details a soul eager to merge, not just with the natural and spiritual worlds, but with the individual manifestations of the Great Mind (aka human beings) and their own singular ways of creative expressions. I find inspiration, new language, new imagery, in those shared connections. Most of my books employ the weaving of epigraphs either attached to individual poems or as opening section “anthologies” that add layers or soundings to the experience of the book. It feels, to me, as if I am mingling and conversing with those voices from the past. I like that.
I am always on the lookout for possible collaborators in any art form. In Pegasus I found a subject that allowed me to create and communicate my own story in words through the integration of a lifetime’s worth of study, knowledge, skills, beliefs, and passions, while working with another artist working visually. That is the pleasure of any collaboration, but also the rapture I find in fashioning, as in your great word, a tapestry. And we mustn’t forget the term “fun.” How terrifyingly fun collaboration and synthesizing can be.
TER: The ekphrastic technique of simply looking at an image and writing what comes to mind, without any background exploration, is seen by some as a kind of automatic writing. The arts have a long history of personifying inspiration as a muse or viewing inspiration as a mysterious process. Many musicians and painters and poets describe creativity as a connection to something beyond, something divine, some even describing a sense of channeling. In light of your spiritual beliefs about creativity, can you share your thoughts on the mystery of art and inspiration?
Jeffery Beam: Early on, reading Blake and Rimbaud and Whitman convinced me of the relationship of poetry and the Divine. In Henry Miller’s astounding book on Rimbaud, The Time of the Assassins, he insists:
To ask the poet to speak the language of the man in the street is like expecting the prophet to make clear his predictions. That which speaks to us from higher, more distant, realms comes clothed in secrecy and mystery. What belongs to the realm of spirit, or the eternal, evades all explanation. The language of the poet is asymptotic; it runs parallel to the inner voice when the latter approaches the infinitude of spirit. It is through this inner register that the man without language, so to speak, is in communication with the poet. Primitive peoples on the whole are poets of action, poets of life. They are still making poetry, though it moves us not. Were we alive to the poetic, we would not be immune to their way of life: we would have incorporated their poetry in ours, we would have infused our lives with the beauty which permeates theirs.
I have oftentimes described my “place” in “my” work as one of being a conduit, a channel, from the Beyond. Being a poet, is a sacred trust. I have also often stated that I think of my work as writing spiritual texts in poetic form. In 2015 as part of the Faith in Arts series at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hillsborough, North Carolina I presented a career retrospective reading Beyond the Green Door which included excerpts from an essay by that name with the sub-title Spiritual Ecology in the Light of a Personal Poetics. I explained that unlike the Muse most poets claim, or the Angel that Rilke identified as his inspiration, I have always identified with Federico Garcia Lorca’s the duende as my Great I AM, my quantum energy, my Big Bang.
Lorca states: All that has dark sounds has duende … These “dark sounds” are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art … The duende is a power and not a behavior, it is a struggle and not a concept … duende surges up from the soles of the feet. Which means it is not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood; of ancient culture; of creative action … (it) is in fact the spirit of the earth ... The appearance of the duende always presupposes a radical change of all forms based on old structures. It gives a sensation of freshness wholly unknown, having the quality of a newly created rose, of miracle, and produces in the end an almost religious enthusiasm…The duende does not appear if it sees no possibility of death … In idea, in sound, or in gesture, the duende likes a straight fight with the creator on the edge of the well … While angel and muse are content with violin or measured rhythm, the duende wounds, and in the healing of this wound which never closes is the prodigious, the original in the work of man. The magical quality of a poem consists in its being always possessed by the duende, so that whoever beholds it is baptized with dark water …
I have, since my high school days, been keeping a commonplace book of quotes about poetry, writing, and the spirit. It’s over 150 pages now and encompassing over 2000 quotations. I quote myself six times in it; here are two:
Poetry is a religious act which requires the full range of human effort. I once described poetry as "the doorknob and the room." It requires honesty, sincerity, seriousness, and play. It requires we give up pretense and mental squalor. It requires love when love is necessary and destruction when destruction calls. It means touching the doorknob before you can enter the room.
Go stand in a hurricane, then you'll know what the wind knows.
What’s next for Jeffery Beam?
Jeffery Beam: I have about 100 more quotes, currently, to type into the commonplace book, then although I won’t stop adding to it, I’d like to see it published soon.
I have two children’s books seeking publishers, and hope they will be published as illustrated children’s books. One, a sort of Rip Van Winkle tale, recounts my old dog and me being captured by a group of fairies The Droods and waking up after 1000 years. Afterwards, Mr. Dog has learned to talk, and we both can fly. The other is a small collection of winter lullabies I’d like to see released with a recording of them being read and sung, and with song-sheets so parents could play the poem/songs on guitar or piano.
I am working on a rather large anthology of bee poems throughout time, Bee, I’m Expecting You, which would also include some folklore and fact about bees.
There is an opera libretto, way on a back burner, based on the Demeter / Persephone story.
Young composers Steven Serpa, Holt McCarley, and Tony Solitro — all of whom have composed work based on my poems — plan to create other works. There will soon be a recording available of an operetta song cycle by Daniel Thomas Davis, Kith and Kin: Family Secrets, commissioned by singer Andrea Edith Moore, with texts from a number of well-known North Carolina writers. One of the songs is mine. Andrea is planning a concert in 2020 or 2021 of much of the music created from my poems, including some of my own lullabies and poem/songs.
TER: Are there more ekphrastic works ahead?
Jeffery Beam: It wouldn’t surprise me if there were. I’ll wait for their call.
Spectral Pegasus/Dark Movements
Jeffery Beam and Clive Hicks Jenkins
Kin Press, 2019
Click on title three lines above to view or purchase at Amazon. Click on Kin Press directly above to view or purchase directly from publisher.
In the next to the last dream, the cerulean one
She poses on stage, all long legs and outstretched arms, a photo taken in
1930. Radiating from her are eight wings, each shaped like the
helicopter seedpods of maple trees, swirls of sequins embroidered next
to lines of beads and pearls on the white cloth, making spirals to
echo her painted-on signature curls. And the
yards of loose fabric fanning out onto the stage before her. This, the last
tableau of Paris qui remue, after Forest Bird and Venetian Dream
with its ballroom scene, live pigeons flying out from the
back of the theater. And then Ocean Storm, where costumes yield to cerulean
and rose flashing lights. But here, here is Love and Electricity. This is the one.
Kit Loney "I come to poetry from a background in visual art which I taught in middle school for twenty years. My poems have appeared in Prime Number, Emrys Journal, Yemassee, Redheaded Stepchild, Qarrtsiluni, Waccamaw, Kakalak, One, Fall Lines, and Poetry East. I received the 2012 Carrie McCray Nickens Poetry Fellowship from the SC Academy of Authors."
Suicide’s Note In Turquoise
I watched you catapult desperation
into shifting glass that day-
you would have cracked it, but
the waves tore it to pieces before
anything returned to the shore in ribbons-
foaming at the mouth, you and ocean
found each other caught in a battle,
delta-changed sound absorbed by crashing tides,
where her turquoise sent fury flinging back
in retaliation for your every curse. A
reverse-psychology siren song of the rocks,
or anything to keep you away because
she (cool, calm) didn’t want your kiss
intended for the ground you broke.
Maybe you can find the answer in
the shadows of a precipice, tucked away
in darkness housed by mighty mineral,
but we both know that clear waters
do not mean forgiving ones, just
deep and infinite and permanent
and when you glance down at the
shimmering and opaque and colourful and rippling
surface, all at once, you see me, and it is
I: the one who
will never be heard, will
never be satisfied.
Shruthi Shivkumar has been writing since she was able to form letters with a pencil, and started writing poems shortly after. She is a student at the University of Pittsburgh double-majoring in Biology and English Writing, and loves the colour turquoise almost as much as she loves the wonderful humans in her life.
Early morning she walks out
leaves only a note saying “Bye,”
takes from the apartment
all evidence of your crumbling love.
At work, another note,
pink this time, your desk emptied,
a box left with your belongings
including your coffee cup.
They say you’re too distracted,
even after twelve years’ service.
You wander around the city,
find a library, sit and stare for a while,
go to a park, stare some more,
thoughts whirlpool in your brain.
The Automat at lunchtime, crowded as usual.
You get yourself a tuna salad on rye,
cup of coffee, table in the corner.
Coffee’s supposed to wake you up,
but, two cups later, you’re still fatigued, spent.
More hours meandering on darkening city streets,
you find yourself at the corner diner,
order a slice of apple pie and, yes, another cup.
A couple banters with the soda jerk.
Her smile reminds you of Dolores, when she cared.
His hat resembles yours, maybe the same haberdasher.
They seem so at ease with each other,
but, hey, they’re no vision of perfect love.
It’s never as simple as coffee.
Jim Garber finds his poetic voice in the rhythms and tones of everyday speech interspersed with quotidian absurdities. His poem “Apology” won runner-up in the 2017 Elizabeth R. Curry Poetry Contest. He also served as editor of Bring Me a Lamp: An Anthology of Poems by Modern Iranian Poets. His other passions include playing music on fiddle, mandolin and guitar.
I come to Phillies twice a month,
pretend I’m waiting for someone
who never shows yet he walks
out of the night twenty years on.
Decades push through my make-up,
shine from the window.
I’m like an old movie star who steps
into the day, away from the camera
to find a carp complexion,
as green as nausea.
I regret my loose hair,
second best girdle,
want him to see the girl in me,
the soft absences he pushed for once.
I want to take off his hat –
hide my head in it.
My fingers edge to his hands
like a clairvoyant
guided to spellings by ghosts.
I carried his brief child once,
killed it for him –
saved him from his father’s rage.
One summer we met
in open spaces
swam in the cornfield
behind Macy’s farm
glittered in sunlight.
Pauline Rowe has four previous poetry publications and her pamphlet The Ghost Hospital is forthcoming (Nov. 2019) with Maytree Press. She is Poet-in-Residence with Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust. She has an MA in Creative Arts and PhD in Creative Writing.
Only 5¢ Phillies at Nighthawks
Cigars advertised over the curved plate glass window
are American-made in Philadelphia, grown in rich
Lancaster County soil by Amish and Mennonite
farmers, then rolled by Puerto Rican and Cuban
workers at the Bayuk Brothers Tobacco Company,
the everyman cigar, affordable, good tasting.
My first job out of high school was at Atlantic Tobacco
Company, Wildwood, New Jersey, seashore resort
where diners were not the modern ones of cities
but aluminum clad where I waited for the midnight
bus and Gary Taylor’s mother would tell me from
behind the counter how pretty I’d become.
How if he’d known what she knew he would have paid
more attention as I sat in the bleachers at Clem Mulligan
Park and watched him pitch, my grandfather a catcher
for the Philadelphia Athletics before there was money
in sports, only fans around the bar slapping him on the back
after a game, offering a smoke of the hometown cigar.
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 six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and France. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
The Hats of Nighthawks
1942 offered a range --
Hopper chose the fedora --
plus, the soda-jerk
(diagonal in shape, like his diner).
The woman in red wore flames.
Jeannie E. Roberts
Jeannie E. Roberts has authored six books, including The Wingspan of Things (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), Romp and Ceremony (Finishing Line Press, 2017), Beyond Bulrush (Lit Fest Press, 2015), and Nature of it All (Finishing Line Press, 2013). She is also author and illustrator of Rhyme the Roost! A Collection of Poems and Paintings for Children (Daffydowndilly Press, an imprint of Kelsay Books, 2019) and Let's Make Faces! (author-published, 2009). Her work appears in print and online in North American and international journals and anthologies. She holds a B.S. in secondary education, M.A. in arts and cultural management, and is poetry editor of the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs. When she’s not reading, writing, or editing, you can find her drawing and painting, or outdoors photographing her natural surroundings.
Who would stake out customers in
Phillie’s diner? Look, in that second story window,
movement so slight one would think
a spider lowers itself on its silvery thread
until you spot a flash. As if a star had cratered in
the dull room. Look at that heavenly
body, or gun moll, perched on a stool,
back exposed to plate glass. Maybe she works for
the chain-smoking gumshoe, confusing
the clerk confined to top off each cup
these gloomy hours. Will he note a brief glimmer
just above and behind her fiery curls?
Who is that holding a firearm in his palm?
See him –there– below window shade number two.
The streetlight bounces off a handgun
in someone’s jittery palm. Perhaps the pistol
is for defense. Or is this a hired gun meant to kill
the downcast loner lost in thought?
Stood up? he wonders, sipping a mug
with fedora tipped back. Maybe set up. His brow
beading up sweat. Look up! Look up!
A retiree with wanderlust, Margo's just returned from a writing residency in Italy. Her home base, Houston. Twice nominated for a Pushcart, Margo’s poems have appeared in Ekphrastic Review, What Rough Beast, The Fourth River, and The Houston Chronicle. Margo thrives on closely observing film, photos, and paintings. She’s been known to ‘find’ inspiration by eavesdropping.
Dank, brooding, and complicit night portends
itinerant mannequins at counters
in deserted shops, foretells gusts soughing
around corners, marquees screaming come-ons
like mute ventriloquists. These four, converged
so late, configure fate: a matrix of
baggaged vagabonds. Their razz-the-waiter
bantering ignores neglect, evades blame,
dissembles flip rapport. Their opaque pitch
interests no one, dissolves into the dark.
D. R. James has taught college writing, literature, and peace-making for 35 years and lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan. Poems and prose have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, his latest of eight poetry collections are If god were gentle (Dos Madres Press) and Surreal Expulsion (The Poetry Box), and a micro-chapbook All Her Jazz is free and downloadable-for-folding at the Origami Poems Project. www.amazon.com/author/drjamesauthorpage
We’re voyeurs, watching from a distance,
like the shop windows in the painting,
absently observing the street. And how
could they avoid it? The storefront glows
like an aquarium, inviting inspection,
its art deco exterior curved, sleek as a shark,
a Bentley cruising the block. The four
specimens behind the glass might have
emerged from a dream or diorama, a Disney
vision of the future, all gleaming surfaces,
already obsolete--the men in their hats
and suits, the woman in her red dress,
the silver urns of coffee dispensing wakefulness.
Believing that seeing implies understanding,
we study the two men seated at the counter,
those doppelgangers. The one at the far left
corner observes the couple (if that’s what they are),
sitting silent before their coffee. It’s a closed system;
no way in or out, suggesting that even things seen
most clearly remain essentially unknown, unknowable.
Robbi Nester enjoys writing ekphrastic verse, and is currently working on an ekphrastic manuscript inspired by art, as well as a chapbook inspired by a Netflix series. Her poems have frequently appeared in this journal in the past and in many other journals and anthologies. She is the author of four books of poems: a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012), and three collections: A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014), Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017), and Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019). She has also edited two anthologies: The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes, 2014) and an ekphrastic e-book, Over the Moon: Birds, Beasts, and Trees, published as a special issue of Poemeleon Poetry Journal.
Phillies at Three
What he’s just done
he cannot believe.
He flicks the tea bag label
between thumb and finger
that same one that felt the
cool curve of metal
the hot sick jolt of fear
but went and did it anyway.
Paulie wears his concern
in chevroned furrows.
The woman in the red dress
The guy with eyes below the brim
their night spent dancing,
chilled to silence
She slides her hand to his
as steam twists into the air.
He coils the string around
his finger, tethered to the bag
which lies docked and steeping
Like her, at home
Victoria Pickup is a previous winner of the Ernest Frost Prize and Café Writers competition. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies, magazines and online, most recently Nine Muses, Peeking Cat, Runcible Spoon and Reach Poetry. In 2018, Victoria co-founded the Inkpot Writer’s Group in Hampshire.
A tanka in Irish & English in response to
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper
mall san oíche
an caife éirithe fuar
gadhar strae áit éigin
ag tafann ar ghealach cheilte
iarchéile ina shuí leis féin
late the hour
coffee gone cold
somewhere a stray dog
howls to a hidden moon
somewhere, someone’s ex is sitting alone
Gabriel Rosenstock was born in postcolonial Ireland. He is a poet, translator, haikuist, tankaist, playwright, essayist and novelist.
much like coffee, around here.
The clinking of cheap mugs
and the scraping of forks on egg-stained plates
is actually a symphony in my head.
Words, nuances, and glances swirl around me.
At this counter, I am witness to
the early morning steam of thought,
the grinding gears of colleagues deep in discussion--
much like the coffee beans whirling in the grinder.
It is nothing short of glorious.
I am not watching the world walk by--
I am welcoming human interaction,
in all of its cacophony of sound and splendour.
Rachel recently separated from her husband.
She comes here after pottery class every Thursday night,
ordering a small slice of lemon meringue pie
and a mint tea.
I love hearing her stories of creation and colour.
The counter comes to life,
when envisioning the sloping curves of a vase.
Trent and his chess mates come here after school.
They can only afford a Coke,
but I spot them some chips.
We buy them in bulk.
Kids are good at sharing,
and their laughter bubbles
and echoes from every corner of this joint.
We are renewed by the joy of youth--
find solace in making things, like pie and pottery.
We share counter space.
Cristina M. R. Norcross
Cristina M. R. Norcross is the editor of the online poetry journal, Blue Heron Review (www.blueheronreview.com), and the author of 8 poetry collections. Her latest book is Beauty in the Broken Places (Kelsay Books, 2019). Cristina’s poems have been published, or are forthcoming, in: Visual Verse, Red Cedar, Your Daily Poem, Right Hand Pointing, and Pirene’s Fountain, among others. Her work also appears in numerous print anthologies. Cristina is the co-founder of Random Acts of Poetry and Art Day (celebrated annually on Feb. 20th). Find out more about this author at: www.cristinanorcross.com
Spending the Evening with Nighthawks, the Famous Painting
I will not speak of
I will refuse to see
What will I see?
I will see wide.
What else will I see?
I will see space.
When I go out at night,
and look for a place--
Ah, but I do not go out at night,
I do not look for a place.
But let us say, for the sake of the poem--
I go out at night
and look for a place.
What do I want?
I want wide, I want space.
Wide clean space,
calm, simple, well-painted.
I dare to enter
I am not
I am simple.
I am calm.
Shirley Glubka is a retired psychotherapist, poet, and novelist. Her most recent publication is Burst Thought Shall Show Its Root: erasure poetry. Shirley has been guest editor at The Ekphrastic Review and has happily contributed quite a number of ekphrases to the site. More about her literary adventures at: https://shirleyglubka.weebly.com
It’s 4 a.m. inside Phillies, you know, the
diner where two streets meet under the sign
where there’s a drawing of a cheap cigar.
I break the silence, ask shall I fill ‘er up?
but the couple are not interested in coffee,
their cups marking the distance between them.
So I shrug, ask the hunched man sitting solo
under his steel-gray hat, coffee cup at a distance to his right
D’ja want som’more?
The hat suggests a surly no without thank you.
Back to shining salt and sugar shakers
until their tops gleam like the shiny
metal urns I filled with hot water.
The lady in the red dress holds some matches,
more interested in her nails than in the man,
who fidgets with an unlit cigarette. Who knows
whatever they have going, what they’ve done—
maybe something happened, or maybe nothing
ever will. The guy looks like he’d murder his own
mother. They act like we’re in a film,
but the reel stopped and the movie won’t ever be
finished. I can’t believe this lady is wearing
a sleeveless dress on such a bitter night.
Maybe she’s just a natural radiator with heat
you want to kiss out of the red of her dress,
her hair, those rouged lips.
It’s a month after Pearl Harbor and maybe the war
will just go on forever. Maybe nobody will come back
to live in those apartments facing this fishbowl.
I’ve been painted as a cheerful chap. Yup, my shift’s
over pretty soon and I’m outta here. Someone to take
my place in this non-stop joint, where everyone’s
a stranger. There’s no open, no close and no one
would give a damn if they disappear.
Kitty Jospé retired from teaching French literature and language in 2006 to explore writing poetry in English. Many of her poems reflect her work as Art docent at the local museum. She enjoys leading workshops on ekphrastic writing, and curates a weekly discussion of poems since 2008 at libraries in Rochester, NY. Since completing her MFA at Pacific University in 2009, she has published 5 collections of poems, one of which was semi-finalist for Finishing Line Press. Her poetry has appeared in Ekphrastic Review, Atlanta Review, Nimrod, Calyx.
A Clean Well-Lighted Place
(After Hopper and Hemingway)
Nighthawks cocooned in nothingness,
Nada enveloping their psyches like
The amniotic sac protecting a fetus.
Lives without meaning, without purpose,
Without aim, plodding through a universe
Where Randomness dictates the rules,
Where businesses fail and relationships
Crumble and Doubt pays visits like
Unwanted suitors. Rejection. Fear. Paralysis.
Resignation. Nighthawks, solitary figures,
No longer participants, but observers, empty
Like deserted buildings, despair as certain as
Weeds pushing through the sidewalk chinks,
But for a clean well-lighted place beckoning
Wanderers from the dark; or the Ancient of Days
For Whom the night shines like the day
Offering respite from the cold
Harsh world that is modernity.
Jo Taylor is a retired high school English teacher from Georgia who enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with her two young grandsons, hobbies that give impetus to her poetry writing. Her major themes deal with art, family, and faith. Jo has published in Silver Birches and in The Ekphrastic Review.
To Edward Hopper, Regarding Nighthawks: The Calm Before the Storm
You've illumined the land -- where much better by far --
nearly thirty years later the nickel cigar
would still speak to the ethic the "doughboys" had brought
to the "war to end war" they believed they had fought
for the right to the night shifts that kept them employed --
with a pride the Depression had never destroyed --
where they spoke very little to all they had done
but reminded those younger that peace would be won
by the selfless we arm with distinction they've earned
by the coal they have mined and the fields they have turned,
and the wells they have drilled and the pipes they have laid,
and the shops they have kept and the goods they've conveyed,
and the factories manned and the steel they have milled
for the cities they've planned and have proved they could build
that will shine in the darkness as light to the world
of allegiance to flag that will never be furled.
Portly Bard: Old man. Ekphrastic fan.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
The Lady in Red
Isn’t she afraid, the lady in red,
sitting in the centre of all that unripe green light?
Will he guess her age, she wonders.
Will he walk her through the baleful brunette streets
as they coil slowly toward dawn
suddenly turning into the subway never to look back?
Or will he want to wrangle once they reach 4th Avenue
sparring over where his hand might roam
as the neon scream of a summer saxophone
tears hard at the edges of the city?
Or could it be, they just sit a while longer
so she can measure the kind of lonely in his eyes?
like the cup of Joe at his wrist.
Hope Terris lives on Long Island, NY, and teaches college English. Hope was both an English and an art major in college and loves to write ekphrastic poetry.
I am not what you think,
apart from some patterning
visible among beige-brown,
a bar of white streaked
across feathers in flight,
but my call? You will hear
me clearly as I cut and loop
through city streetlights.
Hawking at dawn and dusk
I see myself reflected
in the glass fronts
of downtown diners
where men slink onto stools
like urban foxes
hats angled, hoping to pull
disinterest from a dame’s face,
lips as red as cherrywood counter.
It is cheap, this coupling,
wartime romance as transient
as winter sun on the Hudson
star-flecked with illusion,
but together they bookend
the dregs of a day
smoke wafting, rising like
the skyline of Manhattan,
lungs clogged with Prufrock’s song.
I am pulled towards fluorescent strip
where insects crawl on nicotine walls
escaping nip of New York air.
My voice, spilling onto sidewalks,
bounces off glass
as if caught in an empty jar,
jazz rifts roll in with the night
lifting to diminished 6th
demanding as dissonance.
Kate Young lives in Kent with her husband and has been passionate about poetry and literature since childhood. After retiring, she has returned to writing and has had success with poems published in Great Britain and internationally. She is a regular reader of The Ekphrastic Review and has contributed quite regularly in recent months. Kate is now busy editing her work for an anthology. Alongside poetry, Kate enjoys art, dance and playing her growing collection of guitars and ukuleles!
There is one night light
in this town: it is saffron-
emerald, and it is called
Phillies, easily found
at the corner of Breughel
and Vine. With that address,
you might expect
a whole population,
a gaggle of antics and age,
radiant life being lived,
a really grand time.
Instead, though, you’ll find
folks who are sufficient
they seek a cuppa,
two lumps stirred;
sleep failing them,
a nickel plays a platter;
love an afterthought,
it’s rhubarb pie a la mode.
Don’t mind the emptied
streets, the enclosing dark,
they seem to say. Just slip
into a red dress, tilt
the brim of your fedora,
down or up, and say good eve
to your fellow behind the counter--
then prime your marrow
for the quiet clap of dawn.
Alan Girling writes poetry mainly, sometimes fiction, non-fiction, or plays. His work has been seen in print, heard on the radio, at live readings, even viewed in shop windows. Such venues include Blynkt, Panoply, Hobart, The MacGuffin, Smokelong Quarterly, FreeFall, Galleon, Blue Skies, The Ekphrastic Review and CBC Radio among others. He is happy to have had poems win or place in four local poetry contests and to have a play produced for the Walking Fish Festival in Vancouver, B.C.
How do I step in, Mr. Hopper? Where?
No door. I peer through the enormous seamless
plate glass window of this diner – yet
there is no earthly window where one might slip
in, sit down at that long stream of endless cherry counter
have a cup of coffee, black.
It’s like a snow globe, with no snow,
no weather ever, really, and always 1 a.m.
I look and look at the averted eyes of the woman
dressed in glossy red, lips painted burgundy;
her fingers nearly touch, but do not touch,
the alpha male beside her, whose eyes are likewise
private, meeting no one’s.
Opposite, a single man in shadow, turned totally away
from us, blue jacket just a bit too tight, straining in its
stretch over a rounded back. Is he the dark side of the moon?
The waiter with his Nedick’s hat, white uniform, leans
over, toward his customers, who are forever looking elsewhere.
At the rear two stalwart coffee urns turn toward
us; we almost warm to these two gentle robots
with their sprightly gleam and ready spigots.
Six round stools, unoccupied, some hallowed
with a glint of the fluorescent light that floods
inside, on one of these (if I could just
step in), would I be able to discern a clue, a crumb
of something on the counter, on a cup, or in their faces,
a hint of what is going on?
Outside the diner there’s a borrowed light
radiating from inside, cast on the unaccountable,
unpeopled sidewalk; is that where we are meant
to stand? Spare urban pasture, green and lighter greenish
ground on which to build a pedestal for our amaze?
richly knotted in perpetual gaze.
Helen Bournas-Ney was born in Ikaria, Greece, and grew up in New York City. She was Assistant Director of the GED Center at NYU, Director of the Learning Center at SUNY Farmingdale, and a writing instructor. While studying Comparative Literature at NYU, she received the Anaïs Nin Award for her work on Rimbaud and George Seferis. Her work has appeared in Plume, the Cumberland Poetry Review, the New Hampshire College Journal, and the 2019 anthology Plume Poetry 7.
Night and Hawks
There comes a time, but you have to wait until the hubbub dies, the rolling home
and car doors slamming, radios blaring with final weary laughter, when dark falls.
There’s a time when dark trickles silent except for hollow footsteps and the whoosh
of the espresso machine, brushing our faces with a remembered caress, and we
can imagine the stars. City nights are starless and moonless and each cupful of quiet
has to be dipped from a diminishing stream, a slender trickle where the pigeons sip.
Follow the stray cats to find it, where the kerb bends sharp, always right angles,
into the brief silence that waits for the birds to return with the rumbling dawn.
Café lights glow, turning streets into gullets, swallowing shadows. No moonlight
this, only ersatz, that draws moths with fluttering, papery wings, not hawks,
hawks don’t come here foraging with the pigeons in this delusion. Hawks fly high
and fierce where the night is dark and bottomless, and their sharp, narrow wings are
moon-silvered. Shield your eyes with your hand and look higher than the gulley of
darkness, above the rumbling dawn, and you can see them, hanging among the stars.
Jane Dougherty lives and works in southwest France. Her poems and stories have been published in magazines and journals including Ogham Stone, Hedgerow Journal, Tuck Magazine, ink sweat and tears, Eye to the Telescope, the Drabble and The Ekphrastic Review. She has a well-stocked blog at https://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
Every night the same. Six months
slogging by like ten years. Rarely see
five customers after 10 o’clock,
but I need to pay tuition. Sure hope
the war ends before I finish college.
But tonight, when the bell tinkles,
sunshine pours in the door.
Can’t take my eyes off the redhead.
Neither can Midnight Joe, my regular.
Can’t sleep when his son’s on a ship
What’s with her date? He doesn’t
look at her at all. Won’t say a word.
Just holds up his cup when he wants
a refill. She deserves better.
What a creep! Guess I don’t like
the strong, silent type after all.
He seemed nice enough
at intermission when he asked
me out for coffee.
Smiled when he told me he spotted
me from the balcony. With hair
like a neon sign, I hear that a lot.
Soon there won’t be any bachelors
around older than this blond kid.
We chatted about the concert
till we got here. Then he clammed up
like he thought I might be a spy.
Maybe he’s one.
I know what the kid’s thinking.
Look at him drooling over the dame.
She’s a class act, but that guy with her
is either an idiot or deploying –
still an idiot. You need to grab
a life while you can.
I’m an idiot. One look and I
was a goner. Can’t look at her now.
Tomorrow I leave for boot camp.
Won’t burden her with that.
Alarie Tennille graduated from the University of Virginia in the first class admitting women. She’s now lived more than half her life in Kansas City, where she serves on the Emeritus Board of The Writers Place. Her latest poetry book, Waking on the Moon, contains many poems first published by The Ekphrastic Review. Please visit her at alariepoet.com.
He said aurora –
I imagined flowers,
but we weren’t lodged
in dreams; embarked
on the haze of my ginger
hair , he told me he had been
a sailor – how he flew
over the seas on his ships.
The man in the suit sailed
on rockets, metal ships
sturdy like success –
inventions of chemicals
a lady wasn’t expected
to know; they impressed
like the skins of paints
on what they believed
was my mind’s petite canvas.
Someone had discovered
rebellious uses of jelly,
liquid that burnt; thick songs
blew from the sideways
juke, much like how every
radio departed from the real
story of the woman in red
with three strange men;
the starlight outside dancing
to mellow tunes of a romance
selling tickets as appeasement,
as distraction, as insistence,
as a memory that meant
to outlive trenches – men
in uniforms, bodies dressed
in flags. I was looking at him
sitting adjacently distant,
his eyes buried under his hat
but his gaze: mesmerising wit.
He knew how the lights rose
far-east like sashaying time,
how my knowing of fugitives
was no coincidence – rugged
word for my pretty mind –
and the story of the lovers
making large screens blush,
ache and forge, the aura was
exotic – entangled in a mix
of trust and faith. Someone
today ripped metal wings
through morale – victory
and baggage. Tonight I sat
in safe lights of warm topaz;
my skin glowing like a goddess,
unaffected by far-audible stifles
of howling ghosts, our country
undefeated, and I unbothered
but about the mystery of mobius
ribbons swirling stars delicately
like ballerinas on poles; his gaze
unlifting as his neck pointed
towards north; close your eyes,
he seemed to gesture, imagine
the dance of conquest – souls
fled too soon – the lights: waves
of open arms; look into the night,
starless and fiery, but lit and calm.
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
Night and Day
lasts eight hours.
“Your jobs save our boys,”
say the supervisors if we complain, sneak outside
for a smoke. When our backs ache, hands cramp, we have to remember
we do count. Without us, those planes won’t fly. After I clock out
I head for a diner. Still dark outside,
but inside light as day.
Order a cup
Tina Hacker, a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, was a finalist in New Letters and George F. Wedge competitions and Editor’s Choice in two literary journals. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, both online and paper, including the Whirlybird Anthology of Kansas City Writers, San Pedro River Review, Coal City Review, The Fib Review and Quantum Fairy Tales. Her full-length poetry book, Listening to Night Whistles, was published by Aldrich Press and her chapbook, Cutting It, by The Lives You Touch Publications. Since 1976, she has edited poetry for Veterans’ Voices, a magazine of writing by veterans from every state in the country.
No seat for you at the cherry counter.
Brown bodies with rounded features
out of place in the artist’s play of light
and angles; only sharply-cast white
bodies in crisply tailored black suits,
a form-hugging red dress permitted
in the painting's careful illumination.
Were you behind the orange door
in a poorly lit kitchen, your droopy
apron and brow sweaty as you scraped
bacon grease on the grill, washed lipstick
stains off porcelain coffee cups--ones
your lips could never touch? Coloured
but not colourful enough to appear.
Aren’t you always behind
the door or just off the fringe
of every canvas in this era? Yours
the forgotten unformed faces behind
darkened windows with shades
half-drawn, only allowed to peer into
brightly lit diners--for you never any
front doors. No conscious thought
of your exclusion-- just no thought
of you—at all.
You, the true nighthawks lost
in the shadows, seeming to
vanish wherever you would land.
Charlotte Rea is a native Virginian who spent twenty-six years in the United States Air Force, starting out as an Airman Basic and retiring as a full Colonel. She has spent her retired years doing volunteer work and writing poetry. Growing up in the segregated South, she has an appreciation for the "nighthawks" of the Hopper era and the shadows they still struggle to fly out of.
Whiskey on the Rocks
How much a drink
can transform the night
or is it the darkness
disclosing as it makes clear?
Disclosing the nighthawks
who perch on razor-sharp suits
dropping smoothly to hunt,
tableaus of confidently strolling
high above gleaming sidewalks made clear
as the epicentre casting water shivering
his sight piercing with looks that shoot
tapering to winks
On streets where dimming light had flickered
across panicking faces, multitudes scurrying -
evening a hurry to beat the rush
in time to change from suits,
shaving razor sharp:
wheat from the chaff.
What a difference
the dark can make
when nighthawk sits
in light of their own making.
Tom Pryce was born in 1993 and read Theology and Religious Studies at The University of Cambridge. He holds an MPhil in Philosophy of Religion, focusing on Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida. His poems have appeared in The Mark Literary Review, The Ekphrastic Review, and at exhibitions in Cambridge. When not used for poetry, his mouth is usually found shouting at football and/or drinking ale. He can be contacted on @tomprycepoetry or via tomprycepoetry.com
Nighthawk Threatens to Break the Fourth Wall
Nighthawk by himself, holding up the counter half an hour
before Edward Hopper saw him and sketched him.
From this angle he looks like an interchangeable
Man in the Grey Flannel suit type. An Automaton.
The grill cook hasn’t seen him before, has no handle
on what brand of joy or which battle brought him
here unaccompanied at 2 a.m. In turn, the artist
who created this scene doesn’t know the thoughts
of figures in the image, his constructions or his rendering.
And I the writer never met the artist, to pick his brain
with a clarifying question. One more degree of separation--
most readers of ekphrastic take-offs don’t know the writer,
either. There’s a chain of trust in the good faith effort
of recording and interpreting behavior. Stories are fragile,
dependent on agreement to pass and receive them intact.
The hat of the solo Nighthawk is the pivot point
for the iconic image. We can’t know what’s buzzing
through his brain, restless anomie or settled routine.
Nighthawk alone with his reasons, drawing on napkins,
drawing on decades of studying other people. Relying
on a cup of percolated coffee to keep the night at bay.
Todd Mercer was nominated for Best of the Net in 2018. His chapbook, Life-wish Maintenance is readable at Right Hand Pointing. Recent work appears in: Eunoia Review. The Lake, Mojave River Review, and Praxis.
No Rick’s Bar this,
it is quiet enough to hear the rub
of cloth on glass, the deep draw
on a cigarette, to be startled at
the sudden hiss of the coffee machine.
No Bogart and Bergman intimacy here,
she in her red dress from the five and dime store,
his cheap suit sharp-pressed as angular as his face,
the counter rigid as the distance between them.
In this silent screen image
they are beyond the fall out from Pearl Harbour,
the hustle on the streets, away from the cacophony
of late night news stands, Movietone images
of ‘Fire over Hawaii.’ On the waterfront
Coney Island is blacked out.
And the bartender polishes another coffee cup.
Living in Leicestershire, U.K., of London-Welsh ancestry, Sue Mackrell’s poems and short stories have been published in literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. Her poem ‘Vive La Parisienne’ appears in the current, Ekphrastic edition of Agenda http://www.agendapoetry.co.uk/ and her ekphrastic poems have also been included in previous editions. She is retired from teaching Creative Writing at Loughborough University, U.K. which gives her time to focus on visiting art galleries and museums, most recently in Rome.
“You can always tell where the camera is.”
Wim Wenders, on Edward Hopper’s paintings
From this safe distance there’s nothing to be afraid of.
The redhead holds her sandwich. Her companion smokes.
The man by himself stares at something no one sees.
The blonde counterman talks and talks as he works,
stooped, so the back of his white jacket swells, full
in the bright light. The forces holding them together
keep holding for now. Nothing gets out;
nothing can get in. The coffee urns’ black levers
wait for the pressure of a fingertip to release
the hot weight percolating inside them night
after night after night, and the light decays, the light
decays and falls through invisible plate glass
and leaves matter abstracted to faint shadows
radiating on the sidewalk and across the alley
where windows reveal absence after absence.
It’s January, 1942. We can move the camera.
We’ll know where it is by the evidence
of what world remains for us to see.
Brad Richard is the author of four collections of poetry (Habitations, Motion Studies, Butcher's Sugar, and Parasite Kingdom, winner of the 2018 Tenth Gate Prize from The Word Works) and three chapbooks (most recently, Larval Songs). His poems and reviews have appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Barrow Street, Gettysburg Review, Guernica, The Laurel Review, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, and other journals. He lives and writes in New Orleans, and teaches for New Orleans Writers Workshop. More at bradrichard.org.
Soda-Coffee Clerk in a Marvel Universe
I’m not the first person you see when you look
through the window. Your eyes, no doubt, hook
on the blonde, the red dress, those men magnets.
It’s a minute before your gaze lands on
my white uniform, a soda-coffee clerk
bent to my task in this corner diner.
You might ask: What’s a young, good-looking guy
doing in a dead-of-night job like this?
I’ll tell you the truth. I fancy myself
a nocturnal bird, camouflaged, not by tree bark,
but by bright fluorescence. In the play
of dark on light, my mind conjures a Marvel
Universe, where I spend my days reading
comic adventures that often star last night’s
customers. These three may be a gangster,
his moll, a cat burglar. As Nighthawk, I was
first one of the bad guys, then reformed
from supervillain to superhero
through endless transformations that left me
almost dead, then allowed me to breathe again.
On the night shift, my mind roams this other
world, coffee the alchemical potion
that increases my powers from dusk to dawn.
Customers hardly see me, their gazes
deep in coffee cups, the ashes of cigarettes.
Sandi Stromberg recently received a jury award for her ekphrastic poems in the Friendswood Public Library Ekphrastic Reading and Contest (outside Houston, Texas). Her pleasure in writing to artworks continues to grow, especially through each of these challenges from The Ekphrastic Review.
Field of Contentment and Hope
A lone maple stands slightly tilted but strong
at the hill’s crest,
its green boughs dark
against the deepening blue sky
that reaches toward heaven.
rise like pipe smoke
above the tree,
their whiteness balanced
by a clan of Queen Anne’s lace,
growing in the June hay field,
the sisters of silky yellow buttercups.
walked upon or bedded by deer,
form a rooftop like a child would draw,
supported not by walls,
If we could scale that roof together,
and leap to the top of that hill,
what glory would we see?
Barbara Murphy: "I am a writer, former community college professor, and loving aunt of photographer Joe Ripperger who passed away in June 2019. He and I had been working on an ekphrastic project since March 2019. I am continuing the work in Rochester, NY, along with writing short plays and essays."
allegory of convergence
Game of chicken, cosmic brinkmanship,
we are with the horse, she gallops,
glances off gravel stone, air borne—
her head is raised, the rails ordained blinders,
and the steam locomotive bears down
what is it that compels convergence?
what this rebellion?
the plains stretch, the mottled sky,
they beckon, and nothing in her gait,
her carriage, tells us
she can be deterred
incarnate wind, unbridled whistler,
running from who knows to any where
and that Titanic of terra firma,
its radiant beacon, heat, arcs
across the inevitable horizon
is it desire for perfection in oblivion?
simulacrum of returning love?
what is her mind?
do I even know with whom I ride?
Alan Girling writes poetry mainly, sometimes fiction, non-fiction, or plays. His work has been seen in print, heard on the radio, at live readings, even viewed in shop windows. Such venues include Blynkt, Panoply, Hobart, The MacGuffin, Smokelong Quarterly, FreeFall, Galleon, Blue Skies, The Ekphrastic Review and CBC Radio among others. He is happy to have had poems win or place in four local poetry contests and to have a play produced for the Walking Fish Festival in Vancouver, B.C.
The Branded Hand of Captain Jonathan Walker sixth-plate by Southworth and Hawes, 1845. “This Daguerreotype was taken by Southworth Aug. 1845 it is a copy of Captain Jonathan Walker’s hand as branded by the U.S. Marshall of the Dist. of Florida for having helped 7 men to obtain ‘Life Liberty, and Happiness.’ SS Slave Saviour Northern Dist. SS Slave Stealer Southern Dist.” Source: Mass. Historical Society.
The Branded Hand
SS Slave Saviour Northern Dist. SS Slave Stealer Southern Dist.
Inscription on reverse of photographic plate, 1845
They printed this in Florida,
a slave state still in forty-five,
its marshal with the power
to mark a man for life. Yet,
he can’t have lived for long
till someone in New England
passed comment on his scars,
desired that he submit again
to clamp his arm lest moving
spoil the photographic plate
and new technology distort
the marks that he displayed,
his palm extended, opened
to their lens. As it had been
to coals, to branding irons,
the double S that found him,
in The South, slave stealer,
thief of someone’s property
he only saw as fellow men
in need. But, in The North,
a saviour offering the chance
for freedom crossing borders
meant to those who’d borne
the scars or more themselves
in multitudes, unrecorded,
never photographed, but
fixed, as is this single print,
in time, a record of its hand.
Brian Johnstone’s poetry has appeared in Scotland and over 20 countries worldwide. He has published seven collections, most recently Dry Stone Work (Arc, 2014) and Juke Box Jeopardy (Red Squirrel, 2018), plus a prose memoir Double Exposure (Saraband, 2017). He is a founder and former Director of the StAnza Poetry Festival. http://www.brianjohnstonepoet.co.uk
Narcissus gazed into the glossy black pool and
saw within the shiny depths, reflections of such
beauty, that he fell in love with those muted, gentle
tones, the softened image he could not perceive
to be himself. He felt happiness wash over him as
he stared into the depths, thinking that finally he had
found his true love, his mate, his alter ego.
He returned the next day to the same secret place,
but when he peered into the black pool, this time flat and
lifeless, no image smiled back at him, no joy enticed him.
All life had left the blackness, and all he felt was infinite
nothingness, a perfect death which absorbed all colours,
all his features, all his soul. No stars glimmered back at
him, no sun illumined his perfect ignorance.
He never understood that he carried within himself the
inner joy to light the darkness, that his own soul was
the sun of consciousness to indicate his path and give him life.
He never understood that his own dark pain prevented him from
perceiving all the light and beauty that just yesterday had been revealed,
a glimpse of paradise, the promise of eternity.
He said goodbye to this special place, his spirit and heart broken,
never to return, sorrow and solitude now his only companions,
seeking always what he already had, but in his waking sleep,
not understanding, that all along,
the choice was his.
Susan P. Blevins
Susan P. Blevins was born in England, lived 26 years in Italy, and has now resided in the USA for the past 24 years, first in Taos, NM, and currently in Houston, TX. While living in Rome she had a weekly column in an international, English-language newspaper, writing about food and restaurant reviews primarily, though not exclusively. Since living in the USA she has written pieces on gardens and gardening for N. American and European publications, and she is now writing stories of her life and travels and gaining traction in various literary publications. She loves reading, writing, cats, classical music, and stimulating conversation.
John Baptizes Jesus at the Odney Pool
You had not known you belonged to such a region
until Spencer took you there, until he showed you
Cookham, where God made a detour down High Street,
past Fernlea to the Odney Pool,
mineral-laced water near the Thames
where the artist once swam as a child.
All’s inverted now. Heaven’s here--
in the languid pool, where, amid the bathers
in their ordinary, black-knit suits, God’s only Son’s
made known. Here’s John, an odd man in skins,
bristled and untamed, and Jesus, his face
that of any villager. No one seems surprised
as this little miracle unfurls. The scene is crowded,
narrow space filled with the press of bathers
on this afternoon of gossip, summer voices
left over from childhood’s drowsing.
Some of the villagers are napping, stretched out
in quiet leisure on the bleached stone steps.
Others gaze calmly as John pours water
from a copper bowl over the head of God’s
beloved boy. Why should they stand amazed?
It is you who are changed in this anointing,
seeing the world through the painter’s eyes,
its cold waters turned tender and familiar
in the fading light, this low cast that alters all.
Remote things join in me, Spencer wrote.
Life quickens here--
Of course, they’ll all depart too soon,
making their way back toward tidy houses,
predictable patterns, now rearranged--
but look, before you leave,
at the broad water-meadows that flood each spring,
where colour’s splashed
on this dully-lit summer day,
where you seek some last pleasure
in the pale English sun. And there--
you can just see those three lone trees
he painted, trees his young daughters loved
for the way they seem to march past
the horizon to some other world--
and always back to Cookham, its quiet lanes
where none of us is missing now.
This poem first appeared in The Los Angeles Review.
Margaret Mackinnon’s work has appeared in many journals, including Poetry, Image, Alaska Quarterly Review, Los Angeles Review, and The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review. Her first book, The Invented Child, received the 2011 Gerald Cable Book Award and the 2014 Literary Award in Poetry from the Library of Virginia. Naming the Natural World, a chapbook, was published by The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review in 2018. She lives in Richmond, VA.
The Ekphrastic Review
Find a writer, artist, or poem, etc. by searching here: