Three Letters from a Schizophrenic to Her Husband, 1909
after Emma Hauck, Wiesloch Asylum, Germany
The first begins with a drizzle,
words on top of words,
the same words working
their way down, bumping,
veering off the left bank
of a manila landscape,
a creek dammed
into a pool of smeared graphite--
then begin again
on a chink of clear paper,
as if her writing needed air
before pouring down hard,
three thunderous columns
of help come
streaked with hold me.
The page can’t hold her squall,
its bottom corner gives way,
A jumble of cursive heaped in trees,
a deep German forest
where light shines through needles:
Come Sweetheart Come
The words stampede:
Hurry, not much time,
the light is leaving.
The brambles are taking over,
lurching across my window.
Not much space left. Not much.
Just one small bit open, sweetheart.
It’s the moon, ballooning itself
over the asylum’s walls.
One word, come, greys
the paper to fog.
She feels blindly for an edge
with the blunt stub,
sinks into a mire
with a quick sucking in,
He won’t come he won’t come he won’t come
Besides writing, Kate Peper loves to paint watercolours, garden obsessively and walk with her husband and semi-feral dog, Hannah, in Northern California. Her chapbook, Dipped In Black Water, won the New Women's Voices Award from Finishing Line Press, 2016 and can be purchased here: www.peperpoetry.com Her poems can be found in The American Journal of Poetry, The Baltimore Review, Cimarron Review, Potomac Review, Rattle, Tar River Review and others. If you’d like to see some of her award-winning art, please visit: www.peperprojects.com
The Shepherd's Complaint to St. Francis
Hey, it’s me, way over here near the fence.
Who says you're such a mighty holy man
you can just ride up and take my cave
without asking or explaining?
Oh, you were called? If you were called,
go to church. That's the place for the called.
Sure I'm glaring at you. This is my special place.
I waited fifteen years to get this pasture
for my own and now you've ruined it for me.
I like being alone but since you came up here
it’s like my mother’s telling me not to slouch.
I used to go in that cave at noon
to eat my lunch. Sometimes the rabbit
hopped in, ate my crumbs and radish tops.
I used to see all the sheep from there.
Now you've blocked a clear view
with an arbor and your goddamn desk.
Oh, you like being out in nature with animals?
Well, try that when February’s blowing sleet
and the animals are frightened yearling ewes
giving birth in a lean-to at midnight
and you're standing ankle-deep in blood and shit
with candle wax burning your frost-cracked hands
… and you're praying you can save the lambs.
Faith Kaltenbach grew up in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, attended the George School and Bennington College, worked in horticulture, publishing and photography. Semi-retirement and warm associations with other poets in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area has led to a renewal of interest in poetry writing.
Our First Cash Contest!
Since so many of us are being locked down, locked out, separated from loved ones, the month ahead, usually the merriest for many of the year, looks bleak.
On the up side, there is lots of time to reflect on art and to write. With all the stores closed, no mulled wine gatherings, no Nutcracker ballet performances, no midnight mass, no carolling socials, what's left?
Do not despair! Christmas isn't cancelled!
Transform your bleak and lonely holidays immersed in 35 visual art prompts. Lorette's carefully curated collection will intrigue and inspire. The ebook is 10$ CAD (about $7 USD) and your purchase helps support The Ekphrastic Review. Thank you.
You can send up to seven poems or short stories in by Christmas Day and we will publish selected works in a special showcase feature on site in the weeks to follow.
And we've just decided to make the Christmas challenge into a cash awarded contest- from the selected entries for the showcase, we will choose a winner. The prize is $100!
Rules for submissions:
1. Submit to email@example.com by midnight, December 25, 2020.
2. Use HOLIDAY CONTEST in subject line.
3. Send no more than seven entries, all in one email, or in several, no matter.
5. We would love to see more stories- flash fiction, small fiction, microfiction, and prose poetry. Check out our guidelines to see the kind of stories we like.
6. Of course poetry is always welcome. We love poetry and that is not going to change.
7. Nothing over 1000 words. If you have written something exceptionally brilliant, we might make an exception.
8. Relax, enjoy, have fun.
9. Cash will be sent via PayPal.
Click here to purchase.
When the dust settles and we look back on this moment in history, what will be the collective images that will haunt us? Perhaps a photograph of an empty Times Square, save for red tulips gently bowing in grey planters or a lone paper bag blowing in the wind. Or a scene of medical personnel, covered in gowns and masks, visibly shaken by the crush of death and hospital chaos. Perhaps it could be the miles of lined up cars waiting to get some meager bags of food. Or the four walls of our own homes as we hunker down in quarantine. It could be the image of flamingoes taking over parks in Mumbai or lions wandering the streets in South Africa, as animals begin to appear in droves given the absence of humans. Or maybe a snapshot from earth’s satellites, showing a decline of air pollution as human life has come to a virtual standstill. And all of these poignant images stand in stark relief against a kaleidoscopic backdrop of wildfires, floods, receding glaciers, deforestation, endangered species, and supercharged hurricanes. Our world is a complex, scary place right now. And meaningful, powerful images have a way of lodging in the brain, repeatedly and spontaneously making themselves known and providing a momentary portal through which to more clearly view our present lives or our past. Words, in contrast, seem to require a slower conscious recall that lose their power by virtue of the time it takes to think about them. At least that’s the way it seems to work for me. Since images form the basis of our mental thought and our creativity, it’s no wonder that they have the ability to capture the power of the moment or to transport us to a past that is impossible to put into words.
Mindy Flexer’s artwork evocatively conveys the intertwined issues at the forefront of our current reality. Of course, there are a multitude of ways to capture the pathos, the terror, and the grief of this viral catastrophe with images. And art can certainly express a reality that lies beyond words. But is there a way to more gently hover around the perimeters of our current desperation rather than depicting it head on and forcing us to relive it? Is there a way to capture the incredulity and helplessness of those watching the mounting deaths in a way that can provide some semblance of comfort? Can we excavate hope among the rubble of our present circumstance? Flexer’s beautiful images of flight seem to me to show the people we have lost being carried away by angels. In Learning to Fly, there are people drifting in the sky among origami birds, as onlookers are standing alone in boats below. These origami birds, to me like doves offering peace or angels accompanying those lost on their new afterlife journey, seem to be leading the way. It seems to be a magical, achingly beautiful, heartbreaking depiction of this historical moment. Similarly, in The Two of You, a figure of an older child seems to be watching an adult fly away accompanied by birds. The colors are subdued, and the sky seems to be taking on pink hues as if this is occurring in tandem with sunrise. There is such poignancy in these paintings, as if they’re reaching out to our battered, grief-stricken souls and pointing us toward comfort and peace in the midst of tragedy.
Though her work was completed prior to the pandemic and there are other compelling interpretations, to me these works seem to speak directly to the heart of our current global viral catastrophe. Letting Go to Hold On depicts people gently floating in the air amid origami cranes, as if they are easing into their newfound levity and freedom. Here the colors are stunningly vibrant and life affirming. And the title captures irony. Perhaps it is a message of peace in the midst of suffering. Perhaps it speaks to the notion of impermanence in a world which on a daily basis seems so stable and static. And this theme of impermanence, as not only signifying death but also transformation, is one that inhabits much of her work. Several years ago, Flexer experienced the death of a close friend and the birth of a family member simultaneously; this synchronicity sparked her interest in depicting people coming and going, a part of the grand scheme of time that showcases this notion of impermanence. And the pandemic, a massive exodus of fellow human beings from our midst, is certainly emblematic of those comings and goings. As Flexer notes: “The pandemic is this reality on steroids.” Perhaps then, this painting could also be depicting the potential for human transformation as we sit on the brink of a new reality, made necessary by this unprecedented existential crisis.
Spiral Blue similarly captures this magical realist notion of groups of people floating in the sky among birds. And birds, which symbolically are associated with death and calamity, while for others ironically signify life and longevity, seem to be the perfect creature to convey angels in a tragedy. Birds are not only symbols of both life and death, but as Flexer observes, they are an unlikely puzzle of jerkiness and grace, power and vulnerability. They also can connote a desire for liberation and transcendence, transformation and freedom. Yet this work seems to me to visually convey the heart wrenching sanctity of lives lost, of dreams crushed. Perhaps these are spirits flying away, being carried by birds that are presumptive harbingers of death as well as angels, preparing them to fulfill dreams in another lifetime. It seems to me to portray human lives drifting away from us as we stand helplessly looking on, being carried away in our own little lifeboats, as we are in the midst of the most malignant natural disaster of our era. And yet, improbably, there is a sense of beauty, calm, and grace.
In Tumbling, we can further glimpse Flexer’s message of hope and transformation amid devastation. Here we see people drifting in circles, at times upside down, against a blue sky and building. They are whirling, diving, flying, floating gracefully like the birds next to them. We are privy to the sense of the freedom and whimsy inherent in floating in air. For Flexer, the comings and goings of people in flight is not solely about death but also about personal change. As Flexer states: “maybe it’s [going to] another place after life or maybe it’s a transformation in which you reinvent yourself.” Dying is certainly one type of transformation. Letting go of old habits, changing one’s ways to produce positive change in oneself and the world, is another.This certainly applies to the pandemic, as we sit at the brink of a new world. Our lives and our views about the world will be radically altered when this is over. That’s the thing about global crises, or even personal crises: they force us to realize that continuing along the same path is not an option. If we are to survive, we need to change. Even the act of painting mirrors the irony of trying to keep still amidst perpetual movement. As Flexer perceptively states: “Painting is such a beautiful impulse to keep the world still. How do you use a still medium to create a moving world?” Such an apt metaphor for the impulse to try to hold on to our old behaviours when the world around us is spinning out of control.
The painting entitled Will We? seems to be a call to action on another simmering global crisis: climate change. We see the whooping crane, a species that was almost wiped out but was ultimately rescued from extinction by human efforts. This painting seems to be a warning for a future as well as a hopeful message for the possibility of change. On the left side of the canvas are people and cranes, intertwined like vines, falling toward the earth. On the right side, they are lifting themselves up, taking off in flight as if choosing the option to soar and save our planet, and all of the interconnected species share it with us. Environmental destruction is of course closely intertwined with viral calamities, as for example, deforestation allows novel viruses to encroach upon civilization. The title is a call to joint action by the viewer, asking us on which side of the painting we want to live: further destruction or positive transformation. As Flexer states: “We’re all in it together, but we’re also going to solve it together and it’s not going to be one giant solution that will come from on high but will be one mass movement and everyone can contribute what their piece of the puzzle is...” The choice, and the ultimate solution, is ours, this artist seems to say.
Mindy Flexer’s art expresses the most pressing issues of our time in a stunning language of color, intertwined forms and magically winged themes. Since each person experiences art differently, art can be open to a wide range of interpretations. Like a drawing by Escher, Flexer’s work can be seen in vastly different lights depending on one’s perspective, ranging from comfort amidst destruction and death, to a joyful rendition of the interconnectedness of life, and even enticing us to explore possibilities as we stand at an existential crossroad, among other themes. These are powerful images that aren’t easily forgotten. They belong on our roster of haunting images that capture the magnitude of problems facing our current world. Her work also conveys the larger, hopeful picture of individual transformation, growth, and responsibility. We need more art like this now, to provide comfort and solace, to express an emotional depth that cannot be captured in words, to convey our collective suffering, and as a call to action. Let’s hope that as we stand on the threshold of a new world, forced to leave our old ways behind, we will have learned to care more about the power of human connection and to be true stewards of our only planet. In the future, when the world is a different place, changed by this monstrous virus, and our grandchildren ask us for stories describing what it was like, perhaps there will be no words. For words are unable to capture the enormity of this moment in history. There will only be images. And those images will speak volumes.
This article was previously published at InLiquid.
Deborah Kostianovsky, M.D., M.L.A. is a writer about contemporary art in Philadelphia. She has been working as a child and adolescent psychiatrist for thirty years, and recently transitioned to writing about art. She holds a Masters of Liberal Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania, with a focus on philosophy of aesthetics, art history, and comparative literature. She is presently an Editorial Intern at InLiquid, a nonprofit arts association, where she has written over forty articles.
Mindy Flexer is a professional realist painter, teaching artist, and climate activist in Philadelphia. She has a B.A. from Oberlin College, and a B.F.A. from University of the Arts, and an M.Ed. in Art Education from Tyler School of Art.
35 Christmas and holiday themed visual art prompts to inspire you through the bleakest Yule ever!
Carefully curated prompts will surprise, intrigue, and move you.
You can send up to seven poems or short stories in by Christmas Day and we will publish selected works in a special showcase feature on site in the weeks to follow.
Click here to purchase.
A woman in a peach slip--
remember slips?--sitting on the bed’s edge
reads a piece of paper held like a tray:
thumbs on top, fingers underneath.
A lover’s note of apology?
The docent says train schedule.
I am old enough to know,
yes, they looked like that.
The hotel room a spare but complicated
space—it is a Hopper, after all.
Absorbed by what she reads,
the woman--Jo, his wife, again that docent--
sits framed within a frame. Her day clothes
laid with care across the chair, suitcase and valise
unopened where she dropped them,
the yellow window shade three-quarters
down against the flat black night.
Kicked-off heels her one untidy moment
as she undressed, sat to read,
lamplight illuminating her thighs.
Wendy Hawken: "I live on a grass farm in the northern Shenandoah Valley where the weather means more than what clothes to wear. In 2005 I earned an MFA in Poetry at Warren Wilson College’s Program for Writers, decades after a BA in English literature. Previous publications include three chapbooks plus two full collections, The Luck of Being (2008) and White Bird (2017) a sequence about my husband’s battle with cancer."
Best Small Fictions 2021
Best Small Fictions is an annual anthology of small press excellence for flash fiction, sudden fiction, small fiction, micro fiction, haibun, prose poetry, and related hybrids under 1000 words.
Learn more about it here.
Congratulations to our terrific writers on their nominations!
The House of Mischief, by David Belcher
Maple Street, London, by Brian Johnson
Our Lady of Scarlet, by Kerfe Roig
Four Scenes, Two Friends, One Postcard, by Dorothy Burrows
Haibun for Luisa Adele Rosa Maria von Amann, Marquesa Casati, by Jane Dougherty
"…I felt like Oppenheimer or something. What have I done? Because it’s going
to need high security all its life." Damien Hirst’s on his artwork, For the Love of God, 2007
Our god is uncanny, pixelated
in its effigy antics, elated for
this shimmering, crusted skull--
8,601 flawless diamonds and a
pear-shaped pink one, third
eye of the forehead, technical
refinement by hired hands.
A concept is a concept is a
commodity. On a dare, our god forged
toothy marketplace of forbidden
fruit. No one to blame.
God’s way to animate
another exquisite corpse
for our laps, each gem-stud
making its claim for punchline.
Platinum cast of a lucky 18th
century chap who got to keep
his teeth that held a pipe, chewed
on penny loaf. Hollow man
immortalized by hollow man for
50 million pounds in auction.
Our god smirks behind a two-way
mirror, slow time holds us
in the drop jaw of still life.
Luminous decay, market shelves
bloated, over-ripe and spoiling.
Rikki Santer: "My poetry has appeared in various publications including Ms. Magazine, Poetry East, Slab, [PANK], Crab Orchard Review, RHINO, Grimm, Hotel Amerika and The Main Street Rag. My work has received many honours including five Pushcart and three Ohioana book award nominations as well as a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. My eighth collection, Drop Jaw, was published this spring by NightBallet Press."
The Currency of His Light
"When I consider how my light is spent…"
— “On His Blindness,” by John Milton
To gamble away light the way Monet did,
to chase its furtive peregrinations, to allow
it to slither through smoke and fog, skid
along the undulations of the Thames’
snakeskin surface at dawn, to crucify
another new canvas every half hour
onto the easel, to watch his own sweat
drip like blood from a criminal’s nailed feet,
to dab pigments that capture light’s
spatterings on the lenticular lens of his eye,
the first inkling of sight’s failure: fog-within
drifting in counter-current to fog-without,
cigarette scorching lips, smoke trailing
a third stream of confusion across the view,
Houses of Parliament mere smears
of staid Gothic Revival outlines,
vergeboards and bargeboards lost to blur,
befogged, bedimmed, beclouded,
to lose the fractal infinity of detail,
the slabbed sameness of tiered arches
of limestone, to see as the hours advance
the kind of dissolution a hundred years
of acidic fog might wreak, to watch
stone become sun-molten: smoldering,
shifting, splodged, smirched, to map
color spaces with his LaPlacian brainstem,
to transform, to capture some small portion
of fleeting light and gradient hue,
transient as the stain and blotch of a man's
life on eon’s forever un-finite span,
the canvases, leaning against the walls
of every room, snatched up in succession
to replicate yesterday’s angle of sun and curl
of smoke, the artist minting each with die
and press: planchet after planchet struck again
and again, coined by eye and hand
and light’s merciless vicissitudes.
Roy Beckemeyer's latest poetry book is Mouth Brimming Over (Blue Cedar Press, 2019).
Niobe at Nieborów
A Roman bust of Niobe, said to have been found on the coast of the Azov Sea, greets guests at a palace near Warsaw.
and cries of terns at dawn--
like voices of your dead children--
what clocks of stars measured
your ages by the sea
Music echoes in the tiled hall--
a fugue of swans and snowstorms
wars and harvests.
From the towers of Nieborow
Aries and Capricorn caress
the opulence of her cheeks
the stone fruits of her lips
but Niobe remains
a planet ringed with sorrow.
on lilac buds
beside the long allée
what cuckoo’s song
or pomegranates from the orangery
could comfort you
passionate mother of the dead?
Architects, builders of palaces,
and musicians from their measured arts
bring joy. But Niobe’s wounds
ponder the algebra of our winters
equations of ice dissolving in the void
algorithms of ancient tears
on the shores of new seasons.
Stephanie Kraft was a newspaper reporter for forty years. One of the highlights of her career was an opportunity to travel to Poland, where she witnessed the end of the Communist era and the economic renaissance that followed. She has published translations of two major Polish novels and is currently at work on a third. Her poems have appeared in Christian Century, The Prose Poem Project, Dappled Things, Cold Mountain Review, and Sky Island Journal. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
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