Tic tac, end to end,
the pieces of the game click clack,
and the clock tick tocks.
In the pail beneath the guttering
the water plip plops
in the drip drip of rain,
while the logs in the stove
and the ash sighs and sinks.
Where did the time go? you ask,
looking in the bucket that overflows
with rain water,
and grandma says,
Water is life, watch it flow,
fire is life, watch it burn,
ash is death.
Look in the hearth, child,
that’s where time goes.
Jane Dougherty lives and works in southwest France. Her poems and stories have been published in magazines and journals including Ogham Stone, Hedgerow Journal, Visual Verse, ink sweat and tears, Eye to the Telescope, Nightingale & Sparrow, the Drabble, Lucent Dreaming and The Ekphrastic Review. She has a well-stocked blog at https://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
Horace Pippin remembers family dominoes
8.00pm, early 1900s
Peek back to where your prime gripe fixates
on Mama’s tongue, her non-stop clack-pat-tap –
everything always black and white, cinched,
ribboned – and she wins top spot yet again;
back to where Big Mom puffs like a sailor
on a broken gib, her thoughts held together
by a cotton scarf as she slaps down her DNA
and Grandma Pip snips, pins, stitches, patches
a legacy of warm colour; back to before
you’d held a gun, succumbed to shrapnel
or seen bodies raw, war-smacked and yards
of bones burnt in stacks – you didn’t know
that one day you’d repaper toppling walls,
open blinds and depict history for us to keep.
Helen Freeman has been published on several sites such as Ink, Sweat and Tears, Red River Review, Barren Magazine, The Drabble, Sukoon and The Ekphrastic Review. She now lives in Durham, England after many years in the Middle East.
Make No Mistake
We play dominoes on an old card table
my husband has carried into the garden.
A summer afternoon in Amish Lancaster County,
a box of black tiles, three generations together
in Pennsylvania’s sedate green hills.
Until now, you may think, dear reader,
that a family board game with pips and tiles
would be harmonious. But no more so
than Horace Pippin’s painting of domino players.
Let’s not mistake either scene for domestic bliss.
My father-in-law’s stroke does not inhibit
his wily draw of black tiles, their white pips hidden
as he builds a battle wall. He’s foxy,
competitive, grumpy. When asked how he is,
he always claims “mean and miserable.”
His scowl a perfect poker-face not unlike
Pippin’s matriarch in her blue shawl and
scarlet headdress. Look closely at the sharp,
open scissors lying on the blood-red cloth,
the flame-red teeth in the coal fire, the red tongues
of the oil lamps. Take care when adding
a tile to the line as it marches across the table.
And when no tiles in your pile fit the strip,
beware a trip to the boneyard.
Sandi Stromberg’s poem “May in an English Village” will appear in the June issue of Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing. The theme “desire|dread.” Recently, her ekphrastic poetry—written in response to the paintings of Silvia Pinto Souza—was hung with the art in an exhibit at the Jung Center in Houston, Texas.
The Glass Marble Players
Long quiet hours of childhood Sundays
loom large and we appear united
memories of doing homework, of
my mother Magda at her everyday activity
the cold stucco whites, greys, and blacks of
the barren room brightened by colours
of a patchwork quilt and the madder.
Primitive folk painting, flat shapes
our homeland beyond the mountains
war refugees from Budapest
grandmother caring for her five grandchildren,
cooking, washing, in the after-World War II era
mother wearing a cotton midi dress,
while she observes the marble players
the broken taupe of a concrete floor
and oak table slant upward, and the doorway,
reed basket spilling over with leftover
balls of yarn, the crackling of woodfire,
the tongue of red flame in an oil lamp
a wick protected by a glass chimney.
Steel frame window frames, and
the game of shooting marbles, a former
military airport, a sub-camp for
prisoners of the Nazi Reich
a common grave by a round well.
Ilona Martonfi is an editor, poet, curator, advocate and activist. Author of four poetry books, the most recent collection is Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019). Forthcoming, The Tempest (Inanna, 2021). Writes in journals, anthologies, and six chapbooks. Her poem “Dachau on a Rainy Day” was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. Artistic director of Visual Arts Centre Reading Series and Argo Bookshop Reading Series. QWF 2010 Community Award.
To Horace Pippin Regarding The Domino Players
Did you foresee the future there
that time would quilt from such despair
in many kitchens much the same
where meager means became the game
of making sure that ends were met
as generations bridged their debt
to slaves who understood they earned
what but by time could be discerned
as dream secured by sacrifice
that would not shrink from precious price
that must be paid in staunch defense
of liberty as recompense
for change that law cannot control
occurring deep within the soul?
Portly Bard: Old man.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
John Brown's Blood
Well, looks like things ain't never gonna change no how,
they jist wanna make us think it's so.
I was born a slave to a family of slaves
and though some say my mind's unhinged
I did see John Brown hang, leastways,
watched him walk to the gallows.
Jist a little bitty girl, five years old is all
so Pappy wouldn't let me watch him drop,
but I saw him walk to his death
tall and straight and defiant, even
stopped to kiss a slave baby on the way.
I was almost twelve at the end
of the war when they said we was free,
but what in tarnation is freedom anyhow?
Freedom to sit doing patchwork
with my old eyes fading fast?
Freedom to watch my freed family
play dominoes in this drafty, broken down
old place which we pay rent for?
Slaves don't pay no rent.
Free to work every day 'cept Sundays
for a pittance they call a wage?
Free to run out o' money afore our needs are met?
Free to want? Free to starve?
Nope, ain't nuthin gonna change. We're still slaves.
It's why I use red in my quilts.
It's the color of blood - John Brown's blood.
The blood of all them soldier boys.
And for what? For Freedom?
Ain't no such thing as freedom.
Stephen Poole served for 31 years in the Metropolitan Police in London, England. He studied Media Practice at Birkbeck College, part of the University of London, and also underwent training at the London School of Journalism. His articles and interviews have appeared in a variety of British county and national magazines. He has been passionate about poetry since boyhood and his poems have appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, Poetry on the Lake, and The Strand Book Of International Poets 2010.
The Hour, the Oil, the Shadow of Triumph
This is how the trouble begins--
three flames in a small home,
the cloud that stands against the night.
It is too early for the curse (a dark
eye watching from a hem of lace,
the fire we mistake for blood),
but the luck has gone. The letter
slips beneath the table,
the numbers no longer align.
There is weakness all around:
a spindle snapped behind the back,
the wall that peels as it stands.
Each hint—the bone that sleeps,
a scrap of red that becomes a warmth--
appears sharp as a blade.
A lament that starts in something so small:
a woman with her scissors on the floor,
a fist with a needle hidden inside.
Lisa Ciccarello is the author of At Night, a full-length book of poetry out from Black Ocean, as well as several chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in Tin House, The Academy of American Poets, Denver Quarterly, the PEN Poetry Series, Handsome, & The Volta, among others.
Games Adults Play
Alone at the dining table
I always sit here.
Supper dishes in the Belfast
at exactly eight o’ clock.
Coffee percolating on the stove,
anthracite in the bucket,
adults start playing games
Mother to my left
then far too close
Him lounging on Father’s chair,
leaning far forward
blowing smoke into my face,
Grandma off her rocker
watching but not seeing.
Breath chafing my neck,
spittle and rum,
talking to herself
about Mother as a child
at my sort of age
Dominoes on the table
scattered like hunted rats.
Don’t understand rules
that adults make up
as they play through the game
no quarters or dimes;
stakes must be higher
Daydream through the evening
wishing things as they were
in times before Him,
before Father went to war,
before arguments, beatings
before silly games.
Looking up to Mother,
Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse. Of late, he has achieved success in poetry competitions and featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He particularly enjoys ekphrastic challenges. In 2019, he was a Featured Writer of the Federation of Writers Scotland.
The Domino Players
I really didn’t want to play tonight, Mama and Great Nana always let the time drag longer and longer between moves and frankly, by the time it gets back to me, I’ve lost interest completely. Great Nana always talks about what Mama should do to get a man, as if I were not in the room, I am 14, how much more of a man does she need? I tend the goats, milk the cow, chop the wood, do the chores no one else wants or is able to do. Nana says nothing, she sits in that rocking chair and knits and knits and then expects us to wear the socks, very scratchy, scarves and hats. Mama gets quieter by the day so maybe she does need something. But a man? No, never. I saw Great Nana gazing at the cracked crystal ball that sits on top of the high dresser over there. She tries to pretend it is not so, but...it is. The only answer I come up with is – money, well the lack of it. We are content, mostly. Great Nana says we need a horse, a buggy. Nana sits in the rocking chair and knits. I have not heard her speak since I was seven, a long time, a large burden for Mama. No wonder Great Nana keeps looking at that crystal ball and shuffling cards over and over. If magic can make me into a grown man and coins drop from my fingertips, I will gladly put that cracked crystal ball in the middle of our kitchen table.
Jane Lang has had her work published in several on-line and print publications. In 2017, she sent her chap book, Eclectic Edge, to family and friends in lieu of Christmas cards. Jane was nominated by the editor of Quill and Parchment for the 2019 Pushcart Prize, receiving an Honorable Mention.
Red splashes like blood are fire
and light and warmth, just enough brightness
to see white dots on worn wood
dominoes. I'm that kid at the table
stuck between grown-ups who know everything.
I'm losing. I'm always losing this game,
but this is where the light and warmth is,
so I'm kind of stuck.
I would join Auntie, take up quilting,
but the needle plunging through layers of fabric
pricks my fingers, makes me bleed.
I make a mess of things.
So I play dominoes. I'm the only one who knows
I've coloured some of those dots
Ann Farley, caregiver and poet, is happiest outdoors, preferably at the beach. Her poems have found homes in several literary journals, including, Verseweavers, VoiceCatcher, Gobshite Quarterly, Mom Egg Review, and US 1 Worksheets. She lives in Beaverton, Oregon.
African American Gothic
Sunday dinner dishes
long washed and tucked away,
oil lamp and coal fire burning,
Mother takes her place at table
setting out dominoes
for a little friendly rivalry.
In her peaceful playing state
she no longer worries
about missing chunks of drywall,
or that Grandmother,
completely engrossed our game,
has abandoned her quilting,
leaving dangerously sharp
exposed on the floor,
or that it’s nine o’clock
on a school night
and I should be in bed;
she appears completely focused,
but even while she’s playing
Mother intuits my contemplative mood
and gently touches my leg
assuring me it’s just a game
and not to fret about my move,
just as our worthy opponent
places her final bone on the table
and announces Domino.
Elaine Sorrentino is Communications Director at South Shore Conservatory in Hingham, Ma. Her work has been published in Minerva Rising, Willawaw Journal, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Ekphrastic Review, The Writers' Magazine, Haiku Universe, Failed Haiku, and has won the monthly poetry challenge at wildamorris.blogspot.com.
Momma and GG set up the tiles, while I sit between them watching---
children should be seen, not heard, they say---besides, we’re waiting to hear Mr. Roosevelt’s Chat. He’s been president nearly my whole life, you know.
Great-Aunt Minnie’s in her rocker warmed by the coal stove, stitching on a quilt square. Can’t have too many quilts when Old Man Winter comes. She’s made bundles of hand-knitted socks and scarves for the soldiers, like our Billy.
He’s overseas, they tell me, and so, I imagine him sailing over a blue ocean---
while here the world is black, white, and red like a newspaper,
each day turns with a snap and rustle,
as another domino falls,
and we wait
for answers to questions
we dare not ask.
Merril D. Smith
Merril D. Smith is a historian and poet. Her poetry and stories have appeared recently in Rhythm & Bones, Vita Brevis, Streetlight Press, Ghost City, Twist in Time, Mojave Heart Review, Wellington Street Review, Blackbough Poetry, and Nightingale and Sparrow.
On Sunday We Played Dominos
It’s like a prayer
being together, playing the game
the silence of waiting for mama’s
my thoughts centered on a purpose
curled within itself
I heard that in the Quarter there were
pipe-burned wooden dominoes
later bois burci, blood included
like red flames in the ash of a stove
Our dominoes are ebony with white pips
My mama and grandma wear dove white
I’m in white too
I look for the black bones
to connect before I
take my turn
Amy Phimister resides in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. She is a member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and the Belles Lettres writing group. She has been published by WFOP, Yardstick Books and The Ekphrastic Review, and was a finalist for the Hal Prize.
Outside there is nothing now
but the unforgiving dark
Inside our small room
where the plaster is cracked
and the walls empty
we gather at the table
intent on our game of dominoes
carefully laying every tile
trying to build a bridge
across the hours
while the only light comes
from our own small lamps
the only heat
from the old wood stove
and morning’s still
so far away
Between our circle and the stove
working a quilt
from bright scraps of cloth
all our names and dreams and stories
into a fabric that might be
wide and strong enough
to keep us well
through the darkness
and the killing freeze
waiting for us
just outside the door
In these times it seems like almost everything encourages reflection on the pandemic, a nightmare bad as any we’ve ever had. Mary McCarthy spent most of her working life as a Registered Nurse. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, and she has an electronic chapbook “Things I Was Told Not to Think About,” available as a free download from Praxis Magazine.
The Domino Players
I do not think about wood stoves. I do not think about playing dominoes
among old music and old stew, teaching my daughters the strategies
that have kept me alive. I do not think about wearing aprons
tight around my hips, the loop catching the baby hairs of my neck
like a toddler hoping for attention. I do not think about cousins
or ancestors or how to make my house feel thick with them.
I do not think about the Pennsylvania wind on a night when
the valiant windows stave off the snow while the dog shivers
in the small brave circle of warmth near the stove. I do not think
about the last few logs of wood. I do not think about what I have left to burn.
Max Wedding is a public administration student and project manager in Portland, Oregon.
Playing Dominos on the Homefront, 1943
Happy clatter: click and clack –
dominoes in white and black –
we hunger for a chance to win
at anything (and there’s no sin
What’s it matter? Click and clack –
White folks win, and we’re still Black.
But, even as we share their war,
we hold a hope worth living for.
The Old World shattered, we want rights –
the freedoms now reserved for whites.
For don’t our men miss kids and wives
and dare to sacrifice their lives?
For now, we chatter. Click and clack,
playing games till peace comes back,
while Mama quilts more steadfast seams
to tuck around the fervent dreams
Poet's note: "Looking at this painting and its date brought back many personal memories for Alarie. During WWII, her father was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, and her mother was a W.A.V.E. They met just at the end of the war, and both held office in the Virginia chapter of Amvets. Although politically conservative, they often expressed their outrage that the African-American veterans were not allowed to lodge or dine at the hotels where they held their conventions. Serving the country meant you should be honoured by the country in return."
Alarie Tennille was born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia, and graduated from the University of Virginia in the first class admitting women. For Alarie, looking at art is the surest way to inspire a poem, so she’s made The Ekphrastic Review home for four years. She was honoured to receive one of the Fantastic Ekphrastic Awards for 2020. Alarie hopes you’ll check out her poetry books on the Ekphrastic Book Shelf and visit her at alariepoet.com.
As a Father Shows Compassion to His Children
Balanced so well, with its whites
and blacks, its reds, the coloured richness
of the room’s elements, conceals
the poverty endured.
Great-grandma smokes a pipe, grandma
busies with scissors and thread, mother enjoys
the repartee and clack-clack of the tiles
and the boy—all four, warmed by the stove’s
ample heat, an empty coal bucket
standing by and the teapot ready to boil.
The stovepipe carries the heat upstairs
and on the beds, the quilts are spread.
It’s 8 o’clock. Soon all four will ascend
the rickety stairs,
a pot of potato stew left to simmer
for the late-returning worker. He’s
done his job; the stew will warm him.
He’ll rake the ashes to still the stove,
climb the stairs in the dark, and fall into bed.
In ‘43 Pippin lets us see moon-illumined
clouds on a dark November night. American
troops have landed at Salermo, but Germany
has begun the counterattacks.
Carole Mertz, poet, reviewer, and essayist, is the author of the chapbook Toward a Peeping Sunrise (with Prolific Books) and the forthcoming collection Colors on the Canvas (with Kelsay Books). She lives with her husband in Parma, Ohio.
The Colours of My Past, Present, and Future
In a black-or-white world, my house had grey
walls and grey floors, as if to prove both colours
could mix and cohabit. In reality, the greyness
resulted from old age, cracks, soot, dust, and poverty.
We were poor, but my mom, grandma, and aunt made
sure that I knew our value and the value of what we
owned. “Find balance in the present, learn from
the past, and hope for the future” were grandma’s
words of advice, passed on from her daughters
to her grandson. I learned by example. On Sunday
evenings, we played dominoes for hours on the kitchen
table: the black tiles with white pips inverted the pattern of mom’s
black polka-dot blouse, her and grandma’s white skirts tuned up
to my aunt’s black poncho top and white head scarf, my white shirt
combined with black pants and shoes, a white doily was crossed
with black diamond shapes on our only shelf, and a white bucket
sat next to a black coal-burning stove. Another colour, the red
of the blood shed by my people, enslaved and exploited like
grandma, lay on the floor on a red scrap of cloth that my aunt
used for quilting, while grandma, letting white smoke waft out
from her white pipe, wore the red on her head scarf as a badge
of honor. The also-red warmth from the coal fire and the flames
from the oil lamps would always light my way as a black person
living in a white world. Out of the window, a grey cloud floated
freely in the dark sky of Goshen, New York.
Mari-Carmen Marin was born in Málaga, Spain, but moved to Houston, TX, in 2003, where she has found her second home. She is a professor of English at Lone Star College—Tomball, and enjoys dancing, drawing, reading, and writing poetry in her spare time. Writing poetry is her comfy chair in front of a fireplace on a stormy winter day. Her work has appeared in several places, including, Wordriver Literary Review, Scarlet Leaf Review, Dash Literary Journal, Months to Years, The Awakening Review, Lucky Jefferson, San Fedele Press, Willowdown Books, The Comstock Review, The Green Light Literary Journal, and Mothers Always Write.
Naïve to think that commonplace
should not be moved beyond the book;
for any light from upper left
must seep to favoured record frame.
A column advert set art pace,
first paint box won, with crayons, son
who won the contest, boyhood fun,
an entry point to pastel scheme.
He carried what his eyes had seen,
and stacked his memory with sense,
to shape own world for ignorant,
used porter, packer, moulder skill.
A front line troupe, back row at home,
for land of free, no Goshen braves,
Harlem Hellfighter in the trench,
from colour-blind, the Croix de Guerre.
Two decades on, when mood had moved,
less colour chart, a Purple Heart,
mark courage, yellow opposite,
though cordial, vein pump, cord red.
The polka blouse, spots pallid space,
where plaster scarred by wattle daub,
with oil lamp, Sunday, nine at night,
toque, cloth, quilt, fire, for crimson signs.
Contemplative, lad, matriarchs,
what slant, which plane is in his mind,
ferocious scissors, teething flames,
these dangers through the pupil child?
By tiles of floor, pile, wall of nips
like fire, three generations joined,
these Methodists, pray, quilt, smoke pipe,
through dobs of oil, those dominoes.
The apple of his mother’s eye,
as any Pippin son must be,
the most important of his race,
as eulogised in NYT.
This commonplace is rarefied,
unknown white north of Dixon line,
insight Horace, massed dominant,
but do they read, appreciate?
Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), retired to Wales from ministry in the Methodist Church, has had pieces accepted by some thirty online poetry sites, including The Ekphrastic Review; and Gold Dust, The Seventh Quarry, The Dawntreader, Foxtrot Uniform, The Writer’s Café, A New Ulster Poetry Magazines, Vita Brevis Anthology ‘Pain & Renewal’ & Fly on the Wall Press ‘Identity’. https://poetrykingsnorth.wordpress.com/
"Pictures just come to my mind and I let my heart go ahead."
"I let the words go the way they want to go..."
"...the old grandmother/sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove..."
Elizabeth Bishop, Sestina
The gypsy woman in the broken chair
always comes in wintertime; she always
wears a red bandana and a striped wool shawl
to warm her while she tells the boy
what his future looks like in cards and dominoes;
in crystals of snow falling on mountains
she crossed to come before Christmas...
Outside the night window the world grows old
created with its sad, scarred history of inequality and war --
but the boy doesn't know that yet with dominoes
laid out on the kitchen table like a map
the gypsy decodes with the wonders of nature,
how it changes, rich and poor with the magic of seasons,
mother nature like his mother's hand picking up a domino.
The tea kettle whispers on the wood-burning stove,
coming to life in the picture to make tea leaves
for the gypsy to read -- a luxury -- like the mince
mixed with port stored in jars, top-shelf
with a "p" in the cold cupboard: cooking apples --
pippins -- raisins, sugar, spices combined
months ago to save for special moments
in the artist's interior landscape a painting
where fabric squares made from worn-out clothes
are sewn into his grandmother's quilt like diary entries,
pictures of his childhood -- a game of dominoes --
before the art of family life was interrupted
by ominous predictions (numbers and names
encrypted in war codes); years fought for America's
freedom -- patriotism in spite of segregation
(WWI, The Barracks) -- then coming home
to begin painting what he heard his heart say
(Holy Mountain, I and II) canvasses with an afterlife
where animals gathered at Christmas time and souls
replayed the games of life in black and white and green
when dominoes were plucked like leaves
from an extramundane tree.
and see how the boy's winning when he paints
the stove its belly filled with wood
and fire -- enough wood chopped
a marvel and a wonder! paint to warm the winter!
So falls the snow like white spots on the dominoes,
the years of abstinence and plenty night replayed
on the windows as the gypsy reads the domino numbers:
(28, 2 + 8 = 10) a hard winter, fire and ice --
white shirts and skirts the 7 deadly sins
washed white as snow mother dressed like a domino
(white blouse, black dots) white stars in omnivorous nights
when there's no food on the table; when the gypsy comes
and the only sin is Hunger so she tells the story
of the bear who came to the window and ate the pie
while the family played dominoes (she calls them
magic dominoes); and the family counts how my years
they saved up for the niminy-piminy bottle of port
to spice the pie and bless the boy with a future
in pens and paint brushes -- apples, pippins, mince --
snow dots and domino spots -- a folk art game
of dominoes (28, 2 + 8) secret numbers (1 + 0) --
Horace Pippin's intuitive art,
dominoes flavored with infinity
Laurie Newendorp lives and writes in Houston. Her recent book, When Dreams
Were Poems, 2020, explores art, including ekphrastic poetry. One of her ekphrastics,
"Orpheus In The 21st Century," was listed with The Ekphrastic Review's "Fantastic
Ekphrastics." Her definition of the mind-body link in writing poetry, "Think With Your
Heart," describes the way art (Art Naif) finds ingenuous creativity in pictures of child-
hood, as in Horace Pippin's The Domino Players, 1943.
The Ekphrastic Review
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