"belt buckle father coming up the stairs"
—Henry Crawford, "Forsaken"
Smothered weeping of the beaten child,
sound she knows well.
Will she be allowed in?
Did the child lock the door after the father finished?
Will she have to turn,
descend the stairs,
lift the pitcher,
proceed with her task?
She's smothered the same sound herself,
many a time,
and the child has come to her door
and found it locked.
Shirley Glubka is a retired psychotherapist, the author of four poetry collections, a mixed genre collection, and two novels. Her latest (just published!) poetry collection is Through the Fracture in the I: Erasure Poetry; her most recent novel: The Bright Logic of Wilma Schuh. Shirley lives in Prospect, Maine with her spouse, Virginia Holmes. Website: http://shirleyglubka.weebly.com/ Online poetry at The Ekphrastic Review here; at 2River View here; at The Ghazal Page here; and at Unlost Journal here and here.
Caught between void and abyss, darkness
crawls, drapes interior walls; it drags
through the cracks of a tenement steeped
in despair. Emptiness looms, permeates
rooms, it gnaws at the slats of a lusterless
flat where sadness consumes. Sorrow calls,
thrums down the halls, Why go on drones
in tenebrous tones when windows appear.
Shadows leave, a welcome reprieve.
This tenancy's done, though the countdown's
begun; it ticks toward its goal: to hinder
light's hold, to room in the gloom, to be
the gloom that rooms in this house, never
once and for all but forever, where never
exists with an ending and never-ending's
the mean between void and abyss, between
chasm and pit, without end.
Jeannie E. Roberts
Jeannie E. Roberts lives in an inspiring setting near Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, where she writes, draws and paints, and often photographs her natural surroundings. She has authored four poetry collections including the most recent The Wingspan of Things (Dancing Girl Press, 2017). She is Poetry Editor of the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs.
She is shrouded in shadow,
prays not to stumble as she wends
her way to the top of the stairs.
She hums softly day after day,
week after week, her nestling voice
swallowed by fear, not knowing
what waits for her in that tiny room
draped in darkness. Maybe her screeches
will pierce the silence, maybe nothing.
Doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
It’s the climb. It’s the knees buckling.
It’s knowing she left the water pitcher
at the bottom of the steps, and her mother
will scold her like a child who treated it
as if it were a broken toy. Her mother
won’t recall who feeds her, washes her hair
brushes her teeth, changes her diaper, bathes her,
kisses her gently, listens to her rants, wipes her tears.
But her mother will remember the pitcher.
Shelly Blankman lives in in Columbia, Maryland. She and her husband have two adult sons and now fill their empty nest with three rescue cats and one rescue dog. She has followed a career path in journalism and public relations but her first love has always been poetry. Her work appeared in The Ekphrastic Review as well as other online journals, including Praxis Magazine for Arts and Literature, Visual Verse, Social Justice Poetry, and Poetry Super Highway.
Always the Shadow
It isn’t the creaking of wood
or the musty smell of old oak seeping,
that sticks in my throat
but the shadow, always the shadow
cast on the darkened wall.
Each monochrome day I watch her climb
those nine wearisome stairs
dragging her ragged breath behind her,
skirt as loose as her tongue
cursing, ranting at shadows,
always the dusty shadow cast on the wall.
The time for weeping is past
but she visits him often
believing him to be there
at the top of that ninth stair
door ajar, jug at the foot
a vessel poised to clean grief
and wash the shadow,
always that deep stained shadow from the wall.
Kate Young has been passionate about poetry since childhood. She lives with her husband in Kent and having recently retired from infant teaching she has returned to writing. She had some success with poems published in magazines when she was active in Strood poetry group. She now enjoys meeting members from The Poetry Society at her local Stanza group and sharing work with them. Alongside poetry, Kate enjoys art, dance and playing the guitar and her growing collection of ukuleles!
The Servant Stairs
Up these narrow stairs –
the only way servants
could rise above the master.
No servants here now.
The mansion demoted
to a boarding house worn
to shabby chic – elegant
bedrooms, mahogany mantels,
My view of the back lawn
sold me. I went upstairs
on moving day – just empty
attic rooms with suitcases
and Christmas ornaments –
but coming down I fought
the urge to take the steps
two at a time.
Now I know why.
Every night I hear soft
footfalls on the landing,
heading up, up, up,
then padding back and forth
across my ceiling for hours.
That first night I peeked
out, saw nothing,
not even the wash pitcher
I tripped over
I imagine the ghost
of a young scullery maid
accustomed to working late.
I wish she and I could both
get some rest.
Alarie’s latest poetry book, Waking on the Moon, contains many poems first published by The Ekphrastic Review. Please visit her at alariepoet.com.
Up and Down
Even with a moment to rest
on the landing, Leda needs to take
a deep breath. Carrying that heavy
ceramic washbasin, even unfilled
must be accomplished with care.
Mistress loves it.
Leda also loves to admire
swans swimming in a lake
bounded by rose bushes.
Often, after she has place
bowl on wooden oak stand,
after she has set the matching
pitcher inside or beside it,
laid fresh soap and an ironed
linen towel beside it,
she imagines she can smell
those painted roses,
that the swans will come and
eat dried bread from her hand.
Leda carefully mounts
each step and when she has
so very carefully and quietly
placed that empty bowl,
she will dance quickly
down the steps
to pluck up the pitcher,
heavy with cool well water
making all ready
for her lady’s
once that lady chooses
to respond to sun’s signal.
Tho the bowl and pitcher
are works of art,
Leda cannot help but wonder
as she treks up and down
the backstairs in day’s
might it not be easier
if mistress did as she, Leda did,
washing face and hands
at the well with two quick pulls
of the handle, up and down.
Joan Leotta is storyteller on page and stage. When she is not writing she is often walking the southeastern North Carolina beach--weather permitting.
First there were the whispers.
The clacking of small shoes on wood,
occasional sighs. A staircase full of disappointment
and teases. The swish of petticoats, muted giggles.
Later there were sobs and the sound of skin
slapping skin, hate a thick broth of unbreatheable air,
cold reaching out to embrace the unwary.
No respite, never peace, its need immense.
The staircase kept its secrets, barely,
until it was loved into forgetting.
Rose Mary Boehm
A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm lives and works in Lima, Peru. Author of Tangents, a poetry collection published in the UK in 2010/2011, her work has been widely published in US poetry journals (online and print). She was three times winner of the Goodreads monthly competition, a new poetry collection (From the Ruhr to Somewhere Near Dresden 1939-1949 : A Child’s Journey) has been published by Aldrich Press in May 2016, and a new collection (Peru Blues or Lady Gaga Won’t Be Back) has been published (January 2018) by Kelsay Books.
What You Leave Awaits You
What do you leave at the base of the stairs
too heavy or odious to lift? A full chamber pot?
The stale water from yesterday’s ewer? Or
the nothing that never became anything more?
You trudge to your garret to weather
the long night. Should dawn come, faithful
as any draft horse to duty, you will descend
and once more take your burden up.
Again to the well—the slosh, the murk,
the running clear. You toy with abandonment,
but set the jug carefully down. One never knows
what one will hanker for.
Better something than nothing—
even if what awaits is inanimate.
Devon Balwit teaches in Portland, OR. She has seven chapbooks and three collections out or forthcoming, among them: We are Procession, Seismograph (Nixes Mate Books), Risk Being/Complicated (a collaboration with Canadian artist Lorette C. Luzajic); Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders); and Motes at Play in the Halls of Light (Kelsay Books). Her individual poems can be found in The Cincinnati Review, The Carolina Quarterly, The Aeolian Harp Folio, The Free State Review, Rattle, and more.
Reminders of what’s gone before,
each growing shadow seeks the floor
like echoes of the previous day;
they cling to ceilings, misty-gray,
then sliding downward in the hall
the balustrades soon reach the wall,
continuing, while she’s begun
to start a task that’s never done.
Though weary, she will start the morn
refreshed, because a new day’s born.
Each day begins before it starts
with those who play these lonely parts.
They carry linens to and fro--
the fresh delivered, old ones go--
as dust and cobwebs disappear,
the floors well-swept; the corners clear.
Disarray’s arrayed again,
washbasins filled so all the men
and women can resume their day
refreshed, and soon be on their way.
They wind the clocks so Earth will spin;
clean windows, letting sunshine in
and us peer out—not seeing them,
not noticing each gent or femme
who plays their role to keep us whole--
obscure, although that’s not their goal.
Integrity and inner strength
raise character to fullest length
and we’ll see work comes from their soul
in moments saved by artist’s coal.
Ken Gosse uses simple language, traditional meter, rhyme, whimsy, and humour in much his poetry. First published in The First Literary Review–East, November, 2016, his poems are also in The Offbeat, Pure Slush, Parody, The Ekphrastic Review, and other publications. Raised in the Chicago suburbs, he and his wife have lived in Arizona over twenty years, always with a herd of cats and dogs underfoot.
Mistress of the House
her third trip up the stairs
to his sick bed. The pitcher
of clean water yet to fetch.
Where are his children,
his family to take care of him?
Do they even know
She has yet to make supper
for her other boarders.
White apron now soiled
with his sickness. She
will have to go downstairs
once more to change, then
the kitchen and the heavy pots,
the leg of lamb,
vegetables to be scrubbed
and chucked into the pot.
But he will cry out again
and up the stairs she must go.
She feels like she will go mad
half way up, one hand on the rail
feet aching and sorrow for him
in her soul.
Jackie Langetieg is retired and lives in Verona Wisconsin and secretly wishes it were Verona Italy. She lives with her son and two kitties. She is a regular contributor to the Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar, has published poems in small presses such as Bramble, Verse Wisconsin, Wis. Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, and has published two chapbooks and two collections of poetry. She currently is working on a series of stories for a memoir.
The mind's backstairs
dim and underlit
dusty and neglected
the servant's way
from cellar to attic
in an old house
The maid in her gray dress
no more than a shadow
in the background
carrying coal and trays of food
dusting and polishing
everything that shows
keeping things neat
a hinge in the gate
between daylight and darkness
at the master's door
for secrets only she
will use or keep.
Mary McCarthy has always been a writer though she spent most of her working life as a Registered Nurse. Her work has appeared in many online and print journals, and she has an e-chapbook, Things I Was Told Not to Think About, available as a free download from Praxis Magazine.
She ascends the stairs
To clean, perhaps
To offer a bath.
But first she knocks
Is the lodger within?
Stabilized by unknown
Source of light
The shining ceramic
On the stair below
Brings beauty to the scene
The ewer sits expectant
So much of what we hope for
Seems contained therein.
Carole Mertz, an advance reader of prose and poetry at Mom Egg Review, enjoys 20th C. and contemporary visual arts. (She is a proud sister to two visual artists.) Carole has poems and essays at Arc (online), Eclectica, Indiana Voice Journal, Prairie Light Review, Pyrokinection, Quill & Parchment, Voices on the Wind, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. She resides with her husband in Parma, Ohio.
Your Ewer on the Landing Left...
Your ewer on the landing left
reminds us not that we're bereft
but rather of how often filled
our hearts have been with love instilled
by work to which you humbly bent
as we were blessed by your ascent
to heaven's realm by servitude
you selflessly so long pursued.
From shadowed harp on rising walls
your muted song still heard recalls
the smile of your heroic face
that greeted death with stoic grace
as if so clearly then discerned
to be reward so rightly earned.
Portly Bard: "Old man. Ekphrasis fan."
Just One More Step
One more step. That’s it. One more step...
...and I’ll be rid of all filial obligations.
Took your extra night-nights like an obedient burden--no resistance. But a schedule relies on clockwork. A 2 a.m. voiding of the bladder is necessary for dry dreams--for maintaining what little respect I have left for your still-inhaling husk. So, why couldn’t you wait?
I’m two minutes late and your dignity takes flight--left to strip your bed, and your shivering carcass in the middle of the night. Again. I don’t even mind the fetid laundry, or sponging off what remains of your modest manhood. It’s the broken sleep. The persistent fuzziness--being woken at random hours every evening. My own children barely grown, I am now caretaker to a toddler who once raised me.
One step, Dad. That’s it. I forgot to bring the clean chamber pot up from downstairs.
Just one more step.
Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. His work has been featured in many online and print publications, and has been translated in Vietnamese and Farsi.
When you were a wee lass, the three flights of wooden stairs were nothing. You flew down, impatient to be outside. You scampered two at a time up to tell your mam what you’d seen, what the biddies at the market said.
The stairs, already old when you were young, wore down. The edges were raw and soft splinters rolled off until one day it was refinished, leaving scoops and dents and pockets. They still creak and crack, the inside edge of the second step of the second floor loudest and weakest of all. Always use the far side of the step, to be safe.
By then, your da had long gone, your mam was ill, and you had raised two brothers and three sisters. The youngest brother, married, with children, living with his wife’s parents. Same with your sister Jane. The one closest to your age, Mary, died as a child. Anne, the middle one, lives with you at home with you and your brother Ned, helping care for your mam and taking in laundry and sewing.
Anne had a husband too. Worked in the coal mines. Had carrot orange hair, dark circles under his eyes, spoke with a lisp. A narrow, thin frame. Not thin enough to save him being crushed by minecarts when the engine failed and the brakes failed and four carts raced backward into the depths, coal returning to its source. Killed five men, none of whom had seen their twentieth birthday. The light in Anne’s soul went dark.
Your man, Leonard, was different. A student at the college, son of a barrister, he had no black stains under his nails or in the creases of his hands. In his turned up trousers, fine waistcoat, and navy-blue blazer he would smoke cigarettes and talk of wondrous peoples and places, of Nietzsche and Russell, India and Asia. He filled your head with words and thoughts and images and stories.
Until you told him you were with child. The child, fortunately, never took a breath. A soft, lifeless lump that Leonard never saw, him having been recalled to York by his father. Like your da, you never saw Leonard again, save in your dreams, where he shows you the colours and people of those mysterious places where you will never be.
Your brother Ned has less discord with his lot. His world is uncomplicated, he is easy to please. Twelve hour days in the mine aren’t a strain. He accepts what life gives him, sips a pint with the lads on the way home, smiles when you remove his dust caked trousers and boots in the evening. He’s earned this respect, his place as the primary wage earner for the household.
But he coughs, like any miner who has lived past thirty years.
And though you never spent a day in the mines you have the cough too, or something like it. It is difficult for you to catch your breath. Halfway through each load of laundry you pant shallowly, resting on locked elbows, staring at the soapy washboard, inhaling the steaming lye.
Anne refuses to meet your eye. Even now, she pretends you don’t exist, resentful, having to assume your share of the work. The pick ups and returns and all the carrying of the laundry up and down the stairs she must do alone. Standing over the washbasin is all you can do. Ned is more sympathetic, if only because he understands the future less.
This is the cough that took your mam to bed, that rendered her incapable of washing, of cooking, of caring for her children.
But it’s having its way with you faster. Walking from one room to another is all you can manage. It took years to reduce your mam to a bedridden shell; you are getting there in months. At this rate, join her as an invalid soon you will, then beat her to the finish too, as you did racing her up the stairs as a lass. Old, and worn, chipped, broken and patched, the stairs will live on without you.
Glenn Mori reads and writes prose across as many genres as he can, though he admits to finding some more challenging than others. He is a member of local and online writing groups and is an Editorial Assistant for the online magazine Every Day Fiction, where his fiction was first published. Recently, he was shortlisted for the Federation of BC Writers Literary Award, and Lycan Valley Press Publications will include one of Glenn’s stories in an upcoming anthology. Glenn is still working at transposing his education in music composition into fiction writing.
The body is a handled cup, a depression with a loop, a donut
waking up slut lip shut to topological this/that/want,
sweet tea sweet meat sweet me. The body creates lumpnut
dip, milk for the limpdick skin of ceramic permanence - spade
scrapes shard from earthen comfort. Dilation and curettage change
nothing. Essential mapping morphs dust to dust - even porcelain
crumbles thus. So I-we-you-they, once patterned he/she
in floral cobalt at the rim of some longing gone to whim of cream
in a sea of tea, go the way of rough surf in the death of wind.
One surface bends to form again, spun loving up from what's left
Ferral Willcox is a U.S. born poet currently living in Pokhara, Nepal. Ferral's work can be found in Per Contra, Peacock Journal, concis, Calamaro, and elsewhere. She was a featured performer in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and is a regular contributor to the Plath Poetry Project.
The Old Woman
She slowly climbs the stairs, leaving the pitcher behind,
her arms piled with fresh linens, washed in the wringer, dried
in the sun’s clear gaze, then pressed. They smell like summer
though it is November. She turns up the narrow staircase
to the tiny apartment where her children and grandchildren
sleep during rare visits. It was once a choir balcony---
another apartment matching this across the way, rented out
for additional retirement pay. But this is special, her son’s family
driving from the city for Thanksgiving. The old woman prepares
each bed with hospital corners, bounces a quarter off each before
she is satisfied. Then she covers them with chenille bedspreads,
bleached so white each bed looks like a drifting snowbank.
There are two double beds in the living room and another tucked
away beneath the dormer, a tiny bedroom that also holds
a white dresser. She will go back downstairs to pick up the pitcher,
the one that belonged to her mother, to hold water for
the family, so they can wash in the morning. She loves it so.
And she shares its small beauty with this distant family,
the granddaughters she barely knows, but loves anyway, the pull
of her body aching and tired. It is a lot of work, a lot
of preparation---cooking, cleaning, ironing. But she does
it all without criticism of her alcoholic daughter-in-law,
of the bitter son she no longer easily recognizes. That is the way
they live, and she will make the best of it. Carefully she pats
her twisted bun, pushing tendrils of hair from her face. She will
remove her apron and settle downstairs in her apartment,
dinner cooking in the oven, her knitting calling her attention.
When they arrive at last, she will wake her husband from his nap,
lead the family upstairs, careful that her feet fall on the carpeted runner
protecting the finish of the many steps it takes to climb to the loft.
Virginia Chase Sutton
Virginia Chase Sutton's chapbook, Down River, was published last fall. Her second book, What Brings You to Del Amo, was the winner of the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize, and is being re-issued by Doubleback Books. Embellishments was her first book and Of a Transient Nature was her third. Seven times nominated for the Pushcart Prize, her poems have won the Untermeyer Scholarship in Poetry from Bread Loaf, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, and the National Poet Hunt. Poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poet Lore, Comstock Review, and the Peacock Journal, among many literary publications, journals, and anthologies. She lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband.
What Goes Around Comes Around
You perch on high but
nine steps away.
Look me in the eye.
Make me shiver cold
like water in the ewer.
I taste your silence
screaming through the ether
against the false ceiling
open to the elements.
You beckon me to join
by the lisp of your tongue
step after step
closer to your door
nearer to my death.
Each step my admission
of some heinous crime
against society on earth
each nearer to purgatory
each hotter than fire.
You magnetise my soul,
my heart, my mind
drawing me up closer
with nowhere else to go.
Nothing else matters.
How I long to be the child
free of incumbence
devoid of my trespass
unattached to guilt
unable to condemn.
You grasp me in your vice
as you disappear
off through the ethereal
taking me in my sorrow
of decades long ago.
I cry for those I have missed,
not even seen.
Those who are not born
and those who I took
for vengeance post-pain.
You perch on high but
nine lives away.
Take me in the heart.
Make me shiver cold
coming around too late.
Born in Scotland of Irish lineage, Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse achieving success in poetry competitions in Europe and America. He has featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. His ekphrastic poems have appeared in The Ekphrastic Review and Nine Muses Poetry.
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