Thanks for all the fascinating submissions to the Bongé Challenge.
These biweekly offerings are actually challenges on two fronts: first for the writers, second for the judges.
Choosing from so many intriguing takes on this abstract piece was its own swirling whirlpool of words and images and reflections.
I hope you enjoy reading these selections, and that, like me, you will appreciate the perspective that each writer brings to this work of art.
With best wishes for your continued creativity,
Dusti Bongé Exhibit, Hollis Taggart Gallery, 2022
Bring Dusti back to New York,
sunflowers in one hand,
Biloxi oysters in the other.
Yellow. Orange. Green. Blue.
In the Ab Ex Boys Club of Gorky,
De Kooning, Gottlieb, and Pollock,
a woman wielded her own brush and
palette knife, stretched her own canvas
on beams of Southern pine. Scents of
turpentine and linseed oil seeped
into the waves of her long blonde hair.
It was the 1950s. Paint exploded.
Betty Parsons picked her up,
begged her to stay. Canvas gessoed,
scratched in purple, blooming red,
floating angles, falling water.
Back in Harrison County, rumors flew,
all the details—real and imagined—whispered
loudly at Christ Church the Redeemer
Ladies Club Weekly Potluck Supper.
The men of Biloxi watched her slim arms
plant red lilies across a driveway,
graft camellias, hide narcissus
bulbs deep in the Mississippi soil.
She stirred fiery pots of gumbo,
lifted cast iron skillets of cornbread,
wore white on the hottest days of August,
sipped her Chardonnay with ice crystals.
Today, back in Chelsea, a solo show.
Opening night, a sea of pearls, silver trays,
the flutes of Veuve Clicquot, deconstructed sushi,
Sanskrit tattoos, and violet lipstick.
Suede jackets, Armani pumps, triple-pierced ears,
all the black-stockinged legs stand in awe.
Manhattan bows. The artist smiles. From a grave
in the South, she is still holding her own.
Gabrielle Langley is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Fairy Tale (Sable Books, 2023) and Azaleas on Fire (Sable Books, 2019). With work appearing in a variety of literary journals, she has been awarded the Lorene Pouncey Poetry Award and the Vivian Nellis Memorial Award for Creative Writing. She has been Houston Poetry Fest's Featured Poet, a national ARTlines finalist, and a recipient of three Pushcart Prize nominations. Ms. Langley was also a spearhead and co-editor for the anthology Red Sky: Poetry on the global epidemic of violence against women (Sable Books, 2016). Additional information about this poet is available at http://www.gabriellelangley.com.
America’s top diplomat says “far too many Palestinians have been killed.” 11/10/23 NYT
In a cold and relentless prairie wind,
here in November west of Chicago,
the trees have lost track of their leaves,
swirling down in ocher, red, and gold.
But what’s it like to be a tree, losing
its children, rooting deeply and dark,
praying to withstand even further loss?
Laurence Musgrove is a professor of English at Angelo State University in Central West Texas where he teaches composition, literature, and creative writing from a Buddhist perspective. He is the author of, three volumes of poetry: Local Bird (2015), The Bluebonnet Sutras (2019), and A Stranger’s Heart (2023) all from Lamar University Literary Press.
A Little Man
A little man, a vaguely
in the garden,
beyond the darkly
to the sun,
a simple bird
in the fabulous
a little man,
of his own creation.
Enrico Cumbo was born in Sicily in the last century and emigrated to Canada when 9 years old. He is an historian (Ph.D, University of Toronto, 1996) and has just retired from teaching in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at a school in Toronto. He now has a great deal of time on his hands which he uses for ongoing research (in ethnic studies and historiography), rediscovering family, writing poetry, and generally contemplating the state of the world in this century, an increasing ordeal.
There is Light
A prodigy at eleven years of age, she wondered where all this would lead. She focused on experimenting with a stub of black eyeliner from her mother’s bathroom, deviously hid it inside a shiny red pencil box which sat on the top of an old cedar hewn dresser, within plain view. She horded hours, traced the maze of black stairs swirling ever upward, reaching for the plexiglass window at the very edge of the slanted attic roof where she yearned and struggled to set aside pre-teen angst and fly into the music like Poe’s black raven, feel the sheer joy of release from a dark, dank, blackened hole as it worried within her mind. A violin, her violin, handed down from virtuoso to virtuoso, inside a scarred, dilapidated case that touched, traveled to Bergen-Belsen and came out intact, had heard it all: the continual dirge of lost freedom, lost hope, despair as the bow cried for new life, new beginnings and somehow reunited with her family, her hands, her growing understanding of the pull, the call held within those two white nooses of trailing tomorrows.
Jane Lang’s work has appeared in online publications including Quill and Parchment, the Avocet, Creative Inspirations, The Ekphrastic Review, and published in several anthologies. She has written and given two chap books to family and friends in lieu of Christmas cards. Jane lives in the Pacific Northwest.
I believed suffering real,
if God existed or no god existed,
this did, even if untouched by it,
passing through other patient faces
or the frozen grimace on some.
Nothing had hurt me, nothing,
not even nothing itself could harm.
Why do we look for pain in eyes,
photos of eyes, open in death,
weeping, or blank reflectors of sky
passing, unburdened of any meanings?
Why not use the lanky body, naked,
as the news repeated, naked,
moved face down on the cold floor.
After the harm was done, nothing
helped, nothing recycled the breath,
not even the protocol of massage, rough
on the dying skin, or to open those eyes
where our eyes see only nothing,
except ourselves staring back.
All night digits of twigs
and rigid branches scratched
the old wood of the window frames.
The web they made contained nests
of shadows where a few leaves left
through the winter filled places
where other leaf-shapes failed
this year to come. Do trees
feel like veterans who wake
with nightly pain in phantom limbs,
flexing a tight glove of hurting
around a hand permanently gone,
or a leg's weight pressing nothing
where a foot once stepped,
or once danced or stamped the earth?
I had alone escaped the seven blazes,
the ancient curses we inherit.
The file of razor teeth, the roar
of blood on a predator's jaw --
these had never even nicked my skin.
The lion was caught in a net
lying among lambs, at peace,
with their soft-leather tongues
licking milk like its cubs.
And the dark stone of cursing, falling
on me, tumbling me down to hell
where the seven judges silently wait,
rose, instead, like a buoyant meteor.
The black waters -- flooding the land,
filling lungs -- that flung lifeless
forms in whirlpools to the bottom
retreated when they barely touched me.
Nothing could ever hurt what is nothing.
And then there was you
your damp hand on my neck
as you kissed the top of my head
"You are all right," you said
"Everything will be alright,"
you repeated to me, over and over,
in those few soul-murdering words.
Royal Rhodes, poet and retired educator, studied and taught classical Greek and Roman texts for many years. He resides now in rural Ohio.
Swirling dark chaos,
enclosing in our minds,
A darkening sight,
swirling in states of abyss,
Lisa M. Scuderi-Burkimsher
Lisa M. Scuderi-Burkimsher has been writing since 2010 and has had many micro-flash fiction stories published. In 2018 her book Shorts for the Short Story Enthusiasts, was published, The Importance of Being Short, in 2019 and In A Flash in 2022. She currently resides on Long Island, New York with her husband Richard and dogs Lucy and Breanna.
To Dusti Bongé Regarding Whirlpool
Where freedom and constraint collide
my eye is drawn to depth inside
the static swirl of gifted mind
awash in wonder where I find
that things perhaps still yearn to be
what would have been where now I see
that suction of impulsive brush
has blurred creative plunging rush
to sink tradition into trend
where means themselves become the end
though books — I swear — and manuscripts
still waken wisdom, moving lips
to signal, as they drift apart,
preoccupation proving art.
Prefers to craft with sole intent...
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
Ekphrastic joy comes not from praise
for words but from returning gaze
far more aware of fortune art
becomes to eyes that fathom heart.
There I was:
but not enjoying it,
as rest first requires work.
Brown soggy, leafy weeds,
fragile bleached reed tips
hinted connection to
submerged, drowned, obscured earth.
My foot on the wet rock slipped,
elbow off knee,
chin off hand,
body off smooth, tilted boulder.
I made little splash for all my dread,
sucked into murkiness in silence.
Optimistic feet stretched down to greet the bottom;
body followed in submission,
anticipated the upward spring.
The bottom wasn’t there.
Hands and feet flailed in uncoordinated panic.
Gravity was bested by centripetal force,
current I’d overlooked
from my listless perch.
A gang of smarmy stalks,
rangy and spastic,
the more I fought, the more they
wrapped slimy tendrils
around limbs and trunk.
I thrashed: a fish on a hook,
twisted in twining weeds
until I did not know up from down.
I opened underwater eyes,
glimpsed dim light.
I retracted my extremities,
wrapped arms around knees,
Vines lost their purchase.
The torrent ejected me
for being unwilling to spar.
I bobbed to the surface,
buoyant and still.
Sheila Murphy writes poems to slow down. She is a spiritual director, cancer survivor, retreat leader and adventurer. She is a music director and pub fiddler. She has published poems in Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction and The Ekphrastic Review. Sheila lives in coastal Maine, is married and has two adult offspring. She plays fiddle, guitar and piano.
In The Beginning
It was not only the swirling
whirling of wind and water
that began it all.
Not only the sharp grey slabs
thrown up and dashed around
or rocks coated brown with mud.
No, beneath all of that was fire
the burning heart that flamed
towards the surface
ready for that day
would be burned.
Lynn White lives in north Wales. Her work is influenced by issues of social justice and events, places and people she has known or imagined. She is especially interested in exploring the boundaries of dream, fantasy and reality. She was shortlisted in the Theatre Cloud 'War Poetry for Today' competition and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and a Rhysling Award. Her poetry has appeared in many publications including: Consequence Magazine, Firewords, Vagabond Press, Gyroscope Review and So It Goes Journal. Find Lynn at: https://lynnwhitepoetry.blogspot.com and https://www.facebook.com///www.facebook.com/Lynn-White-Poetry-1603675983213077/
What started as a stiff breeze whipped up all of a sudden. We were walking under the canopy of the autumn trees, green, brown, red, orange leaves flying about us, eddies swirling, tumble twirling in a maelstrom, like a whirlpool, season's icy breath a cool reminder of unease as stormy rain began its spritzing. Shrugging farther into coats we hunkered, the path now rising with tree thickets bunkering as we neared the railway bridge, our footfalls on the natural ridge beside the valley with tracks below. Then we heard the rapid steps approaching, almost tip-tapping, clopping. It made us glance around, nearly stopping, expecting to find a stray dog, a hound of large size coming round that bend within the bridge's walls. To our surprise and also shock it wasn't a canine shape but a large buck, head low otherwise we'd have clocked the rack of antlers. Our eyes locked. The beast had a feverish look, the alarm within them not to be mistook, and it turned, leapt and then was gone. We checked the bridge - empty, none crossing there, but by the corner a gap large enough for a deer? Perhaps. We chose to turn around the way we'd come. Seconds later a large oak tree fell blocking the bridge where we'd have been walking. The leaves flew still and the storm raged on so we fought the storm's whirlpool lashes to get home. And in the calm and warm and dry we asked where the deer had come from and why. We asked ourselves did we believe it - was the magnificent creature really there? Did we really see it? And in the stillness away from the storm, we wondered if it was the forest's spirit charging us down? Was it just there to chase us off, to warn, raise the alarm? Whatever the creature was, real or make-believe, we were very grateful for our reprieve.
Emily Tee writes poetry and flash fiction. She's had recent pieces published in Visual Verse, Blue Heron Review and elsewhere online, and in print in Poetry Scotland and Sunday Mornings at the River's Poetry Diary 2024 anthology. She lives in the UK.
A Song of Survival
Entwined–the vermilion bud, the flower, petalled cream-
blossom through hurricanes, chanting their anthem ‘Matter, We Matter.’
Two’s not just a number. Two’s all they need. Two’s a team.
Entwined–the vermilion bud, the flower, petalled cream-
whirlpool the icy winds. Pungent the thorns. ‘Touch winter’s beam,’
challenge the tangerine storms. The petals shoot, spark, spring, scatter
their scent across squalls’ chatter. Entwined–the vermilion bud, the
flower, petalled cream-
blossom through hurricanes, chanting their anthem ‘Matter, We Matter.’
Preeth Ganapathy is a software engineer turned civil servant from Bengaluru, India. Her recent works have been published in several magazines such as Star 82 Review, Panoply Zine, Visual Verse, Quill & Parchment, Shotglass journal, Sparks of Calliope, Tiger Moth Review, The Sunlight Press, Ink, sweat & Tears and various other journals. Her microchaps A Single Moment and Purple have been published by Origami Poems Project.
Becoming Acquainted with Dusti
As Thanksgiving approaches
on the American side of the boundary
and my country has become a whirlpool of dark foreboding,
slashes of hatred, violence, vengeance and lies,
with fire reds and oranges burning in the background,
I become acquainted with the artist Dusti Bonge
born in deep Mississippi at a time
when dark foreboding whirlpools of hate
and lies was like daily bread, common and ordinary,
perhaps her painting 'Whirlpool' uses
slashes of dark trees and twisting shapes pulling
the viewer toward burning reds and oranges,
as a warning, a way of saying "no", I can't write
of her motives only that becoming acquainted
with an unfamiliar artist such as Dusti
and viewing her remarkable body of work
as the seasons change to an unknown new year
somehow makes life a little easier to accept
and a grace of thanks is a little easier to recite.
Daniel Brown has recently published at age 72 his first collection Family Portraits in Verse and Other Illustrated Poems through Epigraph Books, Rhinebeck, NY. He has most recently been published in Jerry Jazz Musicianand Chronogram Magazine and was included in Arts Mid-Hudson 2023 gallery presentation Poets Respond to Art in Poughkeepsie, NY.
In Whirlpool, by Dusti (Eunice) Bongé,
the white’s so bright it shimmers on the edges
and winds its way out of the black
The two big patches of colour
eclipse the dull background
They float atop stands, or stems
like a showy pair of flowers
in a wrought-iron enclosure.
Clearly the white and red are too much, and need to be held in
by those curved black bars.
Welcome to the 1950s, heyday of abstraction!
While some artists stuck to two dimensions
and others smeared thick paint across the canvas
Dusti valued depth and composition.
Whirlpool is composed, planned,
red and red, black and black, white and white
balanced around a central point.
Such a dance between freedom and restraint!
Above the white paint pooled at the bottom
the black forms a shape like ancient writing.
Depth, control, gold triangles, black bars
The red and white burn on, but nothing escapes the cage
except the meandering line of light, or water,
the bright white blob, like a tiny fish,
and on the bottom right
a little gold explosion.
Karen Kebarle was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and now lives in Ottawa, Ontario. She holds an MA and PhD in English and has taught literature, writing, and English as a second language. One of her favourite jobs was her two years working as an art interpreter at the National Gallery of Canada, where she got to experience works by Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Marcelle Ferron, and other abstract painters.
I have become an abstraction,
more linear than fully formed.
A mere echo of the body
that once contained me. Disruptions
leave me stranded in my mind. Full
of sound, fragments of shadow-thought.
Words fail to cohere. The shift is
subtle, deft, and nearly complete
A resident of New York City, Kerfe Roig enjoys transforming words and images into something new. Follow her explorations on her blogs, https://methodtwomadness.wordpress.com/ (which she does with her friend Nina), and https://kblog.blog/.
Walking into a Burning Forest
Once I whirled in
light roped for cedar scent.
The space between branches
splotched softly as white ash.
The last occurrence was
thirty-eight years ago. I lost
the pathway of ferns
singed when my lover died.
The smell is now ripe orange clove.
My knees are missing.
I want creamed apricot
antenna that touch.
Oh, for joints to knot. If I
could own quartz and tiger’s eye.
John Milkereit resides in Houston, Texas working as a mechanical engineer and has completed a M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop. His work has appeared in various literary journals including The Comstock Review and The Ekphrastic Review. His fourth collection of poems, Lost Sonnets for My Unvaccinated Lover, is forthcoming soon from Kelsay Books.
school confuses him
all squiggly print and swirls
his belly awash
with the swash and churn of learning
he thinks of the spin cycle
of his mother’s machine
or the whirlpool he saw on YouTube
undercurrents dragging him down
in the turmoil of tides
back home his grandmother
sits in the recliner
stirring tepid tea
watching small bubbles
like the froth that fills her head
her words are long gone
rusted in the grind of age
but she silently strokes his hand
the circular motion
Kate Young lives in England and enjoys writing poetry, painting and playing the guitar, ukulele and mandolin. Her poems have appeared in various webzines, magazines, and chapbooks. Her work has also featured in the anthologies Places of Poetry and Write Out Loud. Her pamphlet A Spark in the Darkness has been published by Hedgehog Press and her next pamphlet Beyond the School Gate is due to be published in the next month. Find her on Twitter @Kateyoung12poet.
Wonder of a draining tub,
How we played together,
Me, plunging my fingers into you,
You, dis- and re-appearing like
A magician’s trick. How I have stirred
You into tea/coffee/soup/juice/milk
Anything that mixes–you, the blender’s
Secret, sucking every ingredient towards
Oblivion, the center mess of spinning blades.
How I imagined you in video games:
Transport to another world, the opening
Mouth of an impossible monster,
Entrance to the ship graveyard,
An endgame spell to seek out.
How you have come around and
Around in every stage of life:
You, clockwise/counterclockwise myth
Of the hemispheres’ flushing toilets.
You, vortex of Pirates and Little Mermaids,
You, Yates’s Widening Gyre, You, symbol
Of the spiral curriculum, You, coming back
‘Round again, You, sweeping lines on Bonge’s
Canvas, the top of you, an open eye, the
Bottom of you pointed in like the legs
Of a tomato cage, a black wire
Funnel sifting beige, bending
More like a wooded path
Than an endpoint.
Inverted swirling water cone,
I am caught in your drift, and have been
For years, a penny circling the rim of
The donation jar, ever-descending in
In tighter arcs awaiting that final,
Ian Evans is a writer and teacher with a B.A. in English and an Ed.M. in Secondary English Education and the 2023 recipient of Somerset County Teacher of the Year. He has previously co-created “The Mechanic,” a graphic poem, and his words have appeared on Thanatos Review and The Ekphrastic Review. He lives in Highland Park, New Jersey, with his wife, who is also a writer and teacher.
that let the moon slide
by the walls long rusted--
the night of white shadows
moon spread over you.
That night of fragrance and the earthen lamp
when the incense burned--
the flame crawled into cracked corners
and peace rested on your face.
I kept the flame ablaze,
watched the ashes drop.
In silence, by the writing desk until
the light broke the night--
the night of fragrance and the flame.
Each day the birdsong fills the air,
by now I set the stalks of tuberoses.
Abha Das Sarma
An engineer and management consultant by profession, Abha Das Sarma enjoys writing. Besides having a blog of over 200 poems (http://dassarmafamily.blogspot.com), her poems have appeared in Muddy River Poetry Review, Spillwords, Verse-Virtual, Visual Verse, Sparks of Calliope, Trouvaille Review, Silver Birch Press, Blue Heron Review, here and elsewhere. Having spent her growing up years in small towns of northern India, she currently lives in Bengaluru.
Haunted by rural
in frozen pellets
from last night’s
storm, I am touched
by shadows of shag
and choke cherry
boughs as I search
for the trail’s opening--
beyond the underbrush,
a fog-laden field
is faintly outlined
by silent silhouettes
of towering hundred
foot white pine.
Maybe I’m still
about our time
Dr. Jim Brosnan
A Pushcart nominee, Dr. Jim Brosnan is the author of Nameless Roads (2019) and Driving Long Distance (forthcoming 2024). His poems have appeared in the Aurorean (US), Crossways Literary Magazine (Ireland), Eunoia Review (Singapore), Nine Muses (Wales), Scarlet Leaf Review (Canada), Strand (India), The Madrigal (Ireland), and Voices of the Poppies (United Kingdom). He holds the rank of full professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI.
into her vortex
When his ship
sailed into allegory
between the devil
and the deep
The heinous ones
chose the lesser
of two evils
onto the horns
of his own
Donna-Lee Smith so appreciates what she learns from exploring ekphrastic challenges. For example, she was woefully clueless about Homer’s work spawning so many allegories.
Corps de Fer, 1739:
" A bodice with small iron plates
for badly grown girls."
"By 1944, Kahlo's doctor had recommended
a steel metal corset instead of plaster."
Frida Kahlo, Wiki Biography
" Once there was a machine for breathing.
It would embrace the body and make a kind of love.
And when it was finished, it would rise
like nothing at all above the earth."
"The Iron Lung" Stanley Plumly
The colours of the Fall evening were somber. The brightly coloured leaves --
the deciduous ones -- had been lost in a heavy rainfall. Storm faded
for the promise of the first snow; the wind whispered a silent prayer
for the left-over leaves, now like left-over fabric -- the remnants of fashion
in burnt sienna and yellow ochre with flashes of white and red (blood
and moon) a memory of work stored in a funnel-shaped,
black wrought iron container its bars like a jail, or a door closed
in a dungeon beneath the court of Catherine d'Medici a Queen in a gown
of odd olive gold like fabric that showed through the slated sides
of a black iron cage in the deserted costume room. It had been suggested
(and later disproved) that Catherine was the first to wear a metal corset,
her body like a rigid hour glass; and it's hard to imagine, in the 21st century,
an armourer (or blacksmith) bending over corsets hammer held to shape
"lingerie" heated by fire, not love. Cate paused to read information
on a playbill, an historic adaptation of the Medicis' belief in prophecies;
in the predictions of Nostradamus a political figure in Catherine's Court
where armor and fashion were closely entwined. In medieval French,
the word corset referred to doublets and gowns and body armor. Reading
the playbill, Cate thought of Jean d'Arc wearing a breastplate her spiritual
strength a vision as the morning light made the shining metal a mirror
of the Crusades, Knights and the vagaries of life and death: When Men's
& Women's bodies are crook'd and deformed medieval definition goes on to say,
they wear iron bodies and will endure anything to make them straight again
(Sermon, 1632, clergical author unknown.) On a stage in the Great Hall
of the church, Cate had played Frida Kahlo wearing a white peasant blouse
and the blood-red patterned skirt of a gypsy part of the material pieces
left behind by a costume seamstress like hope for a miracle, Kahlo
living after her body was impaled by a streetcar railing in Mexico City.
For months she lay in a hospital her time occupied by painting flowers
on the heavy plaster body cast that held her, broken and immobile
until the plaster was exchanged for a metal cage to protect the pieces
of her broken spine. Dark-haired Cate -- eyebrows reaching up
like blackbird wings -- had been, she supposed, a "star" playing Frida,
teardrops falling as they had in Kahlo's self-portrait, Broken Column,
her performance motivated by tragedy -- the prediction that Kahlo's
injuries were so great she would die..... But she survived, and the director
had added a songbird in a cage -- an ethereal double -- a way for Kahlo
to move upward -- to fly -- her imagination guided by life-giving dreams
of an alternate world; one like her cousin had dreamed, a reality outside
her body, trapped in an iron lung before Jonas Salk discovered a polio vaccine.
Preparing for her role, Cate thought of the centuries of pain -- like a vortex
individually illustrated with tattered images of history -- time spiraling
downward to a single, simple everyday moment when she stirred her cafe latte,
flecks of foam swirling in a caffeinated cosmos; or pages in a playbook
caught in a maelstrom of words -- a dialogue of life and death -- a whirlpool;
or an artist revealing the spirit fruits of heaven
as Diego Rivera painted watermelons.
Laurie Newendorp writes of Frida Kahlo, a free spirit threatened by serious injury. Dusti Bonge is considered the first Abstract Expressionist in Mississippi. Kahlo appears in Iron Corsets, a poem suggested by Bonge's Whirlpool, because of the seeming rigidity of the black bars restraining the movement of the painting's colour swatches. Linked to crossing time as was Newendorp's poetry thesis, Crossing Time Lines: The Grandfather Journey (1992), Iron Corsets travels from the 16th century Medicis to Kahlo's crippling injury; and to Stanley Plumly's beautiful poem, "The Iron Lung," his impression of what the mind can create when the diseased body is immobile. Laurie Newendorp's book, When Dreams Were Poems, attempts to weave poetry and art with nature and life. Honoured many times by The Ekphrastic Review challenges, she lives in Houston, her writing enriched by ekphrastics as she works on her next book of poems.