Dear Ekphrastic Challengees,
Thank you so much for submitting your Hamlet Shakespeariana pieces to The Ekphrastic Review.
I am ever so content that you have responded to this prompt with such enthusiasm, wit and craftsmanship…it was really a delight to read your words! Thank you!!
This amazing challenge has prompted a heroic compilation indeed, I hope you will enjoy reading it. Congratulations to everyone, hurrah for TER and The Amazing Lorette, and…
Fare ye well!
I may have known him well
but he did not know me
He thought so, but as I hold
his head in hand, I see him
crowned of nothing but laughter,
yes, provided that but none else
and looking on his demise, it’s clear
that our fate of life and love
does not imply understanding, nay
truth spoken in fact knows only death
Julie A. Dickson
Julie A. Dickson writes Ekphrastic as well as other forms of poetry often, from prompts, memories and nature. She advocates for feral cats and captive elephants, spends time with her young grandson crafting in play doh, and reads voraciously.Her work is seen in over 70 publications, including Blue Heron Review, Lothlorien and The Ekphrastic Review. Her full length works are available on Amazon.
The sky was blue, balcony strangely light,
Quite different from bleak Elsinore.
For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings.
A dagger by my side, I wore
Lord Hamlet’s shirt, his promissory ring.
My crown I am but still my griefs are mine.
The skull I balanced, fingers outstretched, fine,
Bore a strange antique script. I looked instead,
Impassive, undisturbed, without a frown,
At kingship’s symbol on the dead man’s head.
Uneasy is the head that wears a crown.
I am alarmed this dream bodes ill for all.
Lightness, attire, skull, calm - fears won’t cease.
Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.
I dread the outcome this vision portends:
Some evil act will lead to cruel revenge,
To bloodshed, madness. What it means for me
I cannot understand but sure I am
Divinity will shape our ends.
Carolyn Thomas is from the Neath Valley in South Wales, UK. After a career of teaching in Further, Higher and Adult Education, she is now enjoying the freedom to write. She has published poetry in Impossible Archetype, The Ekphrastic Review (Luna Challenge), A Pride of Lines (Coin Operated Press), the UK Places of Poetry project and collections published by Sunderland University's Spectral Visions Press.She has reviewed for Stand magazine and her account of life as a gay a woman in the 1970s is published in the Honno Press Collection, Painting the Beauty Queens Orange. She now lives in Tyneside with a misanthropic cat and sports a dragon tattoo.
Alas for Laughs
A lass for Yorick—would she show and tell,
orating of the finite jests she bore
upon her back; the way his fancy’d swell
a thousand times, yet which she would abhor?
His loose-hung lips no orgy would arise;
she’d mock the grin she’d never dare to kiss
yet gamboled him with gibes of laughed surprise,
her gorge restricting entrance to his miss.
Chop-fallen, then, her chamber locked up tight,
no ride upon her back—nor she on him.
Imagination put off one more night,
the paint they both wear fades upon life’s whim.
The lass’s time would also come, they tell,
but long before, it seems she slew him well.
Ken Gosse prefers writing metric, rhymed verse, usually humorous, often with traditional forms. He was first published in First Literary Review–East in November 2016, and since then in online and print anthologies by Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Academy of the Heart and Mind, Pure Slush, The Ekphrastic Review, Home Planet News Online, Spillwords, and others. Raised in the Chicago suburbs, now retired, he and his wife live in Mesa, AZ, usually with rescue dogs and cats underfoot.
Ophelia Unveils it All
-- an alternate reading
Gothick script that inks your skull
gives dreamlike memories to mull.
Did I kiss your fleshy lip
and ride your playful, bouncing hip,
as stoic nobles forced a smile,
while fancy masks disguised their guile?
I quickly learned their courtly art --
how shards of ice had filled each heart.
Within these walls of Elsinore,
they curtsied -- rotten to the core.
A schoolboy, late from Wittenberg --
a place that stumps each dramaturg --
proclaimed: To be or not to be,
but showed no interest in me.
He seemed so jealous of his mother
and how she bed his father's brother.
Hamlet's lover, Laertes
(flirty, yet who feared disease),
used Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
as playthings when they took their turn,
and made the English execute
them, lest their gossip bear some fruit.
And then they tried to tell the town
that, heartsick, fate led me to drown.
But I survived this clueless lot.
Alas, that Avon scribbler's plot
now starred a melancholy prince,
whose monologues should make one wince.
He told me: Seek a nunnery
where wanton girls greet lechery.
But see today: Ophelia rises!
And women claim their rightful prizes.
Male egos pose as history,
but women wove the tapestry.
So Yorick, here beside your grave
we see that Death makes kings its slave.
Royal Rhodes is a retired educator who lives in the farmland of Ohio. His poems and humorous works have appeared in: Snakeskin Poetry, Lighten-Up, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, and elsewhere.
Note to Fernando Vicente
What would they make of your Hamlet?
My students of the millennium, age 17,
sitting in college-prep English.
Most tried to get Shakespeare’s English,
but as one girl said, “Spanish is easier”.
The only foreign language offered.
I referenced the King James Bible, but
even then in rural Bible-belt Missouri
church and Bible reading was falling away.
I supplemented with the decade-old movie,
macho Mel Gibson as Hamlet drowning
the “This is so gay” back-row chorus.
Still every red-neck male sneered
when I emphasized the poetry of lines,
the sensitivities of Hamlet’s deliberations.
They struggled over words and struggle
still over their own children’s choices.
The tattooed neck, the ruffled collar,
The high cheek bones under a blush,
the manicured nails. Their nails wore
lines of grease or were chewed to the quick.
Fernando Vicente, you’ve captured
well that duality I saw in Hamlet, but
dared not dwell on. Did I betray
that student who came out in college
and the boy who later became a senator
passing laws against gender transitioning?
Did I betray the girl who as a doctor
had her clinic shut down? Was I
too cowardly to act?
Yorick’s skull made the play for them.
Girls screamed “Yuck.” Boys cheered.
Thank you for crowning it.
Victoria Garton’s books are Venice Comes Clean (Flying Ketchup Press, 2023), Pout of Tangerine Tango (Finishing Line Press, 2022), and Kisses in the Raw Night (BkMk Press,1989.) The anthology, From K.C., MO to East St. Lou, (Spartan Press, 2022) featured ten of her poems. Recent acceptances are from Cosmic Daffodil, I-70 Review, Proud to Be, Sparks of Calliope, WayWords Literary Journal, The Penwood Review, The Seraphic Review, Thorny Locust, and Vital Minutiae.
Something is Rotten in the State
What use is a golden crown atop a skull? O,
why do we seek power at any cost, so that
our dominions grow, enemies perish? This
lust for control, power, revenge - is it too
predictable, driven by our long histories, too
easy to fall into the old destructive ways, solid
in our faith that we, and only we, are right? Flesh
and bone, tooth and claw, an eye for an eye. Would
we have it any other way? And victory? Foes melt
away, destroyed. Bones ground to dust. No thaw
in our icy will, we must stay strong of purpose and
not be fooled by appearances. The enemy's resolve
never wavers in their desire to hurt and kill, itself
enough to warrant their demise, all of them, sent into
oblivion. We'll stay strong, ignore the laments, wails. A
bloodied toll paid by all, the red mist settling like dew.
[Note: A Golden Shovel poem using the quotation from Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 2:
”O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!”]
Emily Tee writes poetry and flash fiction. She's had recent pieces published in The Ekphrastic Review, Visual Verse, Blue Heron Review and elsewhere online, and in print with Poetry Scotland. Emily is the editor of the new monthly Ekphrastic Challenge Contest by The Wee Sparrow Poetry Press. She lives in the UK.
His crown kind of matches my hair, but I wonder where the bottom of his face is. Not the fleshy meaty bits, I get what happened to them, but the hard bony part. There was a lower jaw once, and teeth, an arc of them. I don’t like the way his uppers rest on my palm. It’s undignified for him, and he wouldn’t approve. I go along with that.
If it were here, the lower jaw, would the mouth be opened or closed? When a skull sits with the mouth closed, complete and on top of a whole skeleton, the grin can look scary and grim.
Let the same skull display with the lower jaw hanging and the mouth wide open, it’s a happy aspect, silly and shouting Howdy at anyone looking in.
This is likely a mouth closed skull if we can ever find the rest of his face. A word like Alas doesn’t match up with Howdy very well. Poor feller.
Carl Damhesel lives in Tucson, Arizona. He is a member of Old Pueblo Playwrights and his plays have been presented as in their annual New Play Festivals, and also in the Tucson Community Players' One Act Play Festival. He has had poems and short works published in The Ekphrastic Review and in joyful! magazine.
Translate the complement, to be
in roundel gloss, fine fingers, frills,
bone china, zygomatic arch,
inked neck sans Adam’s apple lump.
Scene balcony, scape, nimbus cloud,
but jut of jaw, rouge, ginger flow
cannot distract from focus, skull,
or is it crown draws, overcomes?
To fore lies gothic Yorick script -
not centred so we see entire -
alas, our lass must nail the weight
of cranial, so teeth on edge.
The canon roars - survey the field -
with tragicomic histories,
in human makeup lie the flaws,
those doors through which the mighty fall.
In genderbending stagecraft art,
bright entry from the upper left,
from groundlings’ yard to heaven’s roof,
in tiring house, the globe, the world.
This player, smokescreen, Hamlet seen,
an acting man, proscenium,
but what has been for what to be,
war theatre, stage exeunt.
Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), retired to Wales, UK, from ministry in the Methodist Church due to Parkinson’s Disease, has had pieces curated by on-line poetry sites, printed journals and anthologies, including The Ekphrastic Review. His blog is at https://poetrykingsnorth.wordpress.com
Hello poor Yorick
for the first time
You still have your crown
worn often in irony.
What a joke
when you pranced around
the one whose head
wore a different crown.
Both gone now.
Which king was he?
no one remembers.
who’ll be remembered.
Your name is writ
on your boney forehead.
So it’s you
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/
Talisman: tattooed, lucky charm, bone on bone, a string of light, the half of me who knew the ownership of words and immortality long before I could walk or talk. My powers paled. The death of my womb and soul mate left me with no authority, no looking backward nor forward. Shared bone structure did nothing but remind me I was still alive; lean and mean, most suggested. It’s impossible to look into the eyes of what once was. A twin no longer: Me in my tower, forgetting there was horizon or river or the Most High. And though, long ago, I’d arrived minutes earlier, I’d long prayed to be the first to leave.
Patty Joslyn lives in Vermont. She’s fascinated with death and birth as passages into new realms. She has been published in El Calendario de Todos Santos, poetsonline.org, VOYA (Voices of Youth Advocates), Tupelo Press-30/30 Project-March 2015, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and several anthologies. Patty’s book ru mi nate was born in 2017. Patty has never fully recovered from empty nest syndrome or the fact she can no longer do a cartwheel. www.22pearls.blogspot.com & www.22pearls.org
Can You Ever Really Know Someone?
You took me to your favourite play and when I asked why Hamlet?
You said because Ophelia kills herself for the love of a broken man
We swapped stories of death
Your father—my best friend
And I thought those blue bands
Would bind our claws forever
We walked through our backstories
Your mother’s strange remarriage
My home with the blue mountain view
Stumbling over all the things that might have been
We must have laughed sometimes
But I know the very bones of us
Were laid in loss and longings
And always in the wings your hungry ghosts
We must have kissed a thousand times
Yet I never saw the vicious thorns
Trapped beneath your turned up collar
Or the dagger neatly hidden behind your back
All these years later I visit your grave
To try and put to rest the tragedy of us
A kindly gravedigger asks me if I’m okay
I nod and say ‘”You see I knew him once.”
Adele Evershed was born in Wales. Her prose and poetry have been widely published. She has been nominated for the Best of the Net for poetry and the Pushcart Prize for poetry and short fiction. Finishing Line Press published Adele’s first poetry chapbook, Turbulence in Small Places, in July. Her novella-in-flash, Wannabe, was published by Alien Buddha Press in May. Her second poetry collection, The Brink of Silence, is available from Bottlecap Press
To Fernando Vicente Regarding Hamlet Shakespeariana
Here face to face with cusp of fate
young Hamlet well you illustrate
as princely heir to sexton's wit
that hallows truth of hollowed pit
where layers of remains abound
beneath the sacred abbey ground,
forever rotting in their place
to make, for yet another, space
where flesh to water giving way
is soon the dust again of clay
but bone will longer stay intact
to hone for death its artifact
like skull of fool beloved in hand
as weapon Hamlet could command
in "madness" feigned to ably joust
with comic spirit he would roust.
"So even here you entertain...
...where heart I've loved will soon be lain
no longer fearing whether sane
or victim of the inhumane
"whose lust for power blood has wrought
in veins of those who never fought
descended as competing heirs
to realm embattled seized as theirs
"from others who had claimed it too
so long as strength let them subdue
the conquered who became possessed,
and yet obliged to feel as blessed,
"by those so noble who so vain
would murder kin with sheer disdain
convinced that reign indemnifies,
by crown that church solemnifies,
"whatever evil must be done
to see that faith in power's won
despite no basis where decay
will mark damnation's final say.
"Oh, Yorick, still you are the balm
that humours dank and dreaded calm."
Portly Bard: 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.
Questions Before Students Read Hamlet
l. Has a death ever made you feel like that person or animal remained close by for several days? If yes, did you share this with anyone else?
2. Has a dream inspired you to do something unexpected?
3. Have you ever watched a TV show or movie that resonated with what your life is like?
4. Do you know a young man who seems confused? Or worried? A young woman who is in love but sad?
5. Do you know an old person who gives unhelpful advice?
6. Have you done something you didn’t want to do even though it seems like the right thing?
7. Has one of your parents ever disappointed you?
8. Do you have a brother or sister who would protect you when you are in danger?
9. Have you ever found yourself talking to a dead person? Or to the skull of dead person?
10. Do you ever feel the world would be a better place if you did exactly what you feel called to do?
11. Is the world you know at war? Have you experienced chaos?
If you are able to answer yes to more than two of these questions, you will understand the play. If more than two, start talking to a friend.
Tricia Knoll is an aging Vermont poet who taught high school English – including Hamlet–for ten years. Her work appears widely in journals, anthologies, and seven collections. Her newest chapbook The Unknown Daughter is on pre-sale from Finishing Line Press through January 5, 2024 for a March 1 publication. Website: triciaknoll.com
Luminous red head,
exquisite in ruffled white,
holding sacred crown.
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.
you ol' fool
for my second
a daisy chain
Donna-Lee Smith resides in Montreal with Sir Henry, a Norwegian Forest feline of some personality & weight.
The Ghost Inside a Dream
Serie Heroines Literarias, "Hamlet Shakespeariana," Fernando Vincente (Spain) 2022
"Sometimes in the night I feel it
Near as my next breath, and yet untouchable.
Silently the past comes stealing..."
“Ghosts,” Dan Fogelberg (lyrics)
"Ah! Mounte sou le bel Troubaire
(Where is he, the handsome Troubadour?
past master of love?)
Strange Images of Death, Barbara Cleverly
"Send her outside when the room rises..."
film, Woman Walks Ahead
"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him...a fellow
of infinite jest, most excellent fancy."
Hamlet, William Shakespeare
You said my red hair was a talisman of the Sun; and of the earth -- the copper
mined in Falun -- where, beneath our reality (the awfulness of death lay precisely
in the absence of consciousness)* someone had scrawled a picture of a Tree,
a pine in the shape of Christmas decorated with glyphic initials, tattooed
by winter spirits when ice on the canals were frozen in Sweden and Denmark,
a dream in cold and midnight blue. The world seemed perfect when we married --
I wore the rings of Saturn, platinum as the moon. Ophelia drowned in the bathtub
of a Pre-Raphaelite artist, her red hair waved with roses in the water, and I came to life
on a Spanish canvas. We never spoke of my past love, Yorick, the symbols on my arms
made with a dove's beak. And Pierrot's beautiful Columbine (he was her funny clown)
had a name that meant she was his little dove. I wore a blouse in pearl-white satin,
an attempt at purity because my ancestress said red hair meant I was a witch;
she prayed to save me from a proclivity for sexual suggestion. Your lips, soft
as the touch of a paint brush. You did not know, when you were consumed
by your work and did not come to bed I consulted Yorick, whose sweet skull
gave me thoughts, swirling like snow flakes; how we'd shared the message
in a crystal ball, the past and future like the moment when you felt the emptiness
of space where once my warmth had filled your arms. I laugh out loud sometimes,
a victim of your timeless charms.
Laurie Newendorp's love of literature led to a semester with Shakespeare's language and his unforgettable characters Shakespeare is timeless and so Fernando Vincente is influenced by his work in the 21st century in his series Heroines Literarias. Some of the canvases are more visceral, as Lady Macbeth, her clasped hands covered with blood; but in Hamlet Shakespeariana, there is an intimation of purity, Ophelia in white, drowned as a virgin in a royal suicide. Vincente "modernizes" his Shakespeariana by giving Ophelia (and Yorick's skull) tattoos, her copper-red hair flaming above flowers tattooed on her throat as if Shakespeare is both her voice and Vincente's art. Laurie Newendorp's book, When Dreams Were Poems, focuses on the relationships between poetry, life and art. She has been honoured many times in the ekphrastic challenge and continues to embrace art as a muse.
I knew someone with the same name,
I said as the museum attendant handed
me the skull from the Elizabethan display.
I recalled Yorick as an elderly cashier
at Burger King where my mother
and I went for lunch once a week
when I was in preschool. On every
visit he would place a colourful
paper crown on my head before
I left the front counter. Staring
at the skull, I paused and wondered
years later what happened to him.
I hoped he hadn’t spent his entire life
preparing flame-grilled Whoppers.
He told me many times I was cute.
If he could only see the mature
version of that little redhead now--
a pale face powdered with makeup,
white ruffled blouse accented
by a bead necklace, the black
and white tattoo on my neck,
haunting blue eyes staring
into sunken sockets
wondering if he would even
remember that four-year old
as I stand near a museum window
totally oblivious to gathering cloud
formations hovering over distant hills.
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), CrosswaysLiterary 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.
To Be, or Not to Be
I turn the crumbled earth,
a golden crown,
skull marked in ink,
delicately held remains
of the dead. I watch
as daybreak announces
fate's farflung cry,
Elanur Eroglu Williams
Elanur Eroglu Williams teaches reading and writing at an Adult Learning Center in the Bronx. In addition to her work as a GED Teacher, she is a writing tutor for elementary school students. She lives and writes in New York City with her husband and her dog, Luna.
Stay here, stay close, but pray stay you away
from those who would remove you from my sight--
speak softly to me, lest your speech betray
the anguish that is burning through my heart.
If you don’t love me, don’t tell me—tell me
a story instead—help me to hold on
to life—tell me secrets in poetry--
hide your apathy, seduce me with song.
Once we have threaded the needle, what then?
entanglements are inevitable--
deceptions, distrust, interrogation--
each subplot possible, impossible.
It matters not who committed the crime--
We stand here ensembled—cast out of time.
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),
Listen Well, Listen All, of My Tale to Caution All
You see her from afar:
sun glinting in her auburn hair,
fair skin glowing in the light,
the red of her lips and the blush on her cheeks.
She looks feminine except
for the slanted, curved sheath
and handle of a sword
secure at her hip,
and a dagger hidden within the folds
of her white linen shirt.
She has your heart as soon
as her cerulean blue eyes
Turn to stare at you.
Within days, you’re married,
no doubt in your mind.
You don’t know each other,
but you make the time
to learn about the other.
You find common interests,
and you learn things that were hidden.
She finds herself with you
by her side, where she no longer
has to be someone
that she despises.
She wears breeches, tunics,
her hair short as her golden jewelry
glints on her fingers and ears
with an added pearl necklace
the only thing that declares:
“I’m a woman and the Queen,
don't mess with me.”
You rule the kingdom
in fairness and love.
Not a soul complains
of a starving home,
or a suffering family
for all are cared for,
and are known,
to the rulers of their land.
Your people are happy,
celebrating life and liberty.
But then one day
it all changes.
It all falls apart from one
Visitors come and look upon
this lovely land in wonder.
One particular set of eyes
catches your attention,
and just like that,
it is all over.
Your Queen looked at you with love.
She gave her all to you,
body, mind, and soul.
But when you cheated,
she took inspiration:
“Off with your head,
Crown and all!”
You’re no longer King of York,
but a Dork jester:
from the kingdom
you reigned over
Katie Davey is an aspiring author from the rural parts of House Springs, MO. Her first published piece was for The Ekphrasitc Review’s Richard Challenge, titled Hidden Prophecies. She has worked on Harbinger Magazine as a staff intern and is a member of Stephens College’s chapter of Sigma Tau Delta. She will earn her BFA in Creative Writing, with minors in Equestrian Studies and Psychology, at Stephens College in May 2024.
Framed in a Renaissance style vignette,
Like Mary and Gabriel, an Ionic column to the left,
A brilliant blue sky with cumulous clouds in the center,
And the ever-present mysterious city on a hill
To the right, we find our modern lady
And the person who commands her attention.
She has done so much to decorate herself--
The hair dyed red, eyebrows plucked,
Blush, carefully brushed up her cheekbone.
We only see half of her in this silhouette,
But two rings circle her wedding finger,
Her nails are long and manicured,
Her left ear pierced with another ring,
And the right ear also, probably.
On the side of her long neck, a large tattoo
Of two familiar bunches of flowers
Takes up all the space.
She is bony and thin, anorexic perhaps,
Her hair, tucked down the back of her ruffled
White blouse, and of course the hilt of a sword
At her side and a skull in her hand.
After all, she is Hamlet, with her puffy sleeves
Tied at the wrist in bows.
And on the skull, with a gold crown, somehow still attached,
Or perhaps posthumously added, are the letters
“Yor,” for Yorick, in case we hadn’t noticed,
Since the artist only shows us half of her,
And half of poor dear Yorick’s dead head.
Underneath this painterly facade,
Is she more interesting than Shakespeare’s anxious prince?
Does she share his regret, his seething anger, his hopeless despair?
Can she speak his wistful words?
Maybe we need to listen, watch and
Even read the play.
Rose Anna Higashi
Rose Anna Higashi is a retired professor of British Literature, Shakespeare, Japanese Literature and Poetry. Recently her poems have appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, Poets Online, The Avocet, The Agape Review, Americamedia.org, and Integrated Catholic Life. With her niece, Kathleen Pedulla, she is the co-author of thewebsite myteaplanner.com, which also publishes her monthly blog, Tea and Travels. Many of her haiku and lyric poems appear in these publications. Rose Anna lives in Honolulu with her husband of sixty years, Wayne Higashi.
I could tell by her face she was
a thinker, the type who sees
beneath the layers, my skin, my skull
on show, my own teeth grinning
at my patent status as a fool.
I knew I'd remember her,
even after death: her shining
copper hair, gorgeous as autumn,
her ice blue eyes eager as a
Danish winter. She’d laugh at
my jokes, and I'm proud of that -
men are made immortal by less.
She was buoyed by my smile,
and I cherish that too. The best
I can hope is that she'll
think of me, perhaps in a dream:
my face in her hands contemplating
eyes that always saw the funny
side, and remember the wisdom
only foolery can teach.
Paul McDonald taught at the University of Wolverhampton for twenty five years, before taking early retirement in 2019. He is the author of 20 books to date, which includes fiction, poetry and scholarship. His most recent poetry collection is 60 Poems (Greenwich Exchange Press, 2023).
Paul McDonald Amazon Author Page
If I could speak to you again, I would hold
your royal head before me and tell you this
If I had known you would arrive, back then,
when I was withering away, shriveling from
neglect and despair—if I had known, would I
still have stood in line at McDonald’s, listening
to the Beatles sing “Will you still love me
when I’m 64?” Would I have turned
to my husband, who had one foot
out the door, with that question lingering
in my ear and his eyes answering, “No”?
If I had known it was you in that dream,
jumping up and down on the bed
like a five-year-old. You who would quote
Shakespeare and walk me back into possibility.
If I had known in that fast-food joint
that I was near where the double-decker
of happiness was about to pass,
I would have let go of that man
who looked at me with dead-
fish eyes. I would have run sooner
toward that magic bus stop singing
“I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Sandi Stromberg’s full-length collection Frogs Don't Sing Red (Kelsay Books, April 2023) includes several works nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She is an editor at The Ekphrastic Review, edited Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston (Mutabilis Press, 2015) and co-edited Echoes of the Cordillera (Museum of the Big Bend, 2018), an anthology of ekphrastic poems in conversation with the photography of Jim Bones. Her poems have appeared recently in Panoply (new Pushcart Prize nominee), San Pedro River Review, The Ekphrastic Review, The Orchards Poetry Journal, and MockingHeart Review. Translations of her poetry into Dutch can be found at Brabant Cultureel and on the website of Dutch poet, Albert Hagenaars.
Not to Be
Wrong time, wrong place, wrong man.
Power is the clash of swords
Dawn attacks over the ice
Nights on the bare mountain
Carousing of wine, bawdy laughter
Using, abusing of women
World of physical challenge
Thoughts, ideas, philosophies
Doors to the female psyche
Death a feasible proposition
that lies beyond the battle?
No decisions can be made
Before they are outdated
Out of joint, at war
with his moment
Sarah Das Gupta
Sarah Das Gupta is a retired teacher from near Cambridge, UK who has also taught in India and Tanzania. Her work has been published in many magazines/anthologies from over 12 countries, including: US, UK, Australia, Canada, India, Germany, Croatia and Romania.
I Can’t Feel My Face When I’m With You*
because the map of your skin unfolds
and resists refolding
because the map of your skin strikes matches
against my decorated skull
because the map of your skin is visible only
in certain light (candle)
because the map of your skin is outlined
in black ink, still decipherable under water
because the map of your skin is smooth to the touch, tip, tongue,
this loose goose chase you lead me on
because the map of your skin sends me
sureño again and again
in search of stolen minutes,
miles, smiles I would voluntarily drown in
if drowning is the punishment for such
witchery, I’ll take it
because look, my love, how perfectly we fit together
*Title from Can’t Feel My Face, written by Max Martin,
Peter Svensson, Ali Payami, Savan Kotecha and the Weeknd
Crystal Karlberg is a Library Assistant at her local public library and a speaker for Greater Boston PFLAG.
If his arrogance wasn’t so off-putting, if she hadn’t resented him for the years of denigration, wordlessly bottling up negative emotions emerging in their marriage, unsure if Indifference would have saved them; hadn’t he made her feel like a shattered porcelain doll with every snide remark delivered in a condescending voice, putting up with his belittlement for as long as she could remember; hadn’t she lost the gist for her artistic expression after his narcissistic Self hijacked her grand opening last month, knowing full well how much it meant to her career, peer recognition, blaming it all on her insecure nature once confronted; ohh… and that sarcastic look in his eyes melting her into a puddle of self-doubts, shattering her spirits to smithereens because that was his power over her; she wouldn’t have allowed herself to lose control under the thousands of shimmering lights in the gloaming of her bare spring garden as the skies wept for her, but what’s done is erstwhile and silencing him was the only way to tip the balance of power.
A glance through the bedroom window at the exploding beds of asphodel and white lilies, a tiny sting of remorse vanishing at the speed of light, the memory of last spring expunged with the pure willpower of constraint before it took root.
Andrea Damic, born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, lives and works in Sydney, Australia. She’s an amateur photographer and author of prose and poetry. She thinks there is something cathartic about seeing your words and art out in the world. Her literary art appears in The Ekphrastic Review, Sky Island Journal, The Dribble Drabble Review, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. She spends many an hour fiddling around with her website https://damicandrea.wordpress.com/.
With Sappho's Blessing
I had her paint on your skull
like she would with a needle.
Bearing your last name -
which should’ve been mine.
You’re my one thing from home
he said I could bring.
There is nowhere I’d go
where you would not come.
This crown on my head
should be on yours.
We could be the first.
Queens together. No king.
But I’m sorry, so sorry,
this must be my fault.
If I could’ve been normal -
we would be together.
Now he has taken me
to rule in his kingdom.
He’s fine, he’s knightly.
But he’s not you.
My beloved, I need you.
I’ll miss you forever.
My everything, darling.
The queen to my queen.
Maeson Roucoulet (they/them) currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and is originally from Connecticut. They've been writing poetry since around the fourth grade, and were published in The Ram Page and The Ekphrastic Review. Maeson is now interested in creative writing, literature, and music.
Where be Your Jibes Now?
From Hamlet, By William Shakespeare
I gaze into the sockets of your eyes,
See mischief there, embedded in your skull,
As if pale bone and shadow could disguise
The memory of jest, before the days were dull.
And now my one true love Ophelia
Has slipped beneath the lake, her golden hair
threaded into the silky weeds, skin a
ghostly shade of moonshine cast in prayer.
Yorick, is it fair to seek revenge?
I miss the rhythmic skip of childhood,
Your smiling face and mine a mirrored lens
But nothing breathes where once you stood.
We all return our bones to soil and earth,
We are but spectres, we have no worth.
Kate Young lives in England and enjoys writing poetry, painting and playing the guitar and ukulele. 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.
You made us howl,
primed our pumps with spurts of laughter
that - at last - exploded in geyser guffaws,
soaked with tears.
Your last line echoed inside,
erupting in spastic dribbling giggles
long after your schtick was done.
As a child, I assumed
you fed us funny fluff.
Later, I noticed
glinting diamonds in the mix,
brilliance for the brave,
razor edges making their mark.
You mocked everything,
even the King, to his face.
You grabbed your manhood
to proclaim my father as
ever-protective of the Crown Jewels.
Reckless, foolish, suicidal.
Beneath your eternal grin,
you still mean it.
Life is brief;
Choose with the end in mind.
What constitutes an adequate choice?
One in which you die trying
and never miss the Joke.
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.
A Reflection Of Dignity
“While if not in jest; we speak of life.”
One should easily be able to distinguish the premises-
What is Good and what is Right. My death…
Of past lives lived-on to recount new visions.
This skewed view of progress-watched.
Having grown old enough to see-
Bones that rejoice!
and the air !
I had loved.
Michael W Piercy
"At the intersection of Art, Poetry and Contradiction you will find my work, you will find me. Taking on memories and the present moment. Thinking- with an eye that shadows the natural world. Philosophy, Theology and Science are at the core of my writing. I have found that I am a synthesizer-managing ideas which to not always cohere. Trying to manipulate- Ideas." Michael W. Piercy
the diary pages,
fossilized last spoken
now I want no more-
the hollows of time
soaked in cries,
I hold an evening
is coloring the sky,
dusty gold mounting
in steppe meadows-
in my hand I hold.
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.
Heavy is the golden crown -
its cold pushing from top down
until history’s contender,
once mouthful with pride,
is reduced to clenched teeth
fitting even into a girl’s palm –
Zen flesh, Zen bones –
fixed gaze taming the ghost
caved into the bony orbits,
while her other hand
gracefully guides her intent
to pat the being that is not.
What fancy drives this curiosity?
To touch or not to touch the un-being?
That is the moment of Vicente’s screening
into the trial of a Zen flesh to extract
from a Zen bone the meaning.
To be or not to be?
Was Hamlet right or wrong to pose
that brief and fateful polar question
that bites the mankind’s lips ever since
he aired it on that eventful Shakespearean page –
as if on the heavenly stage. To be or not to be?
Was he asking the earth or the heaven?
This is uncertain, so, as each forfeits the other,
Hamlet stood between these two contrary judges,
who live in balanced tension for all ages,
while he - pained, alone, to crown sworn,
mind on earth, heart in heaven,
took the enemy’s blade
while his hand dropped his sword
into the heart of his unrequited question.
Now she tries to draw the answer
from the teeth clenching it -
maybe or maybe not -
her pat may un-bite that tight knot,
but until then while looking straight
into his un-being eyes as in a trance
she tells him her answer:
thinking outside the box,
be it golden crown or carton hoax,
and being not prince Hamlet
but from any hamlet on the planet
freely flying my orange banner of a hair,
over my white romantic frills,
covering my heart’s beats,
above my eyes’ inquisitive trills,
seems a sufficiently noble reason for being
and never put anything squeezing
over my head, save heaven –
a crown for each and all,
auspicious for the mind’s orbital descend
to the voiceless sound of Hamlet’s answer
as written in the stars and these Zen bones.
Ekaterina Dukas, MA in linguistics and culture has studied and taught at Universities of Sofia, Delhi and London and authored a book on Mediaeval art for The British Library. She writes poetry as a pilgrimage to the meaning and her poems feature on often on The Ekphrastic Review, among others. Her poetry collection Ekphrasticon is published by Europe Edizioni, 2021.
On a different balcony,
Or on a different page,
The fool’s skull wears the king’s crown,
And Ophelia lives
To have an existential crisis of her own.
Hamlet had hated the neck tattoo,
It (nearly) drove him mad.
“But you know how I love flowers, love,” she said,
But he didn’t seem to hear.
“Alas, poor Yorick,” she said to the skull,
“You poor memento mori, you prop,
Nothing more than what you stand for now, not what you really were.
You were a man of infinite jest, but no one is laughing now.
Only a man would harp on the inevitability of death
Instead of remembering the possibilities of life.
Life is only futile to those who fail to truly live.
Sure, Alex the Great is naught but dust now,
But damn did his life seem fun.
Pillage and plunder and all.”
Ophelia put down Yorick’s skull, tucked her long hair into her shirt to create the illusion of manhood, and felt the hilt of her sword at her side. A voice called her name from off stage.
“I do not know, my lord, what I should think,” she answered, gripping the sword and smiling. “Though I have a few ideas.”
Maggi McGettigan is a writer and literature lover living in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Her work has most recently been published in the beautiful Creatopia magazine, Capsule Stories, and The Stonecrop Review, and can be found at maggimcgettigan.com.
Alas, Poor Yorick, You Knew Me too Well
You, the Fool, most often recognized
as the smartest man at court, but only
to those with sharp minds themselves –
you remain masked by buffoonery, me
by beauty, both locked into our accepted
Such a shame! Two star-crossed lovers
who could have had it all, but for your silly
obsession with virtue. That second night
after my arrival, you s o m e r s a u l t e d
across the banquet hall, a rose between your lips,
as you bowed and presented it to me.
Milady, the rumors are true!
But your niece Ophelia is a pale version
of you. What remarkable beauty for a woman
of 517 years! A cacophony of laughter eclipsed
the band of musicians. I laughed, too.
My dear Yore? Yock? Yammer? Pray you,
forgive my forgetting your name.
You are so kind and generous in your praise
for a woman of 666 winters.
Laughter exploded again as our eyes locked
on each other, recognizing the truth. We
could neither one be trusted to keep
the other’s secrets.
You would lie dead within the week.
Death upon death, madness upon
madness followed according to plan.
Yet, all these years later, you remain
my only regret.
Alarie Tennille graduated from the first coed class at the University of Virginia, where she picked up her B.A. in English, Phi Beta Kappa key, and black belt in Feminism. Retired now, Alarie delights in having more time to read, write poetry, and hang out at The Ekphrastic Review. Alarie was thrilled to win Lorette C. Luzajic’s first Editor’s Pick for the Ekphrastic Fantastic Award and to have her latest book, Three A.M. at the Museum, named Director’s Choice at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in 2022. alariepoet.com
Reality Mends Cowards
I ate some food today. I don’t remember
what I ate. Just that I wasn’t hungry.
What terrifies me more than grief and fear?
It’s apathy. Indifference. I think.
The numbness spreads and suddenly I have
another tattoo. Still can’t feel the grief.
They know not getting out of bed is a sign.
The only thing that makes me eat is habit.
All everlasting kingdoms fall to dust
and here old Yorick stands, a mockery.
I don’t think people understand all this.
If they understood, maybe they’d offer help.
All power stripped away and nought remains.
I smiled for the first time in a year.
It felt unsettling, like the wrong size shoe.
Is depression made only for princes?
Maureen Martin is an aspiring writer from Ohio. Her passions include Shakespeare, literature and film criticism, overindulging in herbal teas, and working as an underpaid English and Theatre teacher. She has acted, directed and written her way through her undergraduate years, which are now safely behind her. She is a published poet, with several pieces appearing online at the The Ekphrastic Review.
Your Dagger Look
murderess. Here we are,
some time since my pooled blood
washed-up in the lure of this blind-white-white,
and all the blues
have cooled, less royal dark
than I recall. They no longer arrow,
but bend lithe over the curve of your iced
lyse-blue eye, onto classy cuff-ruffles, silken
but stiff enough
to hold in the tonnage
of leaden deeds. Here now, touching dabs
of child-green accenting, clean, clean. And a grey-
tinged green veins along through, like a sequined spider’s
micro-snipped web, within
your sprawling neck tattoo, then wisps
up into the reign of (oh-wow-it’s-grown)
an ever-sharpening—nearly a jab of rosy cheekbone.
You must to be sure, again, I am still tangibly dead.
(my yellow-gold skull
un-convincing) And so,
can only threaten you from afar.
But the dead have little to say on matters
of state. You must keep piercing me however
long it takes
to sever a word
or stab one clear out,
clueless to what the rest of us access first:
the little the dead have left to give, poor we are
in words. We’re numbers
of globed worlds away from
where this is. And you won’t reflect on
how like us you really are, as your framed
word-pearls empty-out officially at the end of every day, tip
elegant, back to the base
of your taut neck, too rigid to ever
betray—but in the flattened press of dirty red hair
blunt cut just yesterday, there it is, a redder red-trickle
along your severe midline part. You cannot see it very well
in the million mirrors
turning to follow you. Your brutal
cold eyes pin you apart from a critical view.
I hope to always be starting over as a poet, satisfaction a good stretch ahead,
blind-illumina colours in most directions as I slowly go.
Yorick of Mine
Alas, Yorick, lover of mine,
I stole your life,
As you stole my heart.
You loved Ophelia best,
My poor sister,
Not of blood, but of my soul.
You, my silent king,
I still watch you closely,
Searching for your fancy.
Corrie Pappas is a small business owner living outside Boston. Her work has appeared in The Ekphrastic Review and she is the author of the children’s book, Come Along and Dream.
Yorick, you are beautiful in death
I rubbed your skull with soft cloths until it shone
And wrote your name in black letters on the front
So no-one would mistake the skull for mine.
On your head, I placed a golden crown
To remember that this is how all mortals end
Kings, and the sons of kings, and the kings’ fair daughters
My books, my spotless linen shirt
My lustrous hair, of which I am so vain
Will turn to dust, will crumble into earth.
As an aside, what gives, Señor Vicente?
At least, unlike my sisters, I have clothes
Still, I’m in some kind of pre-Raphaelite freak show
My neck’s too long, my hands, impossible
A hundred years from now, when gravediggers find my bones
Beneath crumbling stone, the letters worn away
They will call me Spider
because of my long, long hands.
Karen Kebarle was born in Edmonton, Alberta, but has lived in Ottawa, Ontario for the last 27 years. She holds an MA and PhD in English and has always had a soft spot for Shakespeare. She has taught grade school, college, and university, and now teaches English as a Second Language to public servants in the Government of Canada. One of her favourite jobs was her two years working as an art interpreter at the National Gallery of Canada.