What a surprise to find this painting one of our most popular challenges so far! It struck a cord with so many of you and we received so many fascinating responses. Thank you as always, to everyone who participated, whether or not your work was chosen this week. These challenges are such a wonderful way to engage with art, experiencing it together with others from around the world.
Enjoy this selection of perspectives and talents.
The Ekphrastic Review
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
Hélène, like her mother before her, was ‘in service’ to the lord of the manor; at least she had somewhere to live. The mice kept her awake at night, creaking wooden stairs to her chamber in the middle of the night kept her alert, but they always stopped halfway and descended again. They’d be the monster. Only 14, kitchen maid to the formidable cook, Madame Puissant. One late night the steps didn’t stop.
Her son was born in the hospice de pauvres, the poorhouse. She called him Émile. By the time Émile was four, they travelled with the saltimbanques. The clown had found her when she was begging at the street corner. Her beauty had startled him.
The clown was in love. Hélène was grateful. Émile died of consumption before his fifth birthday.
A beautiful thought
Rose Mary Boehm
Rose Mary Boehm is a German-born British national living and writing in Lima, Peru, and author of two novels as well as six poetry collections. Her poetry has been published widely in mostly US poetry reviews (online and print). She was twice nominated for a Pushcart. DO OCEANS HAVE UNDERWATER BORDERS? (Kelsay Books July 2022) and WHISTLING IN THE DARK (Taj Mahal Publishing House July 2022), are both available on Amazon. Her seventh collection, SAUDADE, will be published by Kelsay early 2023. https://www.rose-mary-boehm-poet.com/
write it. the midgets, ventriloquists. write, a sad clown, acrobats, the jugglers. under the big tent the ringmaster. the clapping, the cheering. in narrative painting. oil on canvas. the middle of a muddy field odour of sawdust and straw. write, an accident in the papers. they heard it, the calliope playing. chimes, bells, a band organ. write, carousel uplit by violet-blue. tinsel glitter and spangle. the cracking of a whip. chimpanzee with leash around its neck. the blindfolded pony trotting in circles. animals refused to perform. steel railroad tracks, dirt roads. added grey taupe to the river. family of acrobats whose child died after a fall.
Ilona Martonfi is a mother, an activist, an educator, literary curator, poet and an editor. Born in Budapest, Hungary, she has also lived in Austria and Germany. Martonfi writes in seven chapbooks, journals across North America and abroad. Curator of the Argo Bookshop Reading Series. Recipient of the Quebec Writers’ Federation 2010 Community Award. Martonfi lives in Montreal, Canada. The Tempest, Inanna Publications, Spring 2022, is her fifth poetry book.
A balanced art composed to bring
diagonals of blue, soak red,
reflecting acrobatic swing -
but shed composure, fallen, bled.
Sneer ace of spades in circus grin
joins daylight owl awaiting death,
hug leotard, pale second skin
save flush of loins, last bandaged breath.
So close to wight, this white of son,
thin border in this fairground haunt,
witch, cartomante, bohemian,
pietà boy at heart, now taunts.
Juggle the trumpet, tambourine.
last trump to greet with joys or fears,
performance dogs claw, paw with whine,
site sheer flesh costumes, drapes in tears.
Reading their runes, here parents fail,
with tricks of trade done, plain wall-slung,
exquisite laid by wailing veil,
What cost, the moneymaking young?
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 published by on-line poetry sites, printed journals and anthologies, including The Ekphrastic Review. His blog is at https://poetrykingsnorth.wordpress.com/
No Children Dying First
Dog, owl, another dog,
mother, father, onlookers,
decaying wall without a ball,
parched air without any hair,
flying cockroaches with stinging broaches
and blood and tears, all frozen
like hope and fear in loved one's breaths, eyelids
just before a doctor confirms life or death.
And the devil himself hiding in the nails
of the hands of the clock that no one saw
or cared for much, as such
is the destiny, not harmony of the poor folks’ workday that could not keep at bay the passing of their young boy seemingly an animated toy to earn a few more pence, for the future of that tense and the instruments laying nearby transforming into silence now, giving a final bow to the tarot cards semi circled in tow stealing, sealing their fun noting that realism can’t always be twisted into surrealism at the whims and fancies of the gilded age leading Muckrakers, old and neo, to cry hoarse to sign an infinite covenant with God
that regardless of greediness, prankishness, unrighteousness, snobbishness,
hopelessness of humans, or time, no one should have their children dying first
by any devil himself hiding in the nails
of the hands of the clock that no one saw
or cared for much, as such.
*Muckrakers: Those involved in exposing the ills of capitalism and big business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the US.
Anita Nahal is an Indian-American poet, flash fictionist, children’s writer and columnist. Anita has several books of poetry, one of flash fictions, four for children and three edited anthologies to her credit. Her recent books of poetry include What’s wrong with us Kali women, and Kisses at the espresso bar, by Kelsay Books. Two of her books are prescribed in a course on multiculturalism and immigration at the University of the Utrecht, The Netherlands. Anita teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. Anita is the daughter of Sahitya Akademi award winning Indian novelist, Chaman Nahal and educationist, Sudarshna Nahal. Anita resides in the US with her son, daughter in law and golden doodle. More on her at: https://anitanahal.wixsite.com/anitanahal
Lament for a Child Acrobat
I know now how the Madonna wept.
Alone as the barn owl,
The scratch of the dog is ignored.
Nothing left of me
When death nabs the one
Once tethered to my body.
I weep as I embrace
The lost trace of my son
Whose mortality stole
The star from my soul.
You say, he did not speak,
But you saw the dance he jigged
In the atmosphere of being.
His winged feet flew to the trapeze
His beat did not cease
In the clamor of the tent,
But carried the din of
Elephant and trumpet howls
Into his core to move the crowd.
You, Diablo—my shadow--
Flamed in evil,
Background voice, extinguisher of sanity.
Father, you say.
What father would take away
A mother’s son?
I question my religion.
Is that what He wanted from his plan
To save the sinful, abandon the innocent?
I should have won our argument.
To set our son in the window niche
For Nuns of Florence to find him,
In the foundling wheel for salvation.
My Trovatello, the bell rings for you--
Not to unlatch the infant hatch,
But to welcome you, D’Angelo,
As my arms pass you,
To spin through the firmament
Into gloved hands of the Ring Master.
Cynthia Dorfman practices ekphrastic writing as a frequent participant in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery writing program. She has been a writer, editor, publications manager, and communications director in the public and private sectors. Her most recent work appears in Red Ogre Review. She lives in Maryland in the winter and in Wisconsin in the summer.
“I know my sweet”
she crooned, holding me,
“it is our life, reading cards
juggling, training the dogs”
Nothing consoled me.
It was no jest for father
dressed as fool, me a freak
child, and today I fell -
the court laughed as if
part of the act, but our lot
has no home, never enough
gold to make a life away
from performing, animals
are better off, at least fed
and loved by us, we are
just fool entertainers
Julie A. Dickson
Julie A. Dickson has been a poet for over 50 years, published in many journals including Open Door, Misfit, Blue Heron Review and Ekphrastic Review. Her full length works are available on Amazon. Dickson holds a BPS in Behavioral Science, shares her home with two rescued feral cats and advocates for captive elephants. She has served on two poetry boards, been a guest editor for three journals and is an avid reader.
With Each Step
Encouraging words turn into pressure,
My father's voice is all that I gather.
He yells and shouts,
nothing seems up to his standard -
But the sound of the crowd’s laughter,
That’s all that matters.
I want to sleep yet I stay busy.
Each task is harder than the last,
My vision becomes so blurry,
That I cannot see my own two hands.
I dance and perform at my father’s wishes,
For a crowd of eyes, they’re all witnesses.
With each step I take, I go higher and higher,
Til I am at the very top, the top of the ladder.
A thin, silver line is all that I focus,
As blue and red lights flourish me from a distance.
My feet leave the platform,
slowly one after another,
My father will be pleased,
The crowd is full of rapture.
I walk in light joy, a bit of worry -
For the ground beneath me - becomes a bit blurry.
The cheering gets louder -
A boulder in my head,
It tips me back and forth -
I am leaning toward my death.
Ava Swanson is a tenth-grade student who is very passionate about all things literature. When not drowning herself in knowledge, she enjoys digital art and music.
The Year I Went Without Having Gustave Dore to My House
I entertained the idea. Of a red hoop. For which there wasn’t a start or an end. Of a horn. That tried to make sense of our pain. While an angel drew silence. Up over its mouth. I entertained the idea of a dog. Who knew only to howl. And another who knew only to crawl. Across the stars on your gown. Or gnaw, for hours, on your crown. Of a row of cards. That worried the dust. With what must be. Always read into the dark. I entertained the idea. Of an owl. Who was also a prisoner. Of its own useless wisdom. Of three planets. That circled my head. One for each god. Who showed less and less interest in the dead. I entertained the idea. Of an acrobat. Who’d stood by gravity. For far too long. And so would dawn the red scales of a fish. Until his gills clogged. With this sacrificial blood.
Poems from Mark DeCarteret’s manuscript The Year I/We Went Without have been taken by The American Poetry Review, Asheville Poetry Review, BlazeVOX, Guesthouse, Hole in the Head Review, Map Literary, On the Seawall, Plume, South Florida Poetry Journal and Unbroken.
Death Has Come
I watch as a mother gently holds her child in her arms. I have come to take him away from her. Out of the corner of his eye, he has seen me but he refuses to look at me further. Instead, he clutches his mother as tightly as he can. He knows I am here for him and it’s only a matter of time before he submits and I take him with me, just as I have taken many before him.
The young boy’s parents intrigue me. They seem to be in despair, especially the father. The mother seems to be comforting her son as he slowly slips away from her grasp. They will both hold on for as long as they can, especially the mother. From my experience a mother almost never has a feeble grasp, they seem to be willing to do anything for their children, even giving their lives to me.
I never understood human emotions or why these mortal beings feel the way they do, but nonetheless, they fascinate me. I have seen many different emotions inflict themselves upon many. Whenever a human being is in pain or on the verge of death they have this face of deep anguish. Not only does it affects the person who is dying but those around them. The emotions run so deep for some that it’s as if a spear laced with a deadly toxin has impaled their hearts and this face they make is the result.
Nonetheless, the boy’s time is up. He says goodbye to his mother and father and I begin to pry him from their hands. He screams and tugs on his mother's dress not ready to let go. What he doesn’t realize is that within my hands I contain the strength of a lion, no one has ever escaped my grasp. After much struggle, I have taken the boy. Where we will go only I know. There is still much work to be done.
Justin Perry is a high school senior at Herriman High School in Utah. In his free time he loves to play chess and the violin.
At a Flea Market Outside Paris, Kentucky
People didn’t talk about war overseas--
or the boy maimed from a gangster’s bad aim.
He wasn’t white like the little French boy who bled
out the length and width of his mother’s womb.
In a plastic frame the poster was marked
one dollar, one Euro in today’s France.
My wife flipped through used vinyl thirty-threes.
(She doesn’t see or look for death in the racks.)
We joked about Depeche Mode and big hair.
I held the dusty print in the sunlight
the glass spiderwebbed, a gooey brown stain
on his mom’s foot—a whimper from a boy
behind us, begging at a pen of pups
for a black and white mutt missing a leg.
Someone played that song, Personal Jesus.
His mom offered ten dollars. We walked out
happy—rain tapping, dripping off the tin roof.
Robert E. Ray
Robert E. Ray is a retired public servant. His poetry has been published by Rattle, Beyond Words International Literary Magazine, Wild Roof Journal, The Ekphrastic Review and in four poetry anthologies. Robert lives in coastal Georgia.
The Comfort of a Mother
The moon and the owl and the darkness of the night
have seen me through my highs and lows
have comforted me at 2 am
when it feels like no one is there
and I am all alone.
The darkness protects me from those around,
manufacturing a blanket so richly dark
much like the ones the saltimbanques spread out
before every performance.
that it envelopes me warm and close
like a mother's arms would.
The owl hoots in soft syllables,
crooning a melody designed just for me
much like the tambourines and trumpets keep the beat
for the saltimbanques as they cartwheel and acrobat
that carries me to a land far away
like a mother's bedtime tales would.
The moon seems so distant,
shining brighter than everything else around
much like the performance of the saltimbanques
eclipsing the mundane of the everyday
that it radiates a warmth so tender and pure
like a mother's goodnight kiss would.
Poor substitutes though they are,
it is now because of my companions three
that I am finally free
to move from the light
into the comforting dark
of Nidra*'s nest.
*Nidra is the goddess of sleep in Hindu mythology
Nivedita Karthik is a graduate in Immunology from the University of Oxford. She is an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer and published poet. She also loves writing stories. Her poetry has appeared in Glomag, The Society of Classical Poets, The Epoch Times, The Poet anthologies, The Ekphrastic Review, Visual Verse, The Bamboo Hut, Eskimopie, The Sequoyah Cherokee River Journal, and Trouvaille Review. Her microfiction has been published by The Potato Soup Literary Journal. She also regularly contributes to the open mics organized by Rattle Poetry. She currently resides in Gurgaon, India, and works as an senior associate editor. She has two published books, She: The reality of womanhood, and The many moods of water.
The Price of a Second
Red shining, Blood signifying
cradling mother holding close
holding tight, feeling the
warmth letting go
How long will he still be
alive, how much money do they
have, will the funeral cost too much
The cards have been forgotten
and the dogs have gone quiet
the trumpet is silent
the balls have gone still and
the tambourine is not ringing
Don’t breathe don’t move
for the moment could be gone
hold on before he could be moved on
Your child could be dead
his red costume, her blue dress
the ground, his white makeup
the wind, the dogs breath
her cold child
the crowd, mumbled prayers
the final breaths of her child
she smells iron
Casey Lumley is a senior at Herriman High School in Herriman Utah who loves singing in a choral ensemble and loves learning computer science.
To gain money they have killed their child and in killing him
they have found out that they had hearts.
Aflame in the glitter of cloth and sequins,
the street performers stop to rest. Leaning against
the brick wall of a warehouse, the woman holds
her injured child and the man looks down
watching his shadow engulf stray feathers
and rusted nails -- as if he shed the soft and sharp
aspects of his own grief.
Two hours earlier, everything seemed fine
as they jumped and juggled, sprang into space
and somersaulted back to earth
never thinking their son would be hurt
in the final act.
The crowd held their breath as the mother hurled
the slender boy into the air; and the father prepared
to catch him after his backwards flip -- but failed. He fell to the ground
and lay unconscious as blood trickled from his brow
into the field with its thinning scalp of grass.
Some of the locals rushed to help and wrapped the wound
in white strips of linen. With no doctor or clinic nearby,
they told the parents to take him home. From a distance,
someone yelled, it's heartless to risk a child, A sin
committed by a heartless heart. The voice trembled with anger
as wings rose from the umbrella pines. Crows clothed the wind
like the black corner of a veil and muffled its sound
Now the judgment resounds within the father's mind
as he looks toward his wife, a bereaved madonna
burning through the dusk. And he wonders
if that voice belonged to the man he glimpsed
sketching them during the show. An artist rumored
to have come from Montmartre and often known
to wear a silk scarf, to paint his subjects with operatic depth.
Or maybe -- the husband's blue eyes water,
it was God ( in disguise)
etching his soul with acid, leaving an echo
of indelible guilt.
Wendy Howe is an English teacher and free lance writer who lives in Southern California. Her poetry reflects her interest in myth, diverse landscapes, and ancient cultures. Over the years, she has been published in an assortment of journals both on-line and in print. Among them: The Copperfield Review, Silver Blade Magazine,, The Poetry Salzburg Review, Eye To The Telescope, The Tower Journal and The Orchards Journal. Her most recent work will be forthcoming in Carmina Magazine and Sun Dial Magazine later this year.
What a Fool!
Even though we were mere street
performers, we played our roles well.
She wore her crown like she’d been born
to it, carried herself with grace, never
mentioned the father of the child.
My only sin – daring fate.
She charmed the public. I teased her
and the crowd, scooped up coins tossed
at our feet. No fool would keep his head
after taking such liberties with a real queen.
We got by, enough to scrounge up a meal,
sometimes a roof over our heads.
I should have known.
I should have known.
A fool and a queen never roll the right
dice, never waltz into happily ever after
together – just as wee children never
Her son slipped doing back flips,
banged his head on the cobblestones
just before a carriage…
She scooped him up, whispered
love, rocked him in case he could still hear
and feel. She saved her tears
for all her tomorrows.
Nothing for me to do but sit with her,
silent, knowing she’d never
risk love again.
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. Her latest poetry collection, Three A.M. at the Museum, was named Director’s Pick at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art gift shop.
"Now he's crying again. I told you he was way too old to look like a baby. No way were you going to pull off Madonna and child. And who even wears that to a Halloween party? We'll never get that blue curtain back on its rail now." Jimmy spat the words at his wife and slumped down on the bench next to her.
"What about you? X-men? That's so ten years ago! Who was supposed to be able to tell you were meant to be a Mystique-Dark Phoenix mash-up? And aren't they both girls anyway?" Jenna was tired and their little boy Kyle was feeling very warm to the touch.
Kyle settled and moaned gently as he lay across his mother, drifting into a fretful sleep. The background sound of bickering never stopped these days.
Jimmy launched into another rant. "And why have we become minders for all these mangy animals? The owl's Kenny's, the wannabe Harry Potter, that thing pawing your skirt is the dumpy little blonde Dorothy 'Toto' and this mongrel in a turban is supposed to be with Ming the Merciless, AKA Gary from Accounts."
"Don't ask me, they just turned up. I always seem to attract the waifs and strays."
"Huh." Jimmy's sullen demeanour was accentuated by the sallow make-up. "It's not my fault the boss told me he was letting me go next month. There are too few staff to make the store worth running any more so he said it has to close. Anyway, I'm sure I'll get another job soon. A better paid one as well. I heard the company across town is offering twice the hourly rate and they are desperate for new hires."
Jenna was feeling desperate too, worrying about Kyle needing a doctor's appointment and all the expense of that. She held her tongue, reluctant to mention this would be Jimmy's third time laid off this year, and she was already working two part-time jobs in addition to looking after Kyle.
The other thing on her mind was the fan of cards at her feet. She'd intended just to play a hand of solitaire in this quiet corner when Jimmy had been living it up on the dance floor, but she'd been tempted to test her hand at an old skill. Jenna's mother had always told her she had the gift, if she wanted to use it, one that had skipped her mother's generation but been handed down through a long line of women seers.
Now the cards showed her more than she wanted to know. Some people used a tarot deck but even regular playing cards in the right hands could show the future. The one thing that jumped out loud and clear was that there was a time of transition coming. Jenna couldn't yet get a handle on the shape of it, but back in real life, here and now, were Kyle's sickness and Jimmy's lost job and even the endless arguing between them.
Jenna hushed Kyle and held him close. She not only had the second sight but also the strength and bravery of her ancestor women in her bones. The only thing for sure right now was that change was coming and she'd need every ounce of courage to face it.
Emily Tee writes poetry and flash fiction. She's had pieces published online in The Ekphrastic Review and Visual Verse and in print in various publications from Dreich, as well as several poetry anthologies. She lives in England.
The Mother holds her Son
after Les Saltimbanques by Gustave Dore (1874) and remembering a visit to the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua
Marjory Woodfield is a New Zealand teacher and writer. She's been published by the BBC, Orbis, The Alchemy Spoon, Ekphrastic Review and others. She won the New Zealand Robert Burns Competition ( 2020), the NZSA Heritage Poetry Prize (2022) and was highly commended in the Erbacce International Poetry Prize (2022). She’s been anthologized by Frogmore Press (Pale Fire), Sonder Press (Best Small Fictions) and Bath Flash Fiction (with one eye on the cows).
You sold your child to Death, swapped his flesh one sliver at a time
for coin and now you hold his emaciated body, white and fragile
as ancient parchment, to your well-fed breasts, knowing
you can have another and those breasts will feed your newest source of gold.
You wear your bright blue dress and grand tiara shamelessly
and ask the cards why the child is gone so soon while
the Devil sits beside you in his suit of blood emblazoned
with the final tears stolen from a child born from heaven
Linda lives in Lake Tabourie, NSW. She’s written most of her poetry since 2021 and is completing her Degree in Creative Writing at Curtin University. She has so far been published on Viewlesswings.com, in The Ekphrastic Review, Right Hand Pointing, One Sentence Poems, Star 82 Review, Cathexis Northwest Press, with work forthcoming in Misfit, and two pieces selected for Brushstrokes, the 2022 Ros Spencer Poetry Award Anthology and another two poems to be published in the South Coast Writers Centre Digital Anthology Coast. Her poem ‘Shiver’ has been nominated by the Star 82 Review for Best Spiritual Literature, formerly the Orison Anthology. She recently branched into flash fiction and her first piece was short-listed for the 2022 Berry Writers Festival Award.
Aarohi’s smartwatch beeped on her wrist. She was running late for the interview. The sun overhead glared at her through the windscreen like a traffic policeman does at an errant rule-violator. She was surrounded by a sea of blaring horns. Frustrated fellow commuters waited at the edge of the congestion, cursing under their breath. The noisy congregation took up most of the space on the narrow Avenue Road.
From the middle of this crowd, appeared a woman in a soiled turquoise saree. Her skin was pale and her hair needed combing. One of the many golden motifs that littered her saree glinted in the sun. She sang a soft folk tune Aarohi had not heard of. A little grey dog was dressed in a ragged brown gown held together by an indigo-coloured belt in the middle. The woman rapped on the tambourine at quick intervals and the dog danced in step with the beat. A man dressed like a clown in a vermilion costume, played a cornet.
Aarohi took a deep breath, closed her eyes and resigned to her fate. She was stuck in the middle of a street circus. She was probably not destined to bag the job she had applied for. A loud cheer from the crowd forced her eyes open. The man had erected poles. Between the poles, a thin rope hung in a slight parabola several feet above the tarred road. A little boy who balanced five pots on his head had begun his perilous walk across the rope.
Aarohi waited with bated breath. Was the rope tight enough? Were the poles steady? Was it necessary for the boy to be put into jeopardy? Several onlookers threw coins into an aluminium plate at the foot of the pole .Their tokens of appreciation. Suddenly, a tawny owl flew close to the boy. The boy must have lost concentration. The rope began oscillating wildly in the sky.
Three seconds later, he crashed onto the tarred road without a scream. The pots scrunched loudly against the tar before being shattered to smithereens. A terracotta shard hit Aarohi’s windscreen. It took some time for the crowd to realise that this was not part of the stunt. Someone shouted, Call for an ambulance. The woman rushed forward and scooped up the boy in a hug. The man offered her a handkerchief with which she tried to clean the gaping wound on the boy’s head. The dog pawed at her wanting to know what happened to his little playmate.
Within minutes, the crowd disappeared without a trace. With their path cleared, the vehicles on the road scrambled to make a move. Aarohi saw the driver ahead cast a curious glance at the weeping parents and proceeded with an insouciant shrug. Nobody had the time, Aarohi realised. In her car’s rear view mirror, she saw a balding man with a rotund stomach get out of his midnight-blue Vento and shake his fist menacingly at her. He was clearly asking her not to block his path.
It was a quick moment’s decision when Aarohi clambered out and ushered the hapless trio into the back seat of the car. The dog whimpered its way to the passenger seat in the front. Aarohi put her foot down on the accelerator pedal with all her might. She sped through the empty road, searching for signs of a red cross against a white background.
Preeth Ganapathy is a software engineer turned civil servant from Bengaluru, India. Her works have been published in several magazines such as The Ekphrastic Review, Soul-Lit, The Sunlight Press, Atlas+Alice, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Mothers Always Write, Tiger Moth Review and elsewhere. Her microchap, A Single Moment, has been published by Origami Poems Project. She is also a two-time winner of Wilda Morris's Poetry Challenge.
Tonight you hold extremes
Of suffering and pleasure
Like the sun striking horizontal
In winter, remorseless-
This clown’s garb cannot relieve.
Tonight grief separates us such-
Our eyes fill with dead tears.
Sitting beside a shadow of worship
Wrapped in tenderness of the moment,
I beckon your spirit-
In the fallen colours of autumn.
Arms that stretched to a juggler of fortunes
On trapeze in belief, in wonder
He could bring down the stars unseen-
Bejewel the tiara, set the tent canopy exploding.
Tonight I besiege you to look at me-
Put us in slumber, friends who sing no more,
Who relinquish the floor.
Abha Das Sarma
An engineer and management consultant by profession, Abha Das Sarma enjoys writing the most. 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, here and elsewhere. Having spent her growing up years in small towns of northern India, she currently lives in Bengaluru.
Death is working
his spindly charm
the straining tent-top’s
his tenebrous shape
stands buried in
bored by his own
he is scratched
the brazed serenade
of trumpet blown
the cheerful yapping
of a dancing dog &
clowning, he slips
guffaw & sweat
of the marvelling mass
to turn playful
cheer to bleached
hue, his frigid breath
pushed through perfect
teeth, breaks the child’s
hand & roused
guilt cannot hold
sand and straw no
barrier to bleeding
filling the big top
with awful gasp
in his mouth
is chewed over
spat out thickly
into the night air
the moon will rise
will return without
eyes for the vanished
boy, who took his last
tumble & lies still in
a portable wooden box
the one trick
we all long for
cannot be worked
this bony fellow
who knows he will
dance with us all
Simon Parker is a London based writer, performer and teacher. His work been published in The Ekphrastic Review and has been performed at the Lyric Hammersmith Studio, Hackney Empire Studio, The Place, Somerset House, Half Moon Theatre, Southbank Centre, the Totally Thames Festival, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Simon is an associate artist of Vocal Point Theatre, a theatre company dedicated to telling stories from those not often heard, and providing workshops for the marginalised. He runs creative writing and reading groups for the homeless, socially excluded and vulnerable. If you want to know more go to https://www.simonparkerwriter.com
The Purple Velvet Purse
Money, money, money, it’s why we decided to keep him. When Cecille, the Tarot-Card reader, tried to entice him away, swaddling him close to her round, comforting bosom, it took only a short glance across her body, eyes meeting, for us to walk away. As I snatched him from her embrace, his cry a mewling protest, I felt only vindication, Cecille’s tears sealing his fate. Barren Cecille, lusting for the child made me resolute. Like all of our decisions, it was of one accord. We are two of the same, twins separated somehow, then fated together like two sides of the same coin. Both of us were born under the sign of Gemini, light as air but with feet firmly planted in delight, delight that takes money to procure. We ate, drank, danced and sang to one another, for we were flush with talent and lust. Our miserly love, only reserved only for each other, was apparent when we flew! Indeed, we were air-children, floating aloft, over the heads of mere commoners that tossed us a half-weeks wages, imagining themselves high in the atmosphere. Upon the thin wire, or wrapped in rare silks, dangling into free-fall, trusting only one another, complicit in our utterly narcissistic devotion to the exchange. The exchange was a simple proposition: getting the money to leave from any available pocket and into our own purple velvet purse.
Cecille at first appeared to be cut from a similar, franc-loving cloth, but alas! She truly had the gift of foresight, and knowing what was coming, what would happen to him at our hands, she begged us on bended knees to give her the child. Her cheeks flushing red, she had offered all she had to give, and though tempted to let the burden go, we had big plans. The future helped us endure the suffering of the present, every hour of lost sleep, every cry. Slipping out at nightfall, we’d sustain ourselves by drinking wine and making love in the moonlight. Ever begrudgingly, we tended to the fragile life. Our hands were our instruments, weary of waiting, waiting for the day that the little bird could pay his way! By flying, of course! A tiny, brittle bird, only by flying could he possibly make our sacrifice worthwhile! The vanity, the sheer excess of it, was absolutely bald. There was simply no way to hide it, and we didn’t even try.
We had him on the boards before he was six months old, much to the consternation of our fellows in the troupe. Fortunately for us, the Ringmaster was an avaricious simpleton, content to turn his head for a small pittance. So, we kept on. The child passed between our hands before he could walk, eyes wide with fright or disbelief. His tiny hands, balled into fists, shook at us, and, perhaps, at God, for putting him here, between two hedonistic acrobats. Inside, I knew the truth: a bitch with a dozen pups could have given him more warmth than he got from the two of us together, sad though I am to admit it now! The only time he heard us rejoice was when he finally did it, he finally flew! Holding tightly to the bar, the nets far below, he jumped from me to his laughing, encouraging father. I recall his face: wide and unnatural, with a smile so huge, it swallowed his eyes, his cheeks pinkening with the first blush of weightlessness. Greedily, we watched, vicariously feeling the sensation of first flight while knowing, this was it! This was the big payoff, the peasants would soon stuff our purse to overflowing! The unimaginable draw of a flying baby had become real! Call me the fool, I deserve worse.
The flight was short, uneventful at first. I pushed, his father, suited up like the jester he surely was, caught him, then sent him back. I watched intently, waiting to catch him, already feeling victorious, and…what was that stab in my heart, a sudden stoppage of blood that gripped me like a vise? Oh mon Dieo! Was it fear? Or love? I couldn’t tell. Struck with precognition, I struggled to see anything for a moment. Then clarity: I saw, or imagined I saw, the bent and pleading visage of Cecille.
And so he slipped. His tiny hands uselessly grabbed the air, as he fell down, down, down, into the useless net, made only for adults.
We did everything together, and this was no exception. The tears in his father’s eyes told me he, too, had felt a puncture, a frightening exposition of what was forthcoming, and the perfect love. That was there too, for both of us, much too little, much too late. In vain, we scurried with him through the streets to the clinic, in vain we waited to hear what we already knew: internal bleeding and a snapped neck. A gift we neither appreciated, nor even knew we had, was gone: gone into the atmosphere, the heavens, the precious air.
Months of heights never before imagined, recklessness grew outsized and our coffers prospered, the purple purse stuffed to overflowing. Our house was packed with wheat and cheese, but the wires wore thin, always thinner, until the cowards way out beckoned, came closer, overtook us.
But first. Not redemption, but practicality. My young sister was wide with child, her man a mercenary, seldom in town, usually surly with drink. She didn’t want the child, but here she was. We called her through a messenger before the poison finished taking hold. For her, a purple velvet purse, an address. For her, care until the child came. For Cecille, another chance. Or maybe the love of her own flesh and blood would reach my sister long before it came for us two. Two cowards, a fool and a jester, eternally reaching out for his hands.
Debbie Walker-Lass is a poet, artist, literary essayist, and fiction writer living in Decatur, Georgia. Her work has appeared in several journals and magazines, including The Ekphrastic Review, Poetry Quarterly, Haiku Universe, The Light Ekphrastic (forthcoming) and Natural Awakenings, Atlanta. After a long career in Supported Employment and Mental Health, Debbie spends her time reading, writing, working on mixed-media pieces, and beachcombing.
Marian clutched her child tightly and kissed his forehead to soothe his fears. She did her best to settle her own terror, but the weeping of her child was beginning to seep into the cracks of her facade. She set him down and turned to face the man beside her.
“Well, Lucien,” she said, her voice shaking and cracking. “You’ve won. My soul is yours to take.” She stood, wiping her eyes dry of tears and petting the tawny that sat on the bench. It cooed and looked at her with its quizzical eyes, its head tilting slightly.
“Yes,” Lucien said. “Yes, I suppose it is…” He was staring at Marian’s child solemnly, seeming lost in thought. He noticed Marian gazing at him, and he cleared his throat, standing to address her. “I have thought deeply about this situation, miss Marian. It is evident that your child is without a father. Am I correct in that inference?”
Marian was taken aback. She hadn’t thought that the man would be capable of such emotional thought. “Yes, your grace. He is.”
Lucien nodded carefully, looking at the child again. “I will grant you one hour to say your goodbyes, and one more to find this boy a loving home. Should you need my assistance in the latter, you will have my help at your disposal.” He looked at Marian again. “You should use this time wisely, young one. I am not so forgiving in every case.”
Marian’s heart was leaping and bounding, both out of joy and of fear. Could this be a trick? Could Lucien be telling her a cruel joke? But… no, his eyes were genuine, and there was no hint of a smile. He was genuinely sorry for Marian’s child. She bit back a sob, tears beginning to stream down her face, and hugged the man. He was no devil; simply a sympathetic man who had lost his way, and wanted to set things as right as he could.
Lucien’s eyes went wide, and he stood motionless for a moment before awkwardly wrapping one arm around the woman. He squeezed gently and let go, gesturing for her to take the child and walk away. At that moment, he decided that he wouldn’t enforce the deal he had made with her. He made a mental note to burn the contract, and, at the end of the first hour he had given the woman, send a message to notify her.
As she walked away, he noticed that his cheek was wet. He wiped it, finding a trail of water trickling down from his eye. A hint of a smile tugged at the corner of the man’s lips before he turned and vanished into a nearby alley.
Lucien—the Devil himself—had shed a tear.
Cody Graham is 18, and a senior at Herriman High School.
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