Uneasy Epithalamion (after Catullus)
Who could enter and not think of blood?
Florid cinnabar, dragon’s blood, coagulate
Round the atrium, or the blood of sheep
That chew the noontide grass to pulp,
Soon to be spilled upon the pale floor
Marmoreal, mingling with sacred myrtle
And its blood-stained fruit. Even the blue silk
Of steppe-dyed tapestries ripple with Parthian
Bowmen, dark shafts poised to pierce the fluted
Pillars. But let the tympani crash in time,
The lyre tremble sweetly, io Hymen Hymenaee io!
Hesperus guide the uneasy steps of the bride
Who slides white and cloudy as lamb’s wool
Over the musk-roses pink and maiden-strewn.
Bless the carnelian petals wantonly spread
Along the gliding path to the marriage bed,
And leave not your evening light to cavort
With night, but blaze with the torches and tapers
Bright, the air thickened with burning myrrh.
While the smoldering ram’s-head brazier
Smokes and curls, sing io Hymen Hymenaee io!
The servants follow with blood-dark wine,
The same that once filled Circe’s cup,
And changed clear-headed men to swine.
Forgive then the bride one last glance,
As the matron in vermilion ushers her
Across the moon-white marble. Her eyes lock
With an auburn-haired maid in clinging dress
Of cobalt, or other pestle-crushed pigment.
Brought to her knees, fading through the haze,
Eurydice phantasmic at the last Orphic gaze.
But like a cornered tortoise in a sunken pool,
The procession moves blindly forward, inching
Towards the soft cream bedding, with only hints
Of the stains to come. Sing Hymen, O Hymenaee!
Eric Brown is Professor of English at the University of Maine Farmington. His publications include the books Milton on Film and Insect Poetics and essays on Renaissance literature, film adaptation, and animal studies. His creative work has previously appeared in The Sandy River Review and Mississippi Review and was shortlisted for the 2023 Frogmore Poetry Prize.
Letter To My Brother, Antonio, Before My Certain Passing
Dear kapatid na lalaki,
I returned from Japan to our once-beautiful island the minute I heard the devastating news:
My little brother, youngest of our clan, was cut down, assassinated in the very light of day, by the butangero, murderous thugs sent by Janolino, who denies it all! Antonio, my heart can’t take the thought of you, brazenly fighting until the very end, dying in public, thirty wounds on your body, the bravest of the brave, my little brother, you died without me! I cannot recover.
I know what it feels like to murder, although my war was very different from yours. Yet, the outcome is the same: People that died by our hands would still walk this earth, but for being cut down. Do you think of those that died? I suppose not, as your war was a just one, the war for independence from the Americans, drunks and thieves that they were, and still are, and always will be. My war was far less justified, the battle chosen by me, the dead my own. Dear Paz, wife and love of my life, and my hapless Juliana, mother-in-law to a murderous son-in law. Felix, her only son, was wounded, but lives, thank God! As you know, Antonio, they were not my enemies. As you also know, my only enemy was selos, rabid jealousy. Whether or not Paz was unfaithful, she didn’t deserve to die. I miss her sweet breath, her calming presence! But brother, I miss you more.
I once read that you were an even greater painter than I, more talented in the natural sense. It may be true, and truer still is that you were always the better man. In the sciences or on the battlefield, you were sure-headed about your course of action. A scholar, chemist, and a general, you squeezed so many lives into your short years! My soul is so full of pride, to be your brother is perhaps my greatest blessing, after being a father.
Brother, I shot them through a door! Without aim, trying only to scare Paz, I killed two and maimed another! Can you ever forgive my cowardice? You stood by my side, but you had to think I belonged in that cell. While you took straight aim at your enemy, for our people, I killed two of my very own because of pure rage! I couldn’t bear the mere thought of another man touching my wife. Thank you for minding Andres during my confinement, it was more than I deserved.
I believe that winning the Gold Medal in Madrid got me out of that cell. A medal, and my brother among brothers vouching for me! Being a man that was wronged by his wife helped as well, of course. But it doesn’t help me now, brother, while my soul quakes from all of the blundering I’ve done. Allow me this: I learned my craft. I leave behind enough money for Andres, perhaps he will follow in your shoes and not mine. Hopefully, he will have the heart of a lion, the body of a beast,and like you, the mind of a scholar! Bless his motherless heart.
Some say you were a hard man, brother, but I know the truth. You loved your men as hard as you led them. In a way, I killed you, too. My biggest life regret was involving you in LaRevolution!
My wicked heart is about to burst, brother. I pray to see you again, in the clouds.
*Juan Luna died of a heart attack in The Philippines in 1899, soon after the death of his brother, Antonio, who was the Lead General of the Philippine Army. Antonio was assassinated earlier that year.
Debbie Walker-Lass, (she/her) is a poet, collage artist, and writer living in Decatur, Georgia. Her work has appeared in The Ekphrastic Journal, Poetry Quarterly, Haikuniverse, The Light Ekphrastic and Natural Awakenings, Atlanta, among others. She has recently read live for The Poet’s Corner. Debbie loves beachcombing on Tybee Island and hanging out with her husband, Burt, and dog, Maddie. Big love to all Ekphrastic writers.
Carthage Wedding, 46 BC
Weeks after two families
agreed to an acceptable
dowry of rich farmland
and gold coins, Lucretia
arrives in a white tunic
at the family home
of Tiberius where she
proceeds to the atrium
with her mother.
Crimson walls serve
as a backdrop for blue
silk curtains hung
behind the banquet table.
A musician clad in a bronze
toga plays a wedding song
as bridesmaids toss roses,
lilies, fruit blossoms,
and sage at the bride-to-be.
Pheasant, wild boar,
and venison grace
the buffet accompanied.
by olives, grapes, sausage,
stuffed dates, and wine.
Beyond this elaborate
room framed by white
on the blue-gray marble
floor, the groom awaits her
arrival in the reception room.
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.
Upon Peering at Hymen, oh Hyménée!
Incense shrouds the hall.
a psychoactive calm
for the nervousness and cheeriness
of the crowd. The vapor veil
soothes the bride, her gown
muslin-like as she casts
a glance at the onlookers.
The boy in front raises
the burning whitethorn,
as the bride continues
to be escorted
to the groom’s chamber.
Cupid, the little one’s power
in this month of Juno,
could grant Ceres rule
and make Mars strum
the Aeolian lyre, snatching
away metres from Ovid.
Did the bride have love’s
inward fever, its ache of needles?
If Zephyrus whisked away the incense,
what kind of air would there be?
Unnoticed by much of the crowd,
at the back of the clamorous hall,
a goat silently crumples a lily.
Efren Laya Cruzada
Efren Laya Cruzada was born in the Philippines and grew up in South Texas. He studied English and American Literature and Creative Writing at New York University. He is the author of Grand Flood: a poem. His work has been published in The Light Ekphrastic, Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, Star*line, and other journals, with work forthcoming in The Tiger Moth Review. Currently, he is working on a poetry collection based on travels throughout Latin America and Asia. His day jobs have included coaching chess, teaching ESL, and writing for blockchain media companies. He now resides in Austin, Texas.
O Hymen, o Hades
Persephone looks back to see
Cascades of flowers thrown by puzzled girls,
Waving hands a substitute for smiles.
The one she loves wears white in mockery:
Hand on her head, she shows her disbelief.
A sympathetic goddess turns away.
Her own dress, coldly white, a travesty,
The sunlight on the marble shimmers bright
Like winter’s ice while darkness beckons her.
The nuptial hymns, joyous on pipe and lyre,
Strike funeral notes, don’t dumb the agony
Of howls of grief and madness that pervade
Her new kingdom. She’s heard them night and day.
Behind her veil, she starts to lose her bloom.
She can’t believe she must return to shade.
Incredulous, she moves towards her groom,
Too dazed to feel the stirrings of despair.
Romantic, he’s insisted on full rites:
Cup bearers proffer her a bridal toast.
She looks away, uncertain, helplessly.
He fails to understand the irony.
The clouds of incense float across the room.
Her mother, donned in mourning black, tight lipped,
Bodice defiant scarlet, stands straight backed,
Declining to surrender willingly
Her daughter to the Kingdom of the Dead,
Anger smouldering beneath cold dignity.
She leads her to the darkness, full of spite.
Her empty eyes stare fixedly ahead.
She’s angry with her brother, that bold thief,
Angry with the bargain that’s been struck,
Angry with her for falling for his trick;
Refuses to believe Persephone
Can ever love the gloomy god of night.
Her anger’s visible for all to see.
Already the pale blossoms for the bride
Lie scattered on the ground, begin to fade
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, A Pride of Lions (Coin Operated Press), the UK online Places in 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 woman in the 1970s is published in the Honno Press collection, Painting the Beauty Queens Orange. Stereotypically, she still thinks of Wales as home, sports a dragon tattoo and lives with a misanthropic cat.
Where You Are, There Am I
You wore black to my wedding
Midnight silk shot with turquoise and amethyst
A dark flower haunting the
Spring bouquet of pastel-robed ladies
They took me from my father’s home
Customary to cry out, protest, shriek
No play acting required on my part,
The transaction not of my choosing
Upon entering his home
I was to call out the traditional
Ubi tu Gaius, ego Gaia
But I glanced back, and saw you
Stooped, to pick up a fallen flower
Cheeks and eyes reddened
Creamy shoulder exposed
Sorrow writ large across your face
Upon entering his home
I called out, while looking back,
Ubi tu Gaia, ego Gaia
Where you are, there am I.
Athena Law lives in the lush Queensland hinterland and her words have been published online by the Australian Writers Centre, The Ekphrastic Review and Reverie Literary Journal. She likes to tackle baking and gardening projects while she's mulling over the tricky plot points of her first novel.
She Married For Love
Women draw welcome songs
at their thresholds as the day breaks
and the roses bloom-
little girls flutter in shiny silks,
their faces lit with lamps.
The incense trails, petals shower
as the bride walks marking her feet
dipped in vermillion and milk
with vows of love.
Her gaze shifts, eyes search beyond that room.
Her mother too had married for love-
a man met by chance, against her family.
Alas, in love left her pursuit,
stayed in regret until death.
She led us high, taught us to be us,
never cry when children left,
when it was our turn. In bitterness
She had held, needed to be held.
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.
Quest for the Luna Tear
His crime of passion, staggered shots,
of wife, her mother, bloody soak;
was this of marble, Roman court,
arms raised in hail before the strike,
Pantheon at each other’s throats?
As rites of marriage, mark exclaimed,
a spiteful arson, as assumed,
lost, found, rejected bid for sale.
This favoured loan, once savoured lone,
its place, pedestal studio.
Heroic, then, quest to display
in splendour, Filippino known,
this bronze Olympian of art
from Paris, first, top-rated class,
though even there Plan B ensconced.
In Spain, yes, but not capitol -
Palarong Pambansa, Madrid -
while revolution in the air
of France, less racial bias slurs,
from chequered launch, returning soul.
Of honeymoon, Venetian streets,
the playful ludo, lido beat,
in melding of subcultures’ themes,
what stories in this canvas, bleak,
or wear the garlands, so to speak?
Acquittal of the favoured man,
mere court costs for a cuckold’s fine,
the artist’s passion called insane;
these women framed, cause he enflamed,
injustice claimed in now misnamed.
So storeys tall of trompe l’oeil,
some garret in a castle wall,
what machinations, hidden, stall,
the stop-go search to bring him home
for nation’s birthday, Holy Grail.
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
Naxos, the limit of Cretan territory. Beyond, the world belongs to the Hellenes. Should Ariadne pass beyond this sacred boundary, she renounces her right to the throne of Knossos. Theseus knows this, though he pretends that he is taking her to Athens to be his wife. Theseus believes that a husband is owed his wife’s birthright, that thrones are for kings not queens, that women are for taking and abandoning.
The ship put in at Naxos to fill the water casks before facing the open sea. The crew made their noisy sacrifices to their gods, and now they are sleeping. Theseus thinks she has stayed ashore alone to look one last time at the stars of her home before giving her life and her stars to him. She tosses a myrtle branch into the little fire, takes deep breaths of the smoke. It hasn’t occurred to Theseus that she might be making magic, calling upon the Mistresses to turn her fate about and release her from the stupid pact she made with him.
The smoke curls and dances, becomes misty gauze, tresses of unbound hair, the abandon of women in a trance. Ariadne does not know them for Maenads. They are not part of her culture, but they have been sent by the Mistresses, to disentangle her from this story that is now half-Greek. They sing in husky, breathless voices until they are out of earshot of the ship, and then the song explodes with shrieks of laughter, and joy that tastes of blood.
They take her hands and she follows, through groves of olive and oak, bay and myrtle, to a clearing and a pool where a dark-haired man is waiting. The women fawn, licking his name with their tongues, Dionysus, stroking his face, their nails like the claws of wild beasts. He catches at their hands roughly and pulls them away. They throw flowers, their laughter rising to a frenzy. The man smiles at her, his eyes roving, his fingers itching to follow. Ariadne sees just another Greek, though this one claims he is a god. Can she not see?
The women laugh, leap, splash into the pool, pulling Dionysis after them. They all drink, their faces flushed red even in the moonlight. The women draw her into a dance—she is the labyrinth dancer after all—but she drinks little, watches for dawn. At first light, Dionysus stumbles to the shore where the sailors are already preparing the ship to leave.
Dionysus will send Theseus away, the women say. He will tell him you are his bride. No Greek would dare defy the desires of a god or deny his claim.
Ariadne watches him return, his gait unsteady. She smells the wine fumes even in the salt wind. He walks straight to her, and without a word, pulls her to him and kisses her on the mouth. The women shriek with laughter, as musicians appear from among the trees, shadowy and with a feral smell.
Dionysus claps his hands, a cup is placed in his fist, wine flows, sticky sweet, and through the gauze mist of the women, a youth appears, languid as a water lily, lying on the bank of the pool. He dips a toe in the water and blows a kiss to Dionysus. The women weave flowers in his hair, drape garlands about his neck. His tunic is awry, slipped over one shoulder. His skin is the colour of bronze, his lips too red and parted. Ariadne’s lip curls.
She watches Dionysus, the dance of the women. Musicians play dark, wild tunes, food appears, all wear flowers. Ariadne narrows her eyes. She wants neither Theseus nor his drunken god, but the Maenads are all around her, and she is drawn into the circle, a locked circle. At its centre, Dionysis, heavy with drink urges the boy to his sandaled feet. With a gesture of ennui, the boy reaches out a hand, and someone tosses him a lyre.
The women chant, Hymen, Hymenaios!
The wedding song! Dionysus calls out, and Ariadne wonders who is the bride. Is it herself or the painted boy, or is it the wild army of Maenads?
Sing, Hymen, and stir our blood.
The Maenads let their tunics fall to their waists, spread their arms and let gauze, limbs, hair mingle in their uncoordinated dancing. Dionysus touches Hymen’s face, raises his cup to the boy’s lips, laughs when the sweet sticky wine runs down his chin, trickles down his chest. Then he turns his attention to Ariadne. The cup is refilled, he holds it out. With his other hand he beckons to her.
The wedding cup. He grins and his teeth flash. I have sent Theseus on his way. He made no protest. Your lover is fickle, Ariadne.
‘My lover is a Greek,’ she replies, pushes the cup away, and begins her dance. None pick up the insult, none notice the thickening of the air, the Cretan air. Hymen strikes a chord on his lyre, and silence falls, all waiting to hear his voice, more lovely than the sweetest birdsong. When the first note falls to the ground, raw and rough, they imagine he is clearing his throat. None hear the growl of the Mistress’s lions.
Ariadne dances, and the feral smell grows stronger, but the musicians have slunk back among the trees. The wild women cry out as they merge with skeins of mist rising from the pool, and Dionysus grimaces, spits, and pours black blood from his cup. Ariadne dances the lion dance, sings the lion song, and Hymen, silenced, claps his hands to his mouth. Blood seeps between his fingers. Ariadne hears no more, lets the dance transport her, and when she comes to herself, evening is falling, the glade is empty, and so is the sea. For her, it will always be empty.
Pushcart Prize nominee, Jane Dougherty’s poetry has appeared in publications including Gleam, Ogham Stone and Black Bough Poetry as well as the Ekphrastic Review. Her short stories have been published in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Prairie Fire, Lucent Dreaming among others. She lives in southwest France. She has two poetry chapbooks, thicker than water and birds and other feathers.
A Backwards Glance
O Hymen, O Hymenee, no way but forward now
to my altar-bed, my moon-slung chambers!
O my daunting bride, ethereal as haunted rose.
O Hymen, my bride, fair as fruiting alabaster!
Look upon me, my applecheeked bride!
Look upon me, with blossom stung!
Look upon me, foolish Hymenee!
How tender the rose, not to touch.
How tender the rose, save this tricky thorn!
O Hymen, O Hymenee, O why
do those sweet almond eyes bound toward the door?
Danielle McMahon is a mom of two and occasional poet. Her work has appeared in Lammergeier, Rogue Agent, Storm Cellar, Tales from PA, and F Word. She lives in PA with her family.
The Ode to New Beginnings
their wedding jamboree / the mellifluous echoing of the undulating voices revealing the unmasked merriness / the fragrant aroma waltzing in the air teasing their taste buds / concealing the flaring nostrils with the servers soundlessly tending to the tiddly patrons is little to none / myriad suits hand in hand with their flawlessly attired halves / the whooshing hums of extravagant gowns whispering of the genesis that lies in wait / a boisterous procession ripping the air on the way to the couple’s new home / the rose petals shyly hovering / almost surreal / every impulse converging on the moment ahead / being initiated into womanhood / her hair standing on end / with anticipation / love / excitement / the shimmering lights of chandeliers spritzing abstract contours on the walls / her slim frame floating above the ground, in a trance / with gentleness she has come to know so well as he carries her over the threshold / uplifting sounds diminuendo as eyes meet / behind the closing door the world disappearing / their bodies surrendering, vehemently / an ode to a new beginning
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 writes at night when everyone is asleep; when she lacks words to express herself, she uses photography to speak for her. She spends many an hour fiddling around with her website https://damicandrea.wordpress.com/
Keeping it low key
Karla wondered how she'd let herself be talked into being 'the bride' for Lexi's photo shoot. Lexi must be the ultimate sweet talker, based on how many friends she'd persuaded to turn up and wear her creations. At least she wasn't wearing one of the toga-like outfits, Karla thought. Now that the New Bride! magazine photographer had finished the shoot the toga girls were letting off steam, as were the three kids Lexi had found somewhere to 'add colour' as she put it. The toga girls were dismantling the photo set props, throwing parts of the floral displays hither and yon, a random phrase that popped into Karla's head. She consoled herself that at least none of her friends would see the pictures. New Bride! was niche, mainly for fantastical or historically themed weddings, and had only a small readership. Just as she was pondering these thoughts Lexi came up to her, smiling, and said, "I've just been looking at the proofs of the shots. There are some stunners in there. I think this collection is the one that will really launch my brand. There's one of you that's so good I'm thinking of putting it on a couple of prime billboard sites, one by the big road junction coming into town and the other above the main road through downtown. How great would that be!"
Emily Tee writes poetry and flash fiction. She's had pieces published in The Ekphrastic Review and elsewhere online, and in print in some publications by Dreich, with more work forthcoming elsewhere. She lives in the UK.
Hymen, oh Hymen Restorer!
While living in Mombasa half a century ago, when dear mother earth was not on fire or flooded, when women's rights were in utero (who knew the birth would be ass-first breech), I shared a house with Red Sue (hennaed hair, Kiwi nurse, hymen restorer par excellence) and Black Sue (Tutsi mother, British father, blue stocking accent, snacker of crickets).
Red Sue and Black Sue had lived in Kenya a good decade by the time I washed up on Mombasa's shores ragged from a 'forced' marriage to a roving dick, who said, 'If you don't marry me, I'll kill myself.' I should have said, 'Why don't you?' instead of 'I do.'
Back in the intoxicated daze of no rights for women and girls in East Africa, males traded females like cattle, and as their value lay in blood on the sheets, grass mat, what have you, Red Sue and Black Sue offered assurance with virginity kits: herbal teas, syringes, vials of blood.
A surety that brides would not be murdered by their young brothers (too young to be prosecuted) the morning after.
Five decades later, would the Sues and I see a decrease in femicide? No. Lamentably. No. Across the globe, across cultures, across religions, thousands of women and girls are dishonourably murdered annually. Inexcusable (to so many of us) honour killings, crimes of passion, remain excusable (to so many others).
And what dreadful irony in Juan Luna's painting!
On a jealous rampage, Luna injured his two brothers-in-law, then shot his mother-in-law and wife to death.
French law, circa late 1800s, allowed jealous husbands to commit murder. Luna was acquitted, paid 40 francs in court fees, and moved to Madrid.
a flat in Montreal
an off-grid cabin on a lake
a cottage on Gotland Island in the Baltic
as she slouches towards 75
she finds her words
spoken written slung
she finds this
so much so, she wishes
tireless Lorette and her editorial coven
for their brilliance