This time more than ever, I wanted to post every response. Thank you to each and every one of you who shared your heart and soul on this painting. We had so many wonderful submissions. Thank you all for being part of this tradition and braving your words. With the heavy heart we are caring for the world right now, this matters more than ever. It was incredibly hard to choose, and each of these gorgeous works below means something equally precious was left out. Please know your words matter here.
Joy isn’t a twirling, round, giggling wind gone love struck. Its reuniting. Peace.
Distant visages dare touch selvage of my face. Go back invaders.
Sisters, mothers, daughters hold giggling hands. Shoved to cry, hands shut up.
Horses don't neigh naughty anymore. Heck, horses have been banished.
Ponytails, scarfs, hats courtesy in Pampushky dreams. Sleep is awake.
* pampushky: A traditional Ukrainian dessert, a kind of donut filled with jam or chocolate
Anita Nahal is an Indian American poet, flash fictionist, children’s writer, and professor. She has three books of poetry, one of flash fiction, four for children and four edited anthologies to her credit. Her third poetry book, What’s wrong with us Kali women? (Kelsay, 0221) has been prescribed as compulsory reading in an elective course on Multicultural Society in the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. It has also been nominated by Cyril Dabydeen, celebrated Guyanese Indian Canadian & Ottawa poet laureate emeritus & novelist as his choice for the best poetry book for 2021 for British, Ars Notoria. Anita teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. She is the daughter of Sahitya Akademi award winning Indian novelist, Chaman Nahal and educationist, Sudarshna Nahal. More on her at: https://anitanahal.wixsite.com/anitanahal
Crowds wait in line for a Letná carousal twizzle
as drums, cymbals & xylophones accentuate
Wurlitzer steam whistle organs; shrill notes & percussion
slice through twilight gloom, calliope transmitting
carnival sounds down city streets, along country roads.
Looping circus music attracts calico women; sisters three,
twins wrap heads in golden scarves like sunburst Madonnas
while the third virgin crown’s draped in a navy-blue burqa;
collective downcast eyes project reticence & modesty
feigning an indifferent awareness to onlooking admirers.
Winds catch embroidered edges of cashmere pashminas
worn by the feminine doppelgängers; the triad all delight
cantering upon the roundabout tornado like children,
anticipating the platform’s slow, steady, gyrating gallop--
gears thrusting wooden mounts toward heaven & earth.
Hand carved horses painted vibrant primary colors
prance in circles, withers pieced by bronze poles the sisters
grasp & before riding sidesaddle aboard black stallions,
skirts cascade over equine barrels & haunches, a sight
as delicate & haunting as revolving music box figurines.
An award-winning Washington-based author, poet, and educator, Sterling Warner’s works have appeared literary magazines, journals, and anthologies including Trouvaille Review, Shot Glass Journal, Danse Macabre, Ekphrastic Review, and Sparks of Calliope. Warner’s collections of poetry include Rags and Feathers, Without Wheels, ShadowCat, Edges, Memento Mori, Serpent’s Tooth, and Flytraps: Poems (2022)—as well as Masques: Flash Fiction & Short Stories. Currently, Warner writes, participates in “virtual” poetry readings, and enjoys retirement in Washington.
‘round and ‘round
on the carousel
up and down
the earth shakes
the horses fall
the bloodied flee
Joanne Corey re-discovered her childhood love of writing poetry in her fifties. She currently lives in Vestal, New York, where she participates with the Binghamton Poetry Project, Broome County Arts Council, and Grapevine Poets. With the Boiler House Poets Collective, she has completed an (almost) annual residency week at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams since 2015. She invites you to visit her eclectic blog at topofjcsmind.wordpress.com.
Triolet for Kyiv
The carousel goes round and round
when the circus comes to Kyiv.
Great crowds raise a mighty sound,
the carousel goes round and round,
and in that vortex awe abounds,
on the great and fateful day in Kyiv.
The carousel goes round and round
when the circus comes to Kyiv.
Brian O'Sullivan teaches rhetoric and English literature in southern Maryland. His work has been published in One Art, The Galway Review, and Every Day Fiction, and The Ekphrastic Review through a couple of previous challenges.
I want to take this moment of fancy
to reach your feet, and moan at dusk
there are freedoms in this world
I taste, and try, and tarnish my soul with,
dictations of land and prudent ties
may not influence me
a velvet curtain backs me in smooth sessions
my eyes squirt to watch you
smiling back at me,
I want ride horses, twirl in the air,
adorn florets of youth
I want to laugh with you
you see, I want to take you on a merry-go-round,
a haughty affair with laughter, even a love story
Yukti Narang is a variegated creative writer, poet and performing artist who finds magic in tales, music, art and characters as an avid reader and cinephile, loves creating characters out of thin air, and making stories out of narratives simple and bizarre. Writing culturally rich stories with fascinating twists from history, mythology, and beyond are the works of her art. She wishes to become a versatile storyteller in all her chosen formats. She is in the process of getting her first novel published traditionally, and has multiple pieces of poetry and short fiction sent to anthologies and magazines internationally. Yukti creates screenplays and theatre plays, and is working towards the literary world and cinema. She is the sanctioned writer of two art galleries in India.
The Spring Fair in Babyntsi, Ukraine
That glorious April day Elena wore the embroidered shawl my mother had made many years before, straining her eyesight through the winter ahead of my own springtime sixteenth birthday. Her big sister Marta kept one protective arm on Elena, the other on her own scarf as the wooden horses galloped up and down and the stiff wind grabbed at it. Marta was a new moon within the folds of that dark dress next to Elena's dawning sunlight in her fresh white petticoated skirt that was crisp, clean and sharp as the brittle breeze. The Babyntsi Spring Fair was being held next to the corn fields with hedgerows abuzz with bee hum and birdsong but the seductive strains of carnival music floated across everything. A time of unfurling after winter's long, rigid embrace. The picture is burned in my mind, my two girls there on the cusp of adult life, Elena especially. She was so captivated by the playful childishness of the carousel, yet awakening to what it meant to be a young woman. A few more springs would pass quickly and soon both girls would be married to local farmers, and become mothers nurturing their own shy dark-haired, laughing-eyed daughters. Before long it would be Elena's turn to pass on that hand-made shawl, our own special Ukrainian family tradition.
Spring sighs with promise
cheeks and lips bloom like flowers
last girlhood flourish
Emily Tee spent her working life wrangling numbers. Now retired, she's started writing poetry. She has had several pieces published in response to The Ekphrastic Review challenges and has some poems appearing in print later this year with other publications. She lives in a semi-rural part of England.
On Seeing Carousel, a painting by Olexandr Murashko
Put war aside and for one moment consider the joy of riding a carousel.
Children love horses, play becoming the rider, trotting along parks’ bridle paths.
Back then, my father took us to a nearby constabulary, showed my sister and me
the police horses, let us feed them carrots or a bag of oats. Fear gave way to
wonder – such big mouths, whiskered lips, and the sleek mass of their bodies.
If I could not ride along their slung backs, I could go around on the carousel,
child-of-an-equestrian on a painted wooden mount, up and down, up, and down,
for as long as the hurdy-gurdy sounds would last. Each ride back then cost
a dime and my mother watched and waited, then we took the bus back home.
One Sunday the neighbor’s children were in the park, too. They had walked
all the way there and had but one go, all they could afford. I considered myself
both lucky and shamed, not unlike my feelings now as I sit here clean, untouched,
safe, thousands of miles from Ukraine, where its people bravely are hanging on
to their horses, the rides of their lives and the world’s. Up and down, up and down.
Ronnie Hess is an essayist and poet who lives in Madison, WI. She has written six poetry chapbooks and two culinary travel guides. Her latest book, Tripping the Light Ekphrastic, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books.
Nina Sofiya, dreamer,
yet so observant of our guardian’s biddings--
Nina Sofiya, wise one, they all say:
you don’t even raise your eyes
to look across the crowd
or catch the spark that strikes
from some young soldier passing us,
who doffs his cap and smiles, beguiles….
You’re tranquil on the rise, the dip of your magical horse,
our guardian’s wishes ringing, still, in your ears:
If you must go to the fair, be modest.
Wrap your shawls about you.
No raucous crying out.
Nothing unseemly—no loud laughter.
Remember who you are.
Above all, remember who your father is.
Nina Sofiya, comely, quiet one: you dwell long
before the ikon in your nightly prayers
am mutinous: restless
as a spring wind (twisting curling rags
into my hair) and careless, now, if my shawl flies free
as we ride these waves of giddy joy—ecstatic:
eyes wide, drinking in
the wheel, the whirl of colours--
never before in a fairground to see
starred lights or hear the hurdy-gurdy
churning faster, faster, making music in my feet:
music that would have me up and off this horse’s back--
to dance and dance the whole night long in crocuses and daffodils:
in my truelove’s arms.
I am spring.
I am woman.
Ballagher has travelled widely and lived for years in different countries, an experience that has seasoned her poetry, though she is also glad now to be writing and blogging at home in the UK again: https://lizzieballagherpoetry.wordpress.com/
The Never-Ending Merry-Go-Round
Mother held our hands as we walked up the hill to the never-ending merry-go-round. I wore a yellow dress which covered my bruised knees. I also brought a coloring book. Mother liked to say, we should bring something to do, in case there’s nothing to do. My little brother, David, who was only six, brought nothing.
The merry-go-round had blue and white stripes and a wooden flag on top. A blind man, chewing on straw, stood at the edge of the grass. He was old and his skin was like a worn tire. On the panel next to him was a red button.
"It starts off slow?" asked David for the hundredth time.
"Yes," said Mother.
"It's not really never ending," I said. "Otherwise it wouldn't be stopped now."
The sky had wispy clouds and smoke came from the farmland to the west. Mother released our hands. She appeared light enough to fly. She turned away. “I tried," she said.
“You sure did," said the blind man.
Mother reached into her purse. She dropped two quarters into his cup and the man reached inside and felt them. “Okay, now,” he said. "You let me know when you’re ready.”
She lifted my brother up first, setting him on a brown unicorn with a chipped saddle. "You hold on tight." She handed him a paper bag. "Don't let go no matter what."
He started to whimper.
Mother lifted me onto a black mare with stars on its saddle. I rolled my coloring book and slid it under my leg. She lifted my hands, kissed them, and pushed them onto the pole. She was crying.
"Shhh. Don't talk." She handed me a paper bag with my crisp bar and milk. Then she hurried to the edge of the never-ending merry-go-round and gracefully stepped off.
"You ready?" asked the blind man.
Mother took a few steps before turning to watch.
"Miss?" said the blind man.
"Yes. I’m ready.”
The music started slowly but then sped up. The horses creaked and bobbed up and down and we started to turn. We weren’t going fast, but David shut his eyes.
Every time we went around, I looked for my mother. When I found her, I kept my eye on her for as long as possible. She was thin and beautiful. I tried to count how many times we went around before she was gone. It was more than twenty, I know that for sure.
Mark S Bailen
Mark S Bailen: "I have an MFA from the University of Arizona. I have published in Fantasy, Nature, and Little Blue Marble. I have also written and illustrated an award winning children’s book titled, Earf. My website is fakemountain.com."
She knows the carousel will burn.
And so, her gaze - pitiless,
a field of winter wheat
trampled by rough tread
heedless of the power in a root.
When the horseman comes,
imbalance in his hands,
her shoulders will relax.
She’ll steal his steed
and ride black Famine out,
common as a fairground tune.
Bellows pump across the perforated
book, country music, lonesome,
For now, her shawl drifts,
as the blade.
She is cornsilk, tassel,
pollen in a martial trough of wind.
Carrie Heimer writes and teaches in Fairbanks, Alaska. Her work has appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Comstock Review, Rock & Sling, Relief, and The Windhover. Her poetry collections are available on her website: www.poetryissalt.com.
Student Days in Kyiv Rekindled
A troika of souvenirs graces my dining table.
Two Ukrainian dolls scarved shawled
their embroidered blouses red green
nestle against a silvery samovar I carried home
boxed and strapped across my chest when I left Kyiv.
The golden city of cupolas, catacombs, monk’s bones.
Long nights shots of vodka shared
with Ukrainian youth
bent over guitars Beatles’ songs.
Singing I want to hold your hand
feeding their hunger for blue jeans
chewing gum ballpoint pens.
Always under caution to be
careful of our words of where our feet took us.
The ongoing chill of Cold War
those fraught debates the U.S. presence in Vietnam.
a droning dissonance.
Now another invasion Russia into Ukraine
the Iron Curtain redescending.
The Iron Curtain redescending.
Another invasion Russia into Ukraine
a droning dissonance
Those fraught debates the U.S. presence in Vietnam
the ongoing chill of Cold War.
Careful of our words where our feet took us,
always under caution.
Chewing gum ballpoint pens
feeding their hunger for blue jeans.
Singing I want to hold your hand
bent over guitars Beatles’ songs
with Ukrainian youth.
Long nights shots of vodka shared.
I left Kyiv, the golden city of cupolas, catacombs, monk’s bones.
Boxed and strapped across my chest
a silvery samovar I carried home, nestles
Ukrainian dolls scarved shawled
embroidered blouses red green.
A troika of souvenirs on my dining table.
Sandi Stromberg first visited the Soviet Union in the winter of 1966-67, a member of the second group of Russian students ever allowed to enter the country. A visit to Kyiv, or Kiev as its name was transliterated at that time, was part of that trip. Her chapbook, Contradictions, contains her poems about that life-changing experience.
Carousel, by Oleksandr Murashko
The music stops,
the players swop
for no way back;
the fan is dropped,
the die is cast,
wisdom has met
Above the ground
Ukraine life halts;
has shuddered, died;
the horses freeze
their heads, the grins
become a rictus
The crowds have fled,
they wait outside
their native land
for safer times.
The artists oil
their guns, the poets
lay down traps
instead of rhymes.
girls hide the bombs
beneath their skirts;
they dress to kill
a hellish foe,
and in the dark
they make Ukraine
a bitter pill.
The world has changed;
we throw the dice,
we spin the yarn
How worms may turn,
how birds may sing,
we can’t yet say.
Human beings travel through History on the backs of two cosmic carousel horses: one pale, one dark.
Trying to outrun Hell, pale horse races inexorably toward intentional ruin,
while dark horse unexpectedly wins the heat now and then for good or evil.
Each horse circles and captures the race’s golden prize, neither permanently triumphant.
Horsey history repeats the timeless tale. Think of ancient lore surrounding comely Helen’s snatching!
The tale focuses wholly on the punch line – triumphant Greek legion
squarely sieged and sacked Paris’ sleeping posse, revealing themselves as dark horse Bronze Age thugs.
Mediterranean men bent on revenge for the seduction of Leda’s fledgling granddaughter.
Storm troopers rolled a hulking hobby horse to the Homeric gates, Troy’s equestrian mascot transformed for monumental treachery.
Winning the war, though, delivered Achaean bragging rights
as hollow hollow hollow as the horse.
City razed, temples desecrated, women widowed.
The spoils-laden, chest-bumping victors stumbled across the finish line and headed home --
only to be hobbled by outraged Gods hell-bent on shipwrecking reckless soldiers for
subjugating Troy with the usual trifecta: rape-pillage-plunder.
Goons’ dominance saddling Grecian gifts forever with apprehensions of insincerity.
Consider, too, the so-called Sport of Kings. Royalty and ruffians pant from the grandstand
betting on a race that could end in a dead heat. When an odds-on favorite filly fails,
only her jockey senses the severity of her wounds. Rider pulls up on the reigns
when the optimistic odds of the morning line vanish at a finish line the mare is too broken to cross.
Pale or dark, it’s best to avoid inspection of either steed’s teeth.
You never know what you might find there, besides, of course, a space for the golden bit.
A horse’s maw houses molars, dicers, and grinders.
Worn out, broken down choppers----toothy tick marks recording the race toward civilization’s decline.
Jude Luttrell Bradley
Jude is a writing teacher and Pushcart-nominated writer whose work has appeared on NPR and in Teaching in the Two-Year College, Momentum, The Ekphrastic Review, Tupelo Press, and Thimble. Her work re-envisions history, classical literature, and reflects on life in an ever-shrinking, ever-expanding pandemic world. Jude is the Reverend Al Green’s biggest fan.
Foal Filly Mare
In the gentle spin before real life begins, let the breeze lift your scarf, let your mouth peal pure joy, let your sister’s arm protect you from what she already knows, let the world pass by in a languid blur for the last time before you are blinkered. Take this last turn on the merry-go-round until the saddle slips from under you and your life revolves round a carousel of monthly blood.
Enjoy the final canter of childhood before the gallop into girlhood and womanhood, when any wildness left in you will be tamed, will be reined. A ride will come to mean a different thing, and when you return weary from ploughing the grain, your future husband will be the rider and you will be his beast.
Bayveen O'Connell has words in or forthcoming in Ellipsis Zine, The Lumiere Review, The Sunlight Press, Scrawl Place, The Maryland Review, The Forge Lit, Fractured Lit, Reckon Review and others. She's received a nomination for Best Microfiction, and is putting together a flash fiction collection. She lives in Ireland and loves ruins and the wild Atlantic Coast.
In man-made wind, you whiffed hearth-baked rye bread,
that spinster’s body odor, the men’s pipe
tobacco, smoked pork, beer in the hogshead--
the hot friction of metal. Worn gears would bind,
those horses would shudder and thrust forward
like the mule-drawn canon—later armor
bogged down in black mud, deep ruts in acres
unplowed, unplanted. You’d eat rats and roots;
you’d have nothing to give starving neighbours.
Then the tanks would come, then men in black boots.
Counterclockwise the black horse carried you.
The machine’s metal teeth meshed and clicked beneath.
On the gray jumper your mother rode, too.
She knew how to hang on, head down, and breathe.
Hand-painted birds, vines and green cherries wreathed
the beet-red center, withstood rain and wind.
This was your country before war—the end
of your innocence and independence.
Revolutions on horses transcended
nothing. The tanks made a strange new cadence.
A whistling shell shot through the carousel,
blew horse guts and metal gears around the square.
Your father’s friend propped him in the stairwell,
head in your mother’s scarf, flesh in his hair.
Groans and smoke traveled in darkening air.
Soldiers dragged your mother to the garden,
shot your father again in the kitchen.
One forced you onto your knees, but didn’t see
that knife under your floral shawl, freedom
in your squint, true love for your family.
On that black horse you were an old rebel
when they cranked up the re-built carousel.
You clenched your mother’s scarf and your grandchild
when again the world spun counterclockwise.
Now, she hunkers down; tanks groan and roll by.
Knife close, she waits for boots to storm inside.
Counterclockwise your black horse carries her.
The machine’s metal teeth mesh and click beneath.
A toddler looks out with her wood jumper.
She’s learning how to hold her head and breathe.
Robert E. Ray is a retired public servant. His poetry has been published by Rattle, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, Wild Roof Journal, The Ekphrastic Review, and in two poetry anthologies. He lives in coastal Georgia.
Under the setting sun
the Warsaw landscape
is splashed in watermelon.
Anastasia, her scarf
untied and blowing
in a soft breeze,
is awed by today’s
accompanied by flutes,
familiar folk songs,
the tantalizing scent
of sugar-dusted pastries
from distant booths
when she mounts
a carousel horse,
its wooden body
as it makes its
when she is reminded
from earlier dreams
of summer evenings,
before the invasion--
the dark nighttime sky,
shards of flickering light
from airborne rockets,
the orange balls
of utter destruction.
Dr. Jim Brosnan
Dr. Jim Brosnan is the author of Nameless Roads (2019). 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.
Children Against a Red Background
1.Nothing erases children riding wooden horses
a centrifugal force of growing up
joy of a Saturday afternoon
casually dressed in national costumes, you're so natural
against red backgrounds, the country fair filled
with crowds in a kind of peaceful solidarity
native food, joy and expectations for nothing
except colorful dresses and black and gray horses turning .
2.The history of your beloved country is spinning,
advancing from the past, independence waxing and waning
like horses galloping in determination and defeat.
The dust of alienation, the desire for oneness,
the pogroms and expelling for Jewish citizens–
peasants caught between Cossacks, Austrians and Ottoman Turks.
The suppression of independent language and annexing
of territory since Catherine the Great.
3.Then world wars and Stalin. Ukraine the murder belt between
Germany and the Soviets. Tens of thousands of villages destroyed
by one side or another. After WW2 pogroms and starvation for all
not only the Jewish. The Holodomor, the great famine that killed
millions of Ukrainian brothers and sisters and children. Soviet
forced collectivization and land distribution and the destruction
of your culture to become only Russian; known as
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic until the wall came down in '92.
4. What poet is qualified to understand the qualities of
separation and control and national spirit. The tangled
history,craving and carving of land and liberty like holiday lamb.
The poet of the west must stand outside the window of history and
put hope in Democracy, and Independence such tottering terms.
And look deeply in the eyes of children in 1906, in national costume
of dignity, riding a simple carousel, on wooden horses of innocence,
at a country fair, with a backdrop of red that permeates the past
and the future. While Cossacks with screaming swords and empty
bushel baskets come to plunder on horses so real your childhood
weekend of ordinary delights and red draped backgrounds
becomes more terrifying and beautiful as decades pass.
Daniel Brown lives in upstate New York where daily images from Ukraine astonish him with humanities cruelty and resilience while he goes about his retiree's life of writing and routine. He is most recently published in Jerry Jazz Musician and The Ekphrastic Review.
Kievan Rus adorned with flowers,
Ukraine, the wild Dnipro’s bride.
Behold from Saint Sophia’s towers--
No Yaroslav the Wise astride
A brazen warhorse. Sunshine chortle,
Ceramic ponies spring immortal
The brook of time and baby coos,
Aroma wafts zharkoye stew.
The Tsar’s unbridled rage, we hear it,
Resounding hooves of Peter’s steed:
The Neva’s flood has come to Kyiv;
Our sole defense, Shevchenko’s spirit.
Survive we shall, the Cossack braves
Once more—forever—save Ukraine.
Dave Day is an attorney from Honolulu, Hawaii. He has published extremely nonpoetic articles in the Hawaii Bar Journal and the Emory International Law Review.