The Mother Lode
My husband was never without a piano, its keys
touchstones. Their intimacy as sacred
as communion. Whether rented, borrowed,
or finally bought, the instrument might be
a spinet, an upright, even a baby grand.
Never a Casio or Yamaha.
What can a two-year-old remember
of his mother—concert pianist, beautiful
and beguiling, Lyda, who died too young?
A baby left behind. He once told me
that as a child, he took refuge under
the grand piano that stood forever
silent in his Victorian home. Solace
in moments of sadness or when he’d misbehaved
and his stepmother promised
the wooden paddle in the basement. I imagine
his mother seated at the spinet in our house,
luminous, ethereal, a lithe phantom,
her hands motionless, poised gracefully above the keys.
In the background, his stereo playing Brahms’s
waltz for piano, Opus 39, Number 15.
Sandi Stromberg’s full-length collection, Frogs Don't Sing Red, was published by Kelsay Books in April 2023 and includes several works nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She edited Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston, recommended reading by the Houston Chronicle, and for Museum of the Big Bend co-edited Echoes of the Cordillera, ekphrastic poems based on the photography of Jim Bones. Most recently, her poetry has appeared in Panoplyzine, San Pedro River Review, The Ekphrastic Review, and Unknotting the Line: The Poetry in Prose. She is an editor at The Ekphrastic Review. Her poetry, translated into Dutch, can be found at Brabant Cultureel and on the website of Dutch poet, Albert Hagenaars.
My hair grizzled, face
chiseled with the years
of your absence,
all traces of my femininity erased
while you fiddled in the garage,
knows whose orders and specifications.
I mean, cubits, Noah? Cubits?
When we were young,
you showered me with rosebuds,
soft petals caressing skin uncreased.
Now, the wrinkles are etched in,
and you draw sketches now.
Count cows and other animals.
Two of everything must go.
The only pair that won’t be there
as a set of two?
Trystan Popish (she/her/hers) is a disabled American poet. In her work, Trystan plays with sound and unexpected internal rhymes, bringing a sonic levity to explorations of mental health, disability, family trauma, grief, and survival. Her work appears in Open Minds Quarterly, Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly, and Twenty Bellows.
We blew through, no walls or windows shattered,
only this wake, these things, and a freight-train rumbling
which has passed with the night. Beer bottles, Chilton,
mine. China cabinet, yours. China, what is left of it,
silver goblet, though we both drank from it, yours.
Place settings, the table upon which they set, we
shared that a while, though the careful wrapping
of the napkins is you. As is the mirrored candle-
holder flat on the writing desk, though once it hung
in a living room and once, if memory serves, I
gifted you it. And the desk? Both of us, facing,
in the beginning, a blackboard scribbled with
intimate equations. Solved, in the end, for zero.
Field and Stream, Better Homes and Gardens,
ghosts now, haunting the magazine basket
too often ignored. That photo behind the Chilton:
you, as I first saw you, perhaps in real time, perhaps
in the frame of memory. The books, both standing
and splayed, a library of what came after. The rest,
more difficult to divvy up. Flowers: dried now,
thorny then, vase of origin unknown. Serving plate,
display purposes only. A Harlequin tube of shifting sands
which dazzled us from time to time. Boxed reflections
of empty hopes and unwrapped dreams. Instruments
of torture, the hooks we sank into each other. Santa
parting the tableware, or is it a hula dancer with
coconut breasts? And, of course, our favorite game,
twisting, twining, plotting to upset, never a true
embrace. But, for the life of me, I can’t quite place
the elk head. Something we immured, perhaps, Poe-like,
when we mortared that brick wall? Talisman? Fetish?
Beating heart? The future, as we envisioned it.
The happily ever after. If so, who gets it now?
Who wants it, now?
Modern and Other -isms
But is it? Can it truly be, modern? Or are we
postmodern here, looking back on what we once
thought of as modern? Aren’t we in the instant that is after
the instant that was now an instant ago? And wasn’t this
modern postmodern to the modern that came before it?
Is this the place we stayed at last time? Or the deconstruction
we will be checking into once we park the rental? Perhaps it is staid,
sedate, the principled break we need; perhaps the experiential
scatology we’ve been looking forward to. It is forward, right? But
if it’s post, aren’t we backward? What if there are no crystal balls,
and the post-past is just a dream? I tell you the light above
is the sun in an overcast sky, you insist
it’s a streetlight coming on at dusk. On second glance,
I concur with you. On retrospection,
you prefer my first impression.
All Cretans are liars, you say, trusting I remember Epimenides,
and the place of his birth. Or will, at any given moment.
Given. Is that how time works? Given, at any moment? If so,
by whom? Do we evolve, or are we creation ongoing? What if
we are both? Here tomorrow, gone today? The Ghetto Singers
in Theresienstadt play Someday My Prince Will Come
before the train for Auschwitz rolls in. McCartney sings of Yesterday,
Harrison of Something. Here, in the postmodern, you can feel the
neon pulse in red, hear the groan of green in the stoplight womb.
See the golden glow beyond the pale/pole, just the one, come on in the
second floor window—or is it the third? We can’t visualize, after all, street
level, where structure begins. Someone up late. Or early? Don’t let those
wires, those overhead threads, that Spider-Time’s spun web, hang you up.
GPS is useless here. What you have is all you have. Where you have been
is who you are going is when you were. Arrival, departure, the same way station.
Keep it new, says Pound, in his pre-post-modern world. Not under this sun,
replies the prophet, three million moments before. And suddenly, nothing changes.
Absence. That is what is here, the absent.
Fishermen, tourists, cloud-gazers, motor
boats, the wind, all absent. And now
I add you to the scene. Squarely within frame,
next the laugh-mouthed children. Though,
can I miss what I never had? Possession
is nine-tenths of the law. I had the other tenth.
I had a ghost, a dream, a few words strung
like cloud-bellies in air. Love, life.
But neither of us consulted a dictionary.
That glow, that lost horizon thermonuclear
remnant of some foreign, absent, ravaged land. What if
I dive in, stroke for it—the butterfly, no,
the breast? Can I reach it before the sun flees
refuge? Before Christ returns and pulls forth
fishes and loaves? Can I swim with a miracle
in my pocket? For you were, you know, I say
to no one, my miracle. False prophet that I am,
I had predicted sun in someone’s hair.
Someone’s hand in someone’s hand.
I sit, pull my jacket tighter.
Absence. Chill caress upon the heart.
Buck Rogers. The Jetsons.
The Future now playing
in the rear view,
all shiny and metallic,
tailgated by aliens,
friendly or hostile
depending on one’s point of view.
Still UFO but now
stanchioned into memory,
crowd control pretenders
preparing for ghostly queues
of kids with ray-guns, phasers, lightsabers.
Three day work weeks, work from home,
robotic houses, cars that read your mind.
These were the Futures we wanted.
Doublethink, the ignition point
of books, HAL, androids dreaming
of electric sheep—informational,
apocalyptic, romantic, maybe,
but these were
that scared us.
AI we say,
now that it’s here,
There is nothing wrong
with your television set.
Maybe I wrote this,
maybe I phoned it in,
flipped a switch,
maybe I’m cruising
the air streams,
pouring a whiskey
from the wet bar,
lighting the AI fireplace,
stars strung overhead,
taking those little green men
---who, in the end,
only wanted to warn us---
to the Outer Limits.
We repeat: There is nothing wrong
Robert L. Dean, Jr
Robert L. Dean, Jr.’s poetry collections are Pulp (Finishing Line Press 2022); The Aerialist Will not be Performing: ekphrastic poems and short fictions to the art of Steven Schroeder (Turning Plow Press, 2020); and At the Lake with Heisenberg (Spartan Press, 2018). A multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, his work has appeared in many literary journals. Dean is a member of the Kansas Authors Club and The Writers Place. He has been a professional musician, and worked at The Dallas Morning News. He lives in Augusta, Kansas, midway between the Air Capital of the World and the Flint Hills.
Jason Baldinger is a poet and photographer from Pittsburgh, PA. He’s penned fifteen books of poetry the newest of which include: A History of Backroads Misplaced: Selected Poems 2010-2020 (Kung Fu Treachery), and This Still Life (Kung Fu Treachery) with James Benger. His first book of photography, Lazarus, as well as two ekphrastic collaborations (with Rebecca Schumejda and Robert Dean) are forthcoming. His work has appeared across a wide variety of online sites and print journals. You can hear him from various books on Bandcamp and on lps by The Gotobeds and Theremonster. His etsy shop can be found under the tag la belle riviere.
Sky Above Clouds
I like to imagine being a mid-century airline passenger sitting beside
the black-clad, aging artist ensconced in her window seat.
Her dry personality shows at first—not much of a conversationalist,
she seems nervous on taxi and take-off. But once in the air,
she becomes animated, glued to the pressurized glass.
Rising above the cloud cover, she exclaims, “Oh, look!” pointing
to fluffy forms far below us. “Humph,” I catch her muttering,
“Alfred never saw them this way,” she quietly says with a smirk,
as if to give a cosmic one-up to her controlling, late husband.
The back of her head is all I see for most of the flight,
her salt-and-pepper mane drawn into a tight, sculpted bun
at the base of her skull. After coffee is served, she begins
sketching on a paper napkin, looking intermittently from
the small square canvas on her tray table, then out of
the square portal of possibility. She asks if she can have
my napkin, too, and I oblige eagerly, hoping to see more
of the artist’s process in its genesis.
Toward the end of the flight, she seems satisfied with
one tiny drawing in particular, a horizontal design featuring
neat rows of the many fluffy forms receding into a great beyond.
As we prepare to exit the plane, she beams with a confidence
not there at the beginning of the trip. I thank her.
“For what?” she asks with slight smile and twinkling eyes.
“For showing me a new way to see.” Her confidence visibly grows.
“Just you wait until I finish it,” she says with a knowing grin
spreading across her seasoned, sun-wrinkled face.
As a conceptual visual artist, Barbara Tyler has the lofty idea she can write poetry, also. A few brave literary journals have validated her dream, causing her to write more. To experience her art and a small selection of poems, please visit https://www.btylerfineart.com.
After Goya’s Disparate Puntual;
depicting a woman
balancing on a horse
balancing on a tightrope.
In circus circles
I’m quite the draw.
Observe how I pull off
my pose of poise and diffidence,
an acrobat’s prowess.
You try doing this in a dress.
With a force you’d never notice
the horse torques beneath my toes,
curvettes to the suede of my soffited sole
consoling her crested neck.
But you notice the crowd
before you focus on me,
shirking aghast in the dark.
Their hearts in their mouths
as they’re dying to gasp,
lean in to be shown
deft, death-defying stuff.
They’ve all paid to see
the fille and her filly
fall off in a folly
whatever else they may claim.
So at least once a shift
I give them this;
misplacing the reins,
losing my footing
in a convincing swoon,
a surrender to biomechanics.
As I hit the deck I know
I’ve put on a good show.
Appalled, the crowd applaud,
clap and go home happy.
Julie grew up on the west coast of Scotland and fell in love with Spanish from listening to Gloria Estefan songs, spending her pocket money on pocket dictionaries. After graduating in Hispanic Studies from the University of Glasgow she worked in Edinburgh for a decade before moving to Barcelona in 2011. Her poems have been published in journals including Lines Review, Poetry Scotland, Poetry Ireland Review, Causeway/Cabhsair and PENning, as well as anthologised in Unbridled: Women's Poetry. In 2023 she won the Plaza Audio Poetry prize, was shortlisted for the Bridport, commended in the Winchester and awarded third prize in the McLellan poetry competitions. She's currently working towards her first collection.
The Pushcart Prize has been honouring small press literature since 1976. The long-running anthology is an annual tribute to poetry, fiction, and other forms of creative writing, drawing attention to a variety of noteworthy examples from journals and independent publishers.
It in our honour to nominate our incredible writers each year. Please join me in congratulating the following six ekphrastic writers, our nominations for next year's Pushcart anthology.
A big congratulations!
Watermelon of Forgiveness, by Laurel Benjamin
Progress, by Cathy Hollister
Object Permanence, by Caroline Taylor
Pilgrimage, by Rebecca Weigold
Notes on Lost Highway, by Clare Welsh
On Seeing a Stranger Witness Wheatfield with Crows, by Robert Walicki
Gaslighting van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh aboard a spaceship of WOW
skirts the high heavens every Starry Night;
between obsessing and pining, heavy eyes blink
as his irises flash like twinkling starshine,
deafly listening… appreciating…celestial sounds
of angel choirs that resonate like crystal verrillons--
ghost harps plucked across the solar system—ringing, singing,
vibrating behind quasars, emerging from shimmering
blankets of light; thrust into the stratosphere,
notes ricochet off comets, manipulate astral echoes
throughout the Milky Way, peal past nebulae nurseries,
mix sonic booms with extraterrestrial arias;
piercing zodiacal clouds the shape of severed earlobes,
cosmic noise creates electromatic waves…bouncing…
sending…receiving data via deep space antennas
silenced by black holes, consumed like Potato Eaters
foraging for a future in universe that measures awe
like impressionist artists who elevate mundane subject matter
with palette boards, paint knives, and horsehair applicators
as dynamic as van Gogh’s Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds
where shooting stars and blazing meteors hover
over pointillism earthscapes as bold as unblended colours
and messy brushstrokes that accentuate light, plunge
beyond twilight zones, then burst like galactic Sunflowers.
An award-winning author, poet, and former Evergreen Valley College English Professor, Sterling Warner’s works have appeared many international literary magazines, journals, and anthologies including Anti-Heroin Chic, Sparks of Calliope, The Ekphrastic Review, and Danse Macabre,. Warner’s collections of poetry and prose include Rags and Feathers, Without Wheels, ShadowCat, Edges, Memento Mori: A Chapbook Redux, Serpent’s Tooth, Flytraps, and Cracks of Light: Pandemic Poems 2019-2022, and Halcyon Days: Collected Fibonacci (2023)—as well as Masques: Flash Fiction & Short Stories. Currently, Warner is writes, hosts/participates in “virtual” open mics, turns wood, and enjoys boating and fishing in Washington.
Here it never rains cats and dogs. It is we who rain; we who never knew enough to come in out of the rain have ourselves become the rain. A blessing or a curse, we can’t agree. Dutour says blessing, because we sustain life. Beaulieu claims we have usurped the prerogative of the clouds, so it must be a curse, and he prays for all our souls. Each has his constituency in the storm, but I rain alone. I don’t make black and white, either/or evaluations, pronouncements. For I know, just as sure as my name is Magritte, that this storm shall pass.
Called “one of the innovators of the short short story” by Publishers Weekly, Peter Cherches has published seven short fiction collections since 1986. His writing has also appeared in scores of magazines, anthologies and websites, including Harper’s, Bomb, North American Review, Semiotext(e), and Fiction International, as well as Billy Collins’ Poetry 180. His latest book is, Things (Bamboo Dart Press, 2023), a collection of experimental short prose and poetry. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he is also a jazz singer and lyricist.
Light and Colour Like Clutching the Shadow of an Old Lover
The way light softens the pale gray table cloth. Like that time when we were lovers. The sparkle of white grains on bread. The girl’s face. The white-washed wall where there is no mappa mundi, no adornment. The wicker basket and metal container, suspended, breathless. Clothing hastily piled on the floor. Yellows, blues, browns, strong and earthy like skins touching. Progression of light along bare wood. The folds of the girl’s skirt, her sleeves bunched up to her elbows. No gesture of pretense. The slow sliding together of our hands and legs. There is no resistance. The earthenware milk jug. Its hardness suppled and softened by invisible brushwork. Milk trickles into a bowl, the cool liquid lapping our pink tongues. Like our hunger for each other. The window’s thick glass squares emanate a subdued radiance. We melt into texture and contrast, clutching each other’s shadow. A syncopated rhythm of here and now. That thin ecstatic white line. It unspools itself along the back of the milkmaid’s silhouette. A liminal thread between the what and the how of longing.
"I am Joy Dubé, living on Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada. I write poetry to explore meaning and to connect more deeply with people and places around me. I love words and many times I find I do not know the meanings of words until I juxtapose them with other words in a creative way. I try to give voice to a unique way of looking and feeling. Using art as a visual prompt is a challenge I enjoy."
The Vermont Farm Year in 1890
based on an exhibit in 1990 at Billings Farm & Museum, Woodstock, Vermont
They survived the twelve-foot snow,
now sit frozen in the photograph,
silver granules freckling white
their solemn faces & calico.
They planned for their losses --
pressing seven seeds
into each hole, rhyming,
One for the blackbird,
one for the crow,
one for the cutworm
four to let grow.
They planned for their losses,
One for the measles,
one for the cold,
one for the bloody flux,
four to grow old.
Their names kept them upright:
Asa, Ethan, Abigail, Dwight,
Hannah, Sarah, Nathan, Giles.
Their farms sprouted nouns & verbs,
all blunt & stubbled:
hoe scythe bellows
sieve flail winnow
coulter felloe peavy
yep nope mebbe
Work was played out in cadence:
broadcast oat seed, rye seed,
buckwheat & barley;
walk & swing, a lot like dancing.
Rout out tussocks,
haul out boulders,
load up the stone-boat
to build strong fences.
As you tread between the tombs
(weeping angels and seraphim)
please observe how oft there’s
two of her to one of him.
clean glean chop milk comb
card spin weed feed grind
cook bake curd churn pluck
sew treat teach birth suckle
They depleted the land of woods.
Used themselves up, wore themselves out,
made themselves do or did without.
Their epitaphs are everywhere --
tumbleweed, dandelion seed,
brambles shrouding cellar holes,
stone walls tumbling down the fall line.
Norbert Hirschhorn is a public health physician, commended by President Bill Clinton as an “American Health Hero,” proud to follow in the tradition of physician-poets. Hirschhorn has published seven previous collections, recently a bilingual Arabic-English co-translation with Syrian physician-poet Fouad M. Fouad, Once Upon a Time in Aleppo. The seventh collection has just been published (June, 2023), Over the Edge, Holland Park Press, London. See: www.bertzpoet.com.
The Ekphrastic Review
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