Thank you to everyone who participated in the Maria Martinetti challenge! The accepted responses in poetry and flash fiction are below. It is always a joy to see how so many voices approach an artwork and what it inspires in their words.
The biweekly ekphrastic art prompts have become something of an institution here at The Ekphrastic Review. Each artwork is carefully selected with the hope of taking your imagination to new places and challenging you in your ekphrastic practice. It is our hope that we can show you art for the first time as well as bring the chance to write about universal favourites.
In order to maintain the pace of biweekly art prompts, this year we have stopped sending out sorry or yes letters for the challenge submissions. Since the responses are posted one week after the deadline, you can find out whether your piece was published easily in a timely manner. This is in no ways meant to be impersonal- it is simply where we saw the best opportunity to save on editorial time, because writing an extra one hundred to six hundred notes a month is a major task . We thought this over carefully, and feel the time is better spent putting the challenges together, posting our writers' work, orchestrating new projects, and promoting our journal and writers on social media, etc.
Understand that we can only use a fraction of the submissions we receive. We strive to faithfully showcase our regular contributors' works and give just as much space to new voices, too. We like to show works that demonstrate a range of perspectives and stories on the art as well, in order to give us new ways of looking at each painting. It is always tough to choose a few from many!
You still have a week to try out the current challenge, Two Sisters, by Chausseriau. Click here to see that painting and the instructions. We look forward to reading your submissions on this stunning painting.
While we are together, let me remind you about our awesome new TERcets podcast. We are most grateful to Brian A. Salmons for dreaming up this project and turning it into a reality. He has just finished the second episode! He reads Sarah Antine, Jane Frank, and Jonathan Yungkans. Check the podcast here!
Please share the challenges and these responses far and wide on your social media. It is a generous act that brings readers to our amazing writers. We are most grateful for it.
The Distaff, the Spindle, and a Cradle Full of Purkinje Fibres
I recall Grandma Smith’s spinning wheel, its parts. My mom kept the pieces
in a cardboard box. Where is that container? I think it was left in the garage--
the one constructed out of limestone by local builders, the one my dad
designed out of care, devotion, and future plans of an apartment,
a second-floor living space for us, his children, and for forthcoming generations.
I wonder if it still stands, or has the new owner demolished it? He did mention
the demolition of the house—the one made of rusticated concrete blocks
and adorned with leaded beveled glass windows, the one that’s situated
on a bank near the Rush River. And what about the adjacent acreage
across from the river? For some, a purse bulging with bankrolls and Benjamins
takes precedence over everything, including relationships. My focus shifts
to the serenity of the woman in the painting—the one who spins flax,
sits near a cradle, where a colourful textile drapes atop its handle.
Here, I picture my Great Grandma, Karin. She wears the traditional Swedish
folk costume. Her left arm hugs a distaff as her left-hand guides the unspun
fibers toward her right and to the rotation of the spindle. Beneath the cradle’s
covering, I imagine an infant, Edith Malvina, my mom’s mother, my grandma--
the one born in Filipstad, Värmland County, Sweden, the one orphaned
as a young girl. My ancestry speaks through its handwork. It echoes
with the cellular memory of craft and creation, resonates with the single,
half double, and treble crochet stitch, knit and purl, whispers weft and warp,
breathes with needlework and embroidery. A tapestry of Purkinje fibres
weave amid the inner ventricular walls of our homespun hearts.
A box of spinning wheel parts, a stone garage, a block house, and a river
bestows textural reminiscence. This imagery rocks and flows inside a cradle
of love—the one I visualize, where lullabies resound and sweet dreams repeat
for my dad, mom, brother, and the deceased relatives, the one where I hold
my sister, Mary, and my son, Andrew, in light, as I do the entirety of my living
relatives, the one where I surround humanity, Earth and its fragile creatures in prayer.
Jeannie E. Roberts
Jeannie E. Roberts lives in Wisconsin, where she writes, draws and paints, and often photographs her natural surroundings. She’s authored four poetry collections and two children's books. As If Labyrinth - Pandemic Inspired Poems is forthcoming in May 2021 from Kelsay Books. She’s listed in Poets & Writers and is poetry reader and editor of the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs. To learn more, please visit www.jrcreative.biz.
Flax strick upheld
Mythical artistic rendition
Of life held on the edge.
Each thread, golden
Producing wisps of gossamer
If you can.
Yet, in this you show
From edge to edge
Dawn, labour, dusk
Dawn, labour, dusk
The loom of life
Weaving through aeons.
Your next shackle
A wheel to bind and break
A machine to hold you home
Locked down textile worker
(Echoes of reality
That fashion treads on the unnumbered)
As it has,
So it will be,
And the flax you spin
Retts your linen shroud.
Sarah Foster Jarden
Sarah Foster Jarden: "I love reading, but for the 40+ years after leaving school I only used normal everyday written language not straying into poetry or prose as a hobby. I began writing at the start of lockdown in March 2020 when a friend encouraged me to join a Haiku group on Facebook and it was a really great discipline, writing a haiku a day. I maintained this until I returned to work and have joined a creative writing group which meets virtually fortnightly. Both have been run by the same wonderful lady, thank you Siobhan and all the supporting cast in the groups. I am also a spinner, of flax and other fibre, a truly wonderful joyous craft. I teach spinning, do historical reenactment and enjoy demonstrating spinning at local shows and events (when they are on). The other bit of my life is spent working in Mental Health Services."
Aqua coral clay tiled floor
Arched blue stoned face
The lady spins the flax
As her eyes are mesmerized
Wearing the gold
On white breasts
With a smile upon her
Brown coloured hair
Encased with milky white
That bleed crimson red
The flax is spun
Above the basket
With blue tan white grey black stripes
That bridges the space
The space on the lap
That holds the blue white red-gold;
red blue cloth
Steps set in time have no wish
Just stones set in eternity
Her blue eyes in trance
Nose mouth a fixed
Pale skin red lips
The flax she spins
Is full of all grace
James N Hoffman
James N Hoffman studied psychology and philosophy. He enjoys writing what he calls "colour poetry" because he cannot paint. He lives with his wife in Ocean City, Maryland.
Spinning A Dream
Sweet dreams, my little child! But when you wake,
Please do not think the bottom of the stair
Is where we are ordained to stay. We'll make
New lives for us across the ocean where
New York now beckons. What will Mama do?
I may not get flax-spinning work full-time.
No matter! I'll take any job, so you
Get educated, and we both may climb ...
A steamship sails next week, and once we're there,
Dreams will not be just dreams for you and me.
Remember how your uncles climbed the stair:
Embarking for the New World was the key ...
America awaits. But till we steam,
May you sleep sweetly, while I spin our dream!
Mike Mesterton-Gibbons is a Professor Emeritus at Florida State University who builds game-theoretic models of animal behaviour. His acrostic sonnets have appeared in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, the Creativity Webzine, Current Conservation, The Ekphrastic Review, Grand Little Things, Light, Lighten Up Online, Oddball Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, the Satirist and the Tallahassee Democrat. His limericks have appeared in Britain’s Daily Mail.
In the Courtyard
In the courtyard,
I sit and spin linen thread,
From flax holding distaff high,
Dreaming of a time when my arm
will not grow heavy from holding flax,
when the formed thread will
be enough, when I will be enough,
when will this thread finish,
when will my thread end,
I ponder all these things.
Will I ever be able
to sashay into this courtyard
climb the narrow
steps to the roof of our cottage
look out over the village
in clothes made for me
from flax I did not spin
from toil not mine?
My arm grows more tired, heavy.
My weakening legs agree--
Dreams are what sustain.
Joan Leotta tells tales of food, family, and strong women on page and stage. Her love of art drew her to ekphrastic writing and she has written for this journal and told ekphrastic tales at many museums, including the Phillips Gallery. Her chapbook, Languid Lusciousness with Lemon is out from Finishing Line Press.
Tender Fingers Held the Touch
So much colour, so many lines--
the rugged upward steps. She twists
the yarn and twines the strands
with delicate fingers poised, with wrists
lent to the lengthy task
Here is beginning, perhaps without end
Here is doing what is expected,
a way to reach beyond the daily, to extend
one’s touch, other work neglected,
to focus on this lengthy task
No clouds adorn this flaxen scene
for on her face a gentle smile;
placidly she sits between
two baskets, leans and rests awhile,
then resumes her lengthy task
And often there must appear to her
memories dear, the work done
with sister or mother sitting by, another
day of labor, another bit of work begun,
a twist, a turn, a lengthy task
And mother would have taught her how--
for that is how we learn;
and she can still remember now,
her mother’s face upturned--
her praise tendered for lengthy and successful task
Carole Mertz, a semi-retired musician, enjoys reading and writing poetry, especially ekphrastic, of late. She publishes poems, essays, and reviews at such sites as The Ekphrastic Review, Eclectica, League of Canadian Poets, Main St. Rag, Prairie Light Review, The Bangalore Review, and World Literature Today. Carole resides with her husband in Parma, Ohio.
by the absence of your tears
and the absence of blood on your hands
as you adorn your solitude
with the silver needle the gods had sewn in your skin
as compensation for exile
it is a test...
to find the eye of the needle
slip through unseen
and hand them the end of the thread.
I also know
when the gods abandoned you so early
to your as yet unimagined designs
you picked up the skeins of their divine endowment
passing the invisible thread through the unseeing eye till it tore
unwinding the red-flecked iris from the jet black pupil of fear
without blinking once
began to fashion from the songs of the exiles you and I alone can hear
an ornate grammar of survival...
whose intent was so exquisitely clear
even the gods knew fear.
How could they know
where your designs would lead
what lies they would unravel
what truths they would reveal
Maria Martinetti Paints My Great Great Grandma Carlotta Sanguinetti
maybe she’ll give some colour to your cheeks
add a blue door to that black and white portrait in the hall
your face moon wide as bread
squashed into a suitcase. maybe she’ll give you
some romance, not a bald hard working husband
who dies when he falls down the stairs. but that’s
after you’re gone actually, you died
so many years before. did you still tongue the language
from the old country? we can’t call it Italy or Italia
because it didn’t
exist then. there was no country. but she’ll
recognize something in you, the babies in baskets,
the stone at your feet. instead of a spindle
she’ll paint the way you lean towards the dough
of the raviolas as you unroll its blank map
onto the board. slick floured sheet
of promise, imagine the crushed
spoon of herbs, ping, left in neat rows.
imagine you leaning in to follow with another sheet
made over the bed of that one,
you can hardly stretch your arms wide enough
to make all this food,
sleeping pockets of
the traded earth.
Francesca Preston is a writer and visual artist. Her poems have appeared in Crab Creek Review; Malus; one sentence poems; Phoebe: a Journal of Literature and Art; Stonecoast Review; Walrus; and elsewhere. She lives part-time in a ghost town settled by her Ligurian ancestors. francescapreston.com
Hard work for delicate hands
Baby at your feet
Spinning flax with tenderness
While humming a gentle tune
Rose Menyon Heflin
Rose Menyon Heflin is an emerging poet from Wisconsin. She is also an avid artist and photographer who loves nature and travel. Her camera is named Nessie after the Loch Ness Monster, and her machete is named Carmen after the opera protagonist. Among other venues, her work has recently been published or is forthcoming in Asahi Haikuist Network, Bramble, The Closed Eye Open, Eastern Structures, Haikuniverse, The Light Ekphrastic, The Parliament Literary Magazine, Plum Tree Tavern, Red Alder Review, Sparked Literary Magazine, Three Line Poetry, Visual Verse, and The Writers Club. She strongly prefers trees to people any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Spinning a Web
Mesmerized, as a little girl I’d watch
Mama in this hand ballet for hours –
couldn’t wait to learn it myself.
It looks like you’re playing a harp!
I said, and she invited me to sing and dance
along. There’s no time for dancing now.
I prefer working outdoors, nodding
to neighbors passing by and making sure
the new music teacher sees me.
Last month, Signore Rossi stopped to ask,
What’s that tune you’re humming?
I smiled and said, A Tuesday song.
I just made it up.
Brava! he said, though he hurried away.
Each day I see him lingering longer
at the fountain, so I lift my voice
to meet him there.
He pretends not to look my way.
Alarie Tennille was born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia, and graduated from the University of Virginia in the first class admitting women. For Alarie, looking at art is the surest way to inspire a poem, so she’s made The Ekphrastic Review home. She was honoured to receive one of the Fantastic Ekphrastic Awards for 2020. Alarie hopes you’ll check out her poetry books on the Ekphrastic Book Shelf and visit her at alariepoet.com.
Upon a Time
She is not the daughter of a miller trying to impress the king. Neither is she daunted by the spindle, the reticulation of threads into usefulness, the repeated turnings that echo the rhythms of all creation.
She does not dwell in storehouses of either straw or gold, a prisoner of promises. No demon troubles either her nights or her days.
The baby resting in the cradle is not a princess, but a precious spirit of magic and joy, held in an invisible welcoming web of simple love.
She is the daughter of a weaver, a healer, a woman skilled with both hands and heart.
She has grown into her own intersection of warp and weft, following the stitches of a tapestry that began long ago and continues both forward and backward, inside and out, upside and down, holding hands with itself and softly singing.
hushabye, don’t cry--
all the pretty horses fly
shining starborne dreams
A resident of New York City, Kerfe Roig enjoys transforming words and images into something new. Follow her explorations on her blogs, https://methodtwomadness.wordpress.com/ (which she does with her friend Nina), and https://kblog.blog/, and see more of her work on her website http://kerferoig.com/
Maria Martinetti Speaks
I see you sitting in the stone passageway,
wearing a folded white mantilla,
your brown linen skirt brushing the floor,
and a wide blue apron across your lap
to catch loose fibers. How many times
will I place, erase, reposition that basket
of flax beside you? See how dabs of oil dry
as I create and revise? I beseech you to linger
while your babe is quiet. Your spinning.
My painting. I’ll make the basket and skirt match.
One is rough as bark while the other
slides your legs like iris petals.
The woven twigs form a rough circle
and are filled with dried garden gold.
Shouldn’t your infant be inside the blue door napping?
But the air is damp inside and we both know
these breezes that roll over cobbled stones
could never be more pleasant.
Momentary satisfactions become such sedative
that I don’t care where I paint if my subject is patient.
Soon I will leave. There is noise inside
the half open door. Outside, a slight cacophony
of carts joins the inner metronome.
Your rhythm spins linen in long threads
that someone in the village will color
with cochineal and sunrise while you nurse
and nurture. You enjoy wearing the red blouse.
Watch my deft strokes thicken sleeves
that end in lace. I can never decipher
who indentures me unless it is my hand.
I wish I could afford sable brushes more often.
How often do our doppelgangers
project us on cobblestone shadows
both to paint and to be painted?
Mary Ellen Talley
Mary Ellen Talley’s poems have recently been published in Raven Chronicles, Banshee, What Rough Beast, The Plague Papers and The Ekphrastic Review as well as in the anthologies, Chrysanthemum and Ice Cream Poems. Her poems have received two Pushcart nominations and her chapbook, “Postcards from the Lilac City” was published by Finishing Line Press in 2020.
Her World Awakens
Her milk is letting down.
A droplet marks
the linen she wears,
a thin thread, wet
white brushed with blue--
an embroidery of milk.
Her world awakens
taut with tension,
spinning and unspooling
between calloused fingers--
a warp & weave
of mother & child.
Nancy Gott studied creative writing at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, IA, and has a BA in English. Currently, she resides in Las Vegas, NV, and has written for several local magazines as a freelance writer. Her poetry has been published by Qarrtsiluni.com.
How Can I Spin This?
(from Son, Moon, and Talia, Giambattista Basile, 1634)
The papers are comparing me to Cosby.
As if I were the one to slip the splinter
beneath her nail. As if I planned it.
She was asleep when I found her. I thought
she must be dead. What would be the harm?
Who would ever know? Now she says
she loves me. And you can tell just by looking,
the little ones are mine. How did they survive?
How will I? My god, my reputation.
Rumor has it there’s an old woman in the hills
who still grows flax. The last since the embargo.
Can a broken curse be mended?
Jacob Waddell is from Central Illinois. He has previously appeared in The Eyeflash Poetry Journal.
Authenticity Proving Life Time
She enlarges the photo on the screen then zooms in around the nose. There’s definitely something wrong with the woman. A certain shadow around the lashes, a wide-eyed prettiness she doesn’t think is right.
‘It’s a fake, Roberto,’ she declares. She sounds more certain than she feels, but with Roberto it’s always best to be wrong first and unsure second. She can always adjust her opinion at a later date.
Or, if she’s feeling particularly mean-spirited, she can just pretend they never spoke.
‘Are you sure?’ he asks. ‘It says it comes with a lifetime written guarantee.’
She scrolls to the bottom of the listing.
WeSellCollectibles will Issue A certificate Of Authenticity proving Life Time Written Guarantee.
The random capitalization doesn’t inspire confidence, but she doesn’t say so in case he hasn’t noticed.
‘Which one of us was the art history major, Roberto?’ she asks.
The answer is actually neither of them. She only took one course as an elective when she was at uni. When Roberto moved in, she saw him hanging an Arthur Streeton print and thought she’d make a good impression by flexing her artistic intellectuality. She hadn’t counted on him only remembering her art knowledge and nothing else.
‘Fine, fine.’ He closes the laptop. ‘I suppose I have to take those damn pills now.’
She helps him unclip the plastic box of medication then fills a mug with water from the sink in the kitchenette. He takes the mug but just frowns at the box.
‘Come on, I held up my end of the bargain,’ she prompts.
His nose twitches and he presses his lips together, as if he’s stopping himself from saying something rude. She’s never heard Roberto swear. She’s sort of looking forward to it.
‘I don’t know what day it is,’ he mumbles.
She smiles. ‘No worries, Roberto. I forget half the time too. It’s Monday.’
He nods and with a crooked finger he scoops one bicoloured pill at a time from the Monday section in the transparent box. His swollen knuckles and long, yellow fingernails fight against him, and she makes a mental note to book him a manicure.
‘If that’s all?’ she asks.
‘Yes, yes. I won’t keep you.’
He dismisses her with a wave but she hesitates by the door. From the way he’s glancing at the laptop, she’s pretty sure by dinner his bank account will be a few thousand dollars poorer.
‘If that’s all?’ Jeremy asks. He taps the side of his iPad to turn the screen off, signifying the end of the meeting. The staff all murmur at once, and it’s not clear if they’re protesting or agreeing. Jeremy’s managing style is, if nothing else, optimistic, so he just assumes agreement and leaves the room with a nod.
She catches up to him, knowing he’s about to leave to collect his daughter from school. She doesn’t begrudge him his parental duties, but nearly all the staff have children who are about to be picked up by grandparents or neighbours. They’ll be lucky to see them before breakfast.
‘Jeremy, if I could have a word about Roberto.’
He doesn’t stop. ‘Who?’
She skips a few steps to keep up. ‘Room 345.’
‘Ah. Yes. Problem?’
‘Well, sort of. His family has insisted he maintains his independence here. But with the laptop and internet access, I’m afraid he’s being taken advantage of.’
Jeremy stops. ‘By the staff?’
‘No, nothing like that. But he’s got access to all his credit cards and I think he might be buying things.’
‘What? No. Art. I think he might be buying imitation art.’
‘Ah!’ He spins back to the front doors. ‘Some posters will cheer the place up, don’t you think?’ He strides away. ‘If that’s all?’ He’s already left the building.
She knocks and enters.
‘You again,’ Roberto says. It’s a sleight of hand, but her heart gives a little skip anyway. It’ll take him a while to remember she’s the art history major. He never seems to remember she’s a carer.
He’s staring at something behind her, near the door, and she turns to find herself face to face with the painting she’d recommended he not get.
‘Recognize it?’ he asks. The way his mouth twitches into a smile makes her hopeful he’s remembered her. ‘I bet you don’t.’ Her hope slinks away.
‘How much do you bet?’ she asks as she fills his mug with water.
‘Lady’s choice. You state the wager.’
‘How about this. If I can guess the name correctly, you have to take these pills.’ She rattles the plastic box as she passes him the mug. ‘And if I can’t, I have to take them.’
He chuckles as if he’s already won. ‘Alright. You have a deal. What’s the name of the painting?’
‘Spinning Flax by Maria Martinetti.’
His mouth hangs open for a moment before it spreads into a wide grin. ‘You cheeky bugger, you’re the art history major.’ He shakes his head as he continues to laugh, happy to take his medicine. ‘You had me fooled there for a minute, dressed up as a nurse.’
She winks then walks over to the painting as he picks the pills from the box. It looks different than it had done on the website. The woman looks stern but focussed, at peace in her task, and it’s easier to make out the open door behind her. It gives the impression she’s just stepped out to enjoy the sunshine in the courtyard, a stolen, golden moment with her child.
Roberto clips the lid on the box of pills. She shuffles to the Streeton landscape. She’s never looked at the print closely before and when she touches the glass she feels only distinct brushstrokes in oil.
‘What do you think?’ Roberto asks, hiding a smile behind his mug.
She caresses the signature in the bottom corner. ‘I think you got your money’s worth.’
Kinneson Lalor likes writing, walking, gardening, and her dog. She followed a PhD in Physics from the University of Cambridge with an MSt in Creative Writing from the same institution while writing her first novel, teaching mathematics, and co-founding a supercomputing start-up. She is Australian but has lived in the UK for over a decade. Her work has appeared in The Mays, Tiny Molecules, and elsewhere, and she writes a regular blog about sustainable gardening for edibles and wildlife.
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