WILD GOOSE POETRY REVIEW
I am very excited to bring you the twenty-sixth issue of Wild Goose Poetry Review.
29 poems from 17 poets and 9 reviews from 6 reviewers.
This issue begins with selections from wonderful new manuscripts (yes, I got to read them all the way through and you all have something to look forward to) by Phebe Davidson and Tim Peeler. Then it continues with multiple selections from familiar poets Al Ortolani and Larry Schug and Wild Goose first-timer, Jim Zola. The other poets are a mix of familiar — Glenda Beall, Helen Losse, Karen Douglass, among others — and new — Staci Bell and Larry Thomas. All of it is high quality poetry that I am very proud to feature here.
I am also very proud of the reviews and thankful to the reviewers. Each of the books reviewed are significant contributions to the poetry community, and I hope that the reviews here will help readers find and appreciate them.
Please help others find Wild Goose Poetry Review by posting links on your social media or in personal emails to those you know will or think should read and enjoy or grow from it. And, as always, I hope you will take the time to leave a few comments on the poem. I know the poets enjoy those, and we all enjoy listening in on the dialogue about poetry.
I will be reading for the fall issue until the first of November.
Phebe Davidson, What the Archangel Gains from His Employ
Phebe Davidson, Azrael at His Ease
Phebe Davidson, Articles of Faith
Phebe Davidson, Common Knowledge
Tim Peeler, Larry’s Cosmic Epiphany
Tim Peeler, Larry’s Anecdotal Evidence 89
Tim Peeler, Larry’s Poems of Place
Al Ortolani, Altar Bells
Al Ortolani, Stigmata
Larry Schug, Untitled
Larry Schug, The Lights Go Out During the Super Bowl
Larry Schug, In Light Of
Larry Schug, A Place Called Ghost Ranch
Jim Zola, Blues
Jim Zola, The Revolt of the Landscape Crew
Maren O. Mitchell, To Care or Not
Glenda Beall, Therein Lies the Difference
Staci Lynn Bell, Escape
Melissa Hager, Who Says You’re a Lady
Patricia Deaton, Considering High Places
Patricia Deaton, Donation
Akacia Robinson, How to Deal
Kelly DeMaegd, From Anything Lost, Something Remains
Helen Losse, Greater Than Any Ring
Barbara Gabriel, Message to a Waitress’s Daughter
Karen Douglass, The Great Poet Comes to Our Town
Larry Thomas, Another Blase Monday
Larry Thomas, Faulkner
Lucy Cole Gratton, Black Hole
Scott Owens, Review of Michael Diebert’s “Life Outside the Set”
Helen Losse, Review of Collin Kelley’s “Render”
Brenda Smith, Review of Hilda Downer’s “Sky Under the Roof”
Nancy Posey, Review of Malaika King Albrecht’s “What the Trapeze Artist Trusts”
Patricia Deaton, Review of Carol Matos’ “The Hush Before the Animals Attack”
Betty O’Hearn, Review of Robert S. King’s “One Man’s Profit”
Scott Owens, Review of Maren O. Mitchell’s “Beat Chronic Pain”
Nancy Posey, Review of Jo Barbara Taylor’s “Cameo Roles”
Scott Owens, Review of Carole Richard Thompson’s “Enough”
WHAT THE ARCHANGEL GAINS FROM HIS EMPLOY
He is much moved
by impermanence, by the sheer
ephemerality of what he sees. There is,
in his continuance, a want he can’t define. Yet here,
on this small inelegant world where nothing
stands still, where whole lifetimes come and go in
the merest instant, where things in all their
infinite variation wallow and burgeon and multiply
endlessly, where his hand is in the fall of
every sparrow, where his hand is in the end of
every creature that draws breath,
he feels complete.
AZRAEL AT HIS EASE
The view from where he sits is limited but clear.
Sun shines in this third sky. He has chosen his blind
with care. He is, from an earthly point of view,
easy to overlook. He does not mind. There is nothing
pressing, right now, to be done. He sees a woman
and he sees a man. Their faces are faces he might see
anywhere, on a bus or an airplane, or in a park
where people sit on a bench and toss crumbs to the birds
that are everywhere these days. He sees no child,
not with them nor waiting their return. He is relaxed.
He will watch them for most of a day, as they eat,
as they converse, as they walk about their city. Even
as they ready themselves for sleep, he will be watching.
As always, he keeps to himself, so there will be no
complications as he studies these new subjects, this
woman and this man who is at ease with her. They are
both in their middle years, both comfortable in their
comings and goings. He notes that her eyes are hazel, that
her husband’s hair has gone gray. He wonders, as he
does from time to time, what has made these two as they
are, what force binds each to other, other to one, how
either will fare when the other is gone, as one, though they
do not know it, will certainly be by dawn.
ARTICLES OF FAITH
The Archangel has no childhood, and so may watch the children
of men a long time without understanding what is not in him to know.
The Archangel has no memory and no need of memory. Knowledge
rises in him as it is required, then it disappears.
Without memory humanity is nothing.
Humanity asks the wrong questions. It need not know the name of God
nor the speed of light. It wastes its time in physics and metaphysics.
The Archangel asks and answers:
What is forty days and forty nights?
It is the duration.
Humanity cannot accommodate essential knowledge and is thus untroubled
by its absence.
His body is bigger than the night sky.
It is covered with tongues and with eyes
to the number of all who live on the earth.
He renders unto Caesar but foremost unto God,
to whom he surrenders each harvested soul.
The spread of his wings sweeps the universe of stars.
He has dominion over everything as long as he lasts.
When the last on this earth is dead, when the last soul has
been delivered and darkness has returned to the face of the deep,
he will balance his ledgers, each birth and each death. When that has
been accomplished, he will close the two eyes in the front of his
head and the two eyes in the back. He will sip the dregs of his own gall
and become the last to die.
LARRY’S COSMIC EPIPHANY
During that stretch at the high rise,
I started to read, first the Bible,
Thinking there was something there,
Then books about the universe
And I was startled to discover
Just how insignificant we are,
Barely a speck in the great swirl
Of light and darkness
And when I thought about
All those other planets where
Life was possible, I didn’t feel
The same loneliness I’d always felt,
And I knew I could find a path out
Of the place I’d put myself.
Nights I’d read the poems
That our teacher had left me
And I’d think about the heavens
And how they went on and on
Far beyond the barred windows
Of my little dreams.
LARRY’S ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE 89
I stood on that busted mill house porch
Watching the full moon inch through a walnut tree,
Listening to the river re-finding rocks
Over and over below the concrete dam.
Finally, I pushed the door open slowly,
Knowing he might be sitting the dark
In his overalls, a shotgun across his lap,
But there was naught and I walked
The front room through,
Kicking an overturned cat bowl,
My boot crunching something gravelly.
In the back room I saw two pairs of eyes,
A diapered walking baby and a young girl
In a burlap dress with matted blond hair,
Both of them pale, weasel faced.
Where’s your pappy, I said, but she just
Looked at me like she didn’t know words
While I searched for something that might
Be worth taking and found nothing.
Back on the porch, I saw her haunted face
Watching me through the one window,
And the moon had climbed to the top
Of the walnut tree where it nested
Like a whole ‘nother world of spun gold.
LARRY’S POEMS OF PLACE
This porch is where I spit;
That yard is where I piss
Under a moon like tonight’s
Watching the neighbor’s
White reindeer lights.
Even from here
By the grape vines
Where I stand uneasily,
I sense the contours of darkness
Hovering over the terraced field.
No evil moves me.
I spark a joint
Or I don’t.
The black slow dance.
Maybe this is
Some kind of love.
Author’s Comment: These poems are part of a manuscript called Rough Beast that uses a narrative arc to follow the life of Larry Ledbetter, a country gangster turned-writer.
A woman begs bus fare―
her cardboard placard creased
and stained. The penniless Juniper
asks her to wait while he ducks
into the church. He returns
with bells in a paper bag.
Silver is better pawned, he tells her.
The police usher Juniper
into the station where he
confesses eventually, seeming
to enjoy the good cop,
bad cop. The sergeant shouts
until his voice cracks. Later
that night, Juniper wakes the cop
at his home, flashlight in hand,
soup steaming in a plastic bowl.
Your voice box is injured
from yelling, he says.
This soup, my mother’s
recipe, will calm
the wolf in your throat.
The sergeant is furious.
Do you know what time it is?
To which Juniper replies—
if you’re not interested,
then at least hold my light
so I can eat. The sergeant
rubs his hand through his hair,
letting the door swing open―
Each morning you will rise
before the sun. It will fling
its rays over the horizon like ropes
and you will be expected
to climb them. Each day
you will be understood less.
How can it be otherwise―
touched as you are. In preparation
you will not sleep. Black bread
holds you like a stone. Soup itself
is a sandbag. Each night
you will wait through the hours
for the first movement of the sun
as it grinds upwards. Even those
who tell your story will be
suspect—each revision an attempt
to get the story. You will be
watched like a magician
with a deck of cards—show us
how you pulled the ace—local
television will have a chopper
ready to broadcast
whatever happens next. Let us
give this up, Leo says. The woods
are complete with miracles.
Author’s Comment: My poems in this issue of The Wild Goose Poetry Review are part of a larger work and are “after” The Little Flowers of St. Francis. They were written, misinterpretations included, after a humble digestion of the Saint’s life. Little relevance is given to time or place. Francis, Clare, Leo, Juniper and the early Brothers are in a sense timeless. The poems mix the images of the 13th century with that of the 21st.
Bio: Al Ortolani is beginning his fortieth year as a secondary English teacher. He has written four books of poetry and has published widely in periodicals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, The Midwest Quarterly, and The New York Quarterly. He is currently editor with the Little Balkans Press and is on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place.
by Larry Schug
this young guy,
workin’ dude, I’d guess,
cap on backward,
sleeves ripped off his t-shirt at the shoulders,
just being respectful,
true to good upbringing,
holds open the door of the Holiday store
for an old guy I see reflected in the glass—
it’s me. Holy crap, it’s me.
I’m an old guy.
When did it happen that people open doors
I can open my own god damn door.
I’m the one who holds doors open for old folks.
I think, I’m gonna tell that young pup
what’s up and I do;
I walk past him;
right next to the Nut Goodies
I nod once,
whisper like a truck on gravel
THE LIGHTS GO OUT DURING THE SUPER BOWL
The announcers prattle on and on
about the lights dimming during the Super Bowl.
I think, why am I watching this crap?
and finding no reason but that the tv is on,
I pull a book from the bookcase,
open it randomly to a poem by Gary Snyder,
a poem about girls finding bear scat on a mountain trail,
not metaphorical scat, real bear shit on a real trail
and all that implies in the real world of women and men,
bears and berries, birth and death.
If you know Gary Snyder’s poetry,
you know a poem about bear shit is not bullshit.
If Gary Snyder was here,
I would tell him, this is good shit!
I don’t give a shit if the lights ever come back on.
IN LIGHT OF
The same day
I saw a photo
of an old grandma
pushing an old grandpa
out of Sarajevo
in a wheelbarrow
bought a Lincoln Continental
about a block long
his over-the-belt belly
the twelve blocks
between his home and office.
I really didn’t feel like riding
my bike twelve miles
to work and back today.
I could’ve driven;
but I felt a need
misplaced, though it was,
in light of an old grandma
pushing an old grandpa
out of Sarajevo
in a wheelbarrow.
A PLACE CALLED GHOST RANCH
Georgia O’Keefe, inscrutable, enigmatic
as some long-neglected goddess,
stares at me, unblinking, from a book shelf,
perched there like a hunting owl.
Were I a mouse, scurrying
across the desert floor in moonlight,
I’d let her kill me if she had to
for the sake of art,
but only on the condition
she lay a cactus flower
beside my still-warm body,
before she begins painting
the skeleton she see inside me.
There is no questioning the motives
of gods, owls or artists, yet
I entreat the goddess,
as a last request,
to allow the artist to paint the sky
amethyst and indigo,
allow the owl to relentlessly ask its question,
though the answer has become irrelevant
to all but some curious poet,
not as alone as he presumed, in a library,
populated, at midnight, only by sleeping authors
on retreat at a place called Ghost Ranch.
Bio.: I woke up breathing again this morning. I intend to keep breathing all day. Check out my new website at http://www.larryschugpoet.com
It’s not 1963. Still, heaven
is a Falcon, sky blue with rusted chrome.
It’s not how, but where
and why. The town beach after a day
butterflying jumbos at the Fish Market.
A girl with tan shoulders, a fisherman’s
daughter. Cheap beer, but what does it matter
after the first, the second. Who’s counting?
Not the fisherman who dreams of Tautog
for chowder, walking the flats. His daughter
dreams of a wedding without sand. You ignore
dreams and drive to get gas, to watch a man,
maybe 5 years older than you, rub a rag
across your windshield as if the salt and grime
might actually disappear. His name
is on his shirt. Soon he disappears. But you
aren’t interested in the schedules of grief.
Good grief the cartoon shouts. Yes, it’s good.
She becomes your wife. In a few years,
her blood talks back to her, resists, the way
a three year old does after a day
at the beach, exhausted, refusing
to acknowledge sleep. Says no. Big Blues
eat the little Blues. Deep below,
something joyful swims out of it all.
Author’s Comment: I spent many childhood summers camping with my family along the beaches of Cape Cod. In my early twenties, I returned one summer to work at the Bass River Fish Market.
REVOLT OF THE LANDSCAPE CREW
The council rules against noise,
looks towards us as they fine-tune
phrases; aware of the shadows
we cast on their manicured lawns.
They want to take away
our blowers. The bosses barely blink.
There are more able bodies
to fill the pick-up trucks.
These days the talk above the din
of mowers is less jingo,
more muted sputtering.
I invite the clouds, watch drops
wet asphalt, concrete. We sit
in the Texaco shop, sip
scalded coffee and flirt
with Alyce whose two-inch nails
provide a focal point
between the muffins and the swell
of her uniform.
We never talk of rebellion.
It’s in the dark moon under
our fingernails, the whispers
outsiders don’t trust, the way
we hold a hoe and barely bounce
in the back of the truck, stare
into mini-vans. It’s strange –
there are no children
in the neighborhoods we work.
Just dogs we never see that bark.
And the parting of curtains.
Author’s Comment: this poem grew out of a story I read about a community, perhaps someplace in California, that was banning the use of leaf blowers because of the noise. As I pumped gas one morning before going to work, I watched all the trucks with landscape crews pull into the gas station to fill their cans with gas. For that brief time I saw myself on the back of one of those trucks.
Bio: Jim Zola lives in Greensboro, North Carolina and is a children’s librarian. His poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies. His chapbook titled The One Hundred Poems of Weather was published by Blue Pitcher Press. His manuscript of poems, Sabotage at the Subliminal Tape Factory, is looking for a publisher.
Maren O. Mitchell
TO CARE OR NOT
I care less and less
how others see me,
more how I see myself.
I don’t care for the nasty
arrow thoughts that zing
out of me erratically, pulled
from the quiver of a mind
in limbo: They boomerang back,
deflating pride in my goodness.
With nothing but the illusion
of control, I care more and more
about small birds, wild turkey,
tentative deer—who tremble
when lightning is loose.
That foraging chipmunks
do not emerge into the puncturing
jaws of cats. That whales are
not decimated by a lesser species.
Care that the 17-year cicadas finally
laid their eggs, and birds who
couldn’t endure their clamor
are returning to mark
hours with song.
I care less about the speed of days,
length of nights, my deliberate walk.
I care that my mind is calmer,
I laugh more, and cry
almost not at all.
That no life is long
enough to learn how to
love—care I have only begun,
with a shaky idea of the process.
Author’s Comment: It could be that winding down a life does this to all of us eventually. Anyway, it is happening to me—changing of priorities—and I don’t care at all. It is a relief.
Bio: Maren O. Mitchell’s poems have appeared in Southern Humanities Review, The Classical Outlook, The Journal of Kentucky Studies, Pirene’s Fountain, Appalachian Journal, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Skive (Australia), the anthologies The Southern Poetry Anthology, V: Georgia, Sunrise from Blue Thunder, and elsewhere. Work is forthcoming in Hotel Amerika this fall. Her nonfiction book is Beat Chronic Pain, An Insider’s Guide (Line of Sight Press, 2012). For twenty years, across five states, she has taught the Japanese art of origami. She lives with her husband in Young Harris, GA.
THEREIN LIES THE DIFFERENCE
The Hiawassee River bubbles
and gurgles, slaps the rocks
sending sprays of diamonds
into the air. In your red canoe
you slide down mini-falls,
slip between boulders, using
your paddle to guide you.
I glide along in my john boat
with silent trolling motor over
a dark pond that mirrors clouds,
past willow oaks that line its banks.
You seek out challenge, dare
danger, test yourself
— and win.
I seek out the quiet coves.
Bio: Glenda Beall is a poet and writer, teacher and mentor, who enjoys expressing her feelings and thoughts by writing. Her chapbook, Now Might as Well be Then, published by Finishing Line Press in 2009, is still available on Amazon.com. She and her husband were different in many ways, but like two puzzle pieces, fit together to form a perfect picture. Without him her poems hold a more somber note, and life has not yet regained its ebullience.
Staci Lynn Bell
Taking in moist salt air,
Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee steaming in my mug,
I sit in my braided hammock swing,
a German Shepherd on either side.
Just about the time the tropical sun
burns off morning mist, I hear
the swinging door that leads from kitchen to porch,
my husband, a tray of pineapple and yogurt.
No shoes, tank top, colorful Hawaiian shorts,
I stroll with the dogs down to the water.
Mini rivers of the gulf find their way
to meet me, tease me with their warmth.
The dogs are already frolicking with dolphins.
I join them and become part of the scenery.
From inside the picture, I never look out,
and never want to go back.
Author’s comment: I have always had an attraction to water, especially the Gulf of Mexico. It’s life force and the dolphins that call the Gulf home mesmerize me and offer the seductiveness of serenity and peace. A place where, with my dogs, I could leave the consciousness of this world and enter a different level or dimension wishing I could truly become immersed with natures conscious.
Bio—-Staci Lynn Bell describes herself as “Yankee born, Southern in my soul.” Born in Chicago and raised in suburbia, Staci followed her heart after college. She headed south and currently calls Western North Carolina home. After a 20 year career in radio and television, she is now retired and free to pursue her passions; writing and animals, especially dogs. Staci is also a vocal advocate for wildlife and preservation of their natural habitat. Her love of animals resonates throughout her poems, short stories and essays. Staci shares her mountain cabin with 3 dogs and 1 husband.
WHO SAYS YOU’RE A LADY?
After three days dead on the kitchen
table, we hope thousands of her brothers
and sisters get the death notice.
And our warning, “You are not
welcome here.” We sit at dinner,
staring between green beans and apple
pie, daring each other to remove it.
Still, we are satisfied. One is deceased,
incapable of foul odors, obnoxious
orange trails, or bites when least
expected. We hold vigil,
take our chances on luck.
Author’s Comment: Living on top of a mountain is great until hordes of ladybugs invade. This poem is a celebration of every dead ladybug found in the author’s home.
Bio: Melissa “Mel” Hager is a resident of Taylorsville, NC. She has been published in Wild Goose Poetry Review, 234, The Lyricist, Bloodshot Journal of Contemporary Culture, and in various newspaper articles. She is a contributor to Art of Poetry at the Hickory Museum of Art and won 3rd place in the Spring 2013 Poetry Council of NC’s Poetry Slam competition. As the children’s librarian for Alexander County Library, her mission is to encourage youth to explore written and artistic expression.
CONSIDERING HIGH PLACES
Neither weak moments, pitch-black
thoughts nor a desire to live no more
keeps me from the balcony.
It’s not the unknown–drum-beat
of dreams–rising up and out
to signal all existence.
It’s not wondering how flying feels
soaring effort-free, boundless
heartsick urge to land
or hearing only echoes when I
shout down my loneliness.
It’s not fear of finding nothing
when the deed is tried and done.
It’s the push and pull of elements;
the amalgamated entity that shrinks back
from the rail, paying homage
to the mystery in me,
and all that it must be.
Author’s Comment: Living fours floor up for fifteen years, sometimes I wouldn’t allow myself out on the balcony–always because of a quietly-overwhelming feeling to stay away from the edge.
Van crammed full
I pull into Goodwill,
jerk the door open
to unload things
I don’t need. Church
dresses she packed away new,
checkered quilt-tops she started,
those old nursing shoes,
yellowed scrapbooks with dates
no longer important,
a box full of faces no one recalls.
80’s brass seagulls, ugly mauve tray,
and among the belongings
from my mom’s emptied place,
a wooden paper towel holder,
heavy heart for a base.
Author’s Comment: The memory of cleaning out my mom’s house while she was still alive was my inspiration for this poem.
Bio: Patricia Killian Deaton is a native of the foothills of North Carolina whose poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. A new and very young, but very thrilled great-grandmother, she lives near a lake with her huge orange cat, Sweet Boy.
HOW TO DEAL
She says she would
rather he get
cancer and die,
he suffers that much
8 years old
wishes he was the
Hulk or anyone
life for another
or pain, he’s
only 8 years old
FROM ANYTHING LOST, SOMETHING REMAINS
During a nocturnal, cosmic, cupboardian shift,
cereal bowls, carefully organized in columns of four,
stir, roll, tumble to the floor,
released from their servitude of vessel-dom.
The lowly pottery bowl can now be measured,
cut into tesserae, constructed to resemble
the Prussian Blue horizon line
found in ancient villa mosaic floors.
Better yet, the pieces swept up, lobbed
to the bottom of a brother pot, drainage aid
for hollyhock, cosmos, foxglove. After first frost,
shards are discarded in the farthest corner of the yard.
Over time, rain-buffeted, wind-scrubbed; pieces are reduced
to dust, silica, alumina, sedimentary clay.
Waiting to be found, ground, glazed,
burned in the cycle’s inevitable return.
GREATER THAN ANY RING
As the older daughter,
her mother told her—
many, many times—
that she would receive
her mother’s ring
upon her mother’s passing.
She imagined that ring—
on the finger of her right
hand and how she would
sneak a glance it—
cherish it on the sly—
of how rations during WWII
affected even the social traditions
of engagement and marriage,
how her father had promised
more appropriate rings,
how her mother got those rings
at a later date. But the truth is,
ring-stories are oral history.
On the day she didn’t
get the ring, purple-black
flames rose hot from her belly.
Tears—deep as her soul—
engulfed, made her an over-
wrought child, but she could not
ignore her mother’s voice:
Greater than any ring
with a tiny emerald chip
serving as center
in a 3×3 grid
of 8 diamond chips
is your born-again,
I prayed to raise you up to.
So the daughter
offered the ring as a sacrifice
against family breach,
& as a backward example
to Esau, who should also
forgive his brother Jacob.
Author’s Comment: The story as I remember is, the older daughter gets the engagement ring, the younger the wedding ring. My sister remembers it differently, and she, by request of our mother, had possession of the ring. I think my sister thought I’d fight harder, I know my brother did, but I promised Mummy I would not fight about “things,” so I did not. I had to wear it while we divided other items; otherwise, I couldn’t describe it accurately. Central to my own healing, this poem has become my ring.
Bio: Helen Losse is the author of two full length poetry books, Seriously Dangerous (Main Street Rag, 2011) and Better With Friends (Rank Stranger Press, 2009) and three chapbooks. Her poems have been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize and three times for a Best of the Net award, one of which was a finalist. She is currently working on her next book Facing a Lonely West: Poems About Loss.
MESSAGE TO A WAITRESS’S DAUGHTER
It’s the way your leather-belted, straight from the hip body
skitters down the row of counter stools, past
boys’ hands hovering and old men longing
separated from other girls by skin and perception
that urges my lips, puckered at the point
of your mouth, to slide breathless up that unruffled
cheek to find your ear and cry
Overthrow those boys by zipless coup.
Shed the girls who hang from your hunter’s belt
like trophies. Dodge the traplines
old ones set into this land and nail their songs to the wall.
You are the shape-shifter
a myth buster, the break-my-heart-in-a-million-ways
grifter. Bring a flamethrower to the last supper
you eat at this diner.
Then just when the sky blackens beyond stars
turn your pockets inside out and shake the dust free. Don’t pause
to pack even one stone. Drop that compass
in the deepest well along the way.
You are my moon landing
my code-breaker, the Universe-is-expanding
oh Mama, can I ride a Star-raker.
A put ‘em in a vise and squeeze
till they ache-er, so Go
write poetry instead of letters home.
Master the traveler’s arts
and feed your own fire. Make love
from strong opinion.
Cast your precise shadow in this gloom
and tell time to pass on by- you will not carry it.
Author’s Comment: “Message to a Waitress’s Daughter” came out of the continuing conversation I have with myself about women’s lives and the choices made that get them to where they are. I find that as I get older, many of my heroes are women younger than I. None of them have asked for my advice. “Message…” is about recognizing a sister-traveler along the women’s road and urging her to journey on in pursuit of herself.
Bio: Barbara Gabriel is a poet, writer and salvage artist who has been gathering writing material for fifty years while impersonating a chef, cruise director, ice cream scooper, sailor, child advocate, landscaper, package designer, dive master, log cabin builder, and a really bad waitress. She grew up in Minnesota along Highway 61 and then ran away to sea to travel, live and eat her way through the Americas, Turkey, North Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. She has been published in the online journal of topical poetry “Poetry24”, in the “American Society: What Poets See” anthology (FutureCycle Press) and in Wild Goose Poetry Review. She currently calls Portland, Oregon home.
THE GREAT POET COMES TO OUR TOWN
Padre Ernesto Cardenal
Innisfree Books, Boulder CO
Given his stature, I sit, stunned
by the absence of crowds chanting
his fame from the sidewalk.
He has come to us. I hear his voice,
see that black beret, wonder
why passersby pass him by,
this revolutionary, whose Spanish
I trust even in translation.
I hand him Flights of Victory to sign.
He scrawls in silence, an automaton
whose poems are all I can have of him.
They suffice. He does not need me
to worship him. I would come
to see him as another graybeard
out of time and place, not
a god-sponge come to clean us, not
a man to make of clumsy America
a new Nicaragua of the mind.
ANOTHER BLASÉ MONDAY
Well-to-do and retired,
they rise with the sun
to execute their morning ritual
of black coffee.
Each privately wonders
who’ll be the first to die.
Their past infidelities
drop to the shoulders
of their consciousness
like the first discernible flakes
of dandruff. From the sea
which lured them there, they keep
a comfortable distance.
Their investments are secure,
their health quite good for their age.
Three gourmet meals,
a matinee movie, a nap
and perhaps a poem or two by Plath
will see them through the day
to their dusk-bathed balcony,
just beyond whose railing
another blasé Monday
will snuff discreetly out the wingless
little glowworm of its life.
are tendrils of kudzu
much too muscular
for the period’s ax.
Bio: Larry Thomas is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, and served as the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate. He has published twenty collections of poems, most recently Uncle Ernest (Virtual Artists Collective, Chicago, 2013). His New and Selected Poems (TCU Press, 2008) was short-listed for the National Book Award.
Lucy Cole Gratton
Tall weeds grow where once was lawn,
decayed fencing still fights for space,
a skeleton of what once had been a chimney
rises from a clump of young pines.
Weather beaten sheds hang aslant
propped up by tangled vines;
the house, burned to the ground,
no longer a black blight since overgrown.
Still – few strangled flowers bloom.
A passing traveler, earnest clothes
askew from the business of his day
will not notice, even neighbors
caught up in the now will not remember
what once was a family’s home
so completely vanished in the jungle
of just a few years’ growth.
Laughter was there, now gone;
no echoes float on enduring wind.
Will my words decay as well,
smother in the tangle of others,
leaving no trace of me
or what I think?
Will there exist instead
an empty place, void of meaning,
where people pass routinely,
not remember who I am
but for an abandoned scrap of words?
Author’s Comment: I pass this derelict house, burned to the ground and overgrown with weeds, each time I leave home. It is a poignant reminder of the ambiguity of life.
Bio: Lucy Cole Gratton is a retired CPA living in Murphy, NC, and a native of Decatur, GA. . She has written poetry and prose for many years – only lately seeking to publish with some success, both nationally and internationally. A member of the North Carolina Writers Network, she regularly attends critiques and readings of that organization. She has read at John Campbell Folk School many times and has taken many poetry classes there.
by Scott Owens
LIFE OUTSIDE THE SET
by Michael Diebert
Sweatshoppe Publications, 2013
These days, when most of what we see on our high-definition, 72-inch, plasma screens are called “reality shows,” we need poets like Michael Diebert to remind us of our true reality, of what life is like for the rest of us, of life “outside the set,” where the drama is perhaps less frequent, certainly less staged, and tragically longer, deeper, and farther reaching.
The cover image of Diebert’s debut collection of poetry, Life Outside the Set, is more reminiscent of sets from my childhood than of anything to be seen in the massive superstores today: maybe 13 inches, two knobs – one for uhf, one for vhf – and strange appendages called rabbit ears. What younger, contemporary viewers and readers might not realize is that as strange as such a contraption might seem to today’s digital, pixelated “set,” it was nevertheless the new norm, the brave new world for those of us growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, and we knew so much less about how to integrate that world into ours, or ourselves into it, than we were ever willing to let on.
The imagistic riprap — Huntley, Brinkley, Cronkite, Chancellor, Watergate, Big Bird and Bob, the Ty-d-bol Man, the Fig Newton guy, Mr. Whipple, and Charlie’s Angels (“Nostalgia”) — of that time period, of the All in the Family generation in which families began to spend more time watching than doing, forms the foundation of these poems and creates the sense of “unknowing at-riskness” that informs them and that, looking back, we can see clearly defined the period. In “Ashtray, 1974,” for example, “Mom’s Parliament” burning down on the lip of an ashtray becomes a metaphor for the inhalation and habitualization of complacency, disconnectedness, impotence, and disenchantment:
. . . Dad
in his recliner, sawing logs.
Curtains drawn. In the news,
Nixon pardoned, war abandoned,
sluggishness, malaise. We breathe it,
inescapable, in – three awake,
one asleep. Mom takes
a long drag. Bad habit to begin,
she says, impossible to end.
But the poems don’t stay in the 70’s. They move forward, showing the reader how the psychology born of that experience has carried over to everything else. We see its consequences in “The Shops at Caesar’s Palace” with its emphasis on the artificiality of things:
Faux canal, faux gondola rowed by a faux gondolier,
faux wedding, faux vows vowed in a faux gazebo,
sugar rush of the insoluble placebo,
faux atoms floating in a faux atmosphere.
We see other consequences, alienation and uncertainty, in “Brandon in Accounting,” when the speaker reflects
The book would have us believe
we barrel through childhood with helmets on,
graduate, grow up, get hitched,
get burned in the south of France,
grill streaked meats on boat docks,
join clubs, commence nesting, drop off the radar.
And this, friends, is why leisure is a bitch.
Too much time to think about the knots
on my head. Too much time to allow
how alien I must seem . . . .
And we see the absence of conviction and substance in “Fixer-Upper” as the root of a failing relationship:
. . . She’d rather sing,
convert the porch to a veranda,
find other bright ways to pander
to would-be buyer-uppers, doubtless
dream of birth, children, faultless
to a fault – she, outgrowing you,
and the fault you’ve fallen into.
The inability to integrate what changed about our lives and families and country with Vietnam and Nixon and television has, of course, lead to a crisis of meaning that seems almost interminable now. These poems beautifully capture that malaise in forms and shadow forms – quatrains, sonnets, pantoums — that suggest, even while they seem to deny, the possibility of meaning, of understanding, and of truth. And ultimately they conclude on notes of hope, as we are “reclaimed by joyous // sons and husbands” (“Patient Poem”), we strive, seeing life as “a proving ground for our souls’ motors” (“Seniors”), and we survive with a stubborn faith in ourselves and each other – “We believe in everything” (“Epithalamion”).
by Helen Losse
by Collin Kelley
Sibling Rivalry Press
Collin Kelley’s first full-length poetry collection Render is a near-perfect book—a book most poets would die for, a high mark to hit. The subject matter—growing up as a gay boy (then youth and man) in America—is handled openly and honestly, but the book’s structure is its biggest strength. Kelley, a prize-winning novelist as well as poet, has taken keen care in developing all the elements of story writing. This is no mere collection of poems; it is an organized book, one of the most well-planned I have seen. Unity and coherence are evident throughout.
Render has theme, character development, setting, plot development, and, of course, a strong voice in a clever frame story in which the plot develops. Render is both the subject and the process. The theme is growing up gay; render is the process of doing so.
There is no question that the poems are auto-biographical. Using terms that represent stages of development in photography—reticulation, aperture, blowup, and resolution—Kelley weaves a fascinating tale not only of what it is like to grow up gay but of what it was like for him growing up gay in a particular time and place with his particular family. And as they say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” but in this case, the cover itself, a photograph of the author working with a time-release devise on an old camera, adds dimension to the story.
Each poem in this 70-page volume is a photograph, a well-crafted image.
The first section “reticulation” contains only one poem “A Broken Frame.” In it, we see a photograph of Kelley’s ancestors before they left England, and a foreshadowing of the theme. In the picture, one family member “has been blacked out….” But why?
Did he die in transit…
…the ruin of the family?
The one who kissed other boys….
(“A Broken Frame”)
The actual story begins in “aperture” with a family of three: Collin and his parents at Collin’s September, 1969 birth. Readers see Kelley’s childhood through poems about family vacations, accidents, childhood toys, and Kelley’s childhood memories. We see his parents drift apart, his mother’s adultery, their reconciliation, his mother’s stroke, and Kelley’s early sexual encounters. At six, he knew.
I only wanted to see one thing: the ruby red slippers
Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz.
those shoes to click my way out of the coming storm,
the dread I already felt at the age of six.
So that’s how it feels to know you are gay. One wonders, as the story progresses, how (or if) Kelley’s life would have differed if he had had siblings. But he did not. Collin was more than enough for his parents.
In the third section “blowup” Kelley is older, experiments with various homosexual partners and sexual techniques, and has a brief crush on a woman. Yet his parents could no longer deny what they had always known. The poems in this section are more sexually graphic, but never burdened by language that I consider vulgar.
Lee first gave me head
behind an abandoned restaurant….
And then we see what the poet imagines his mother saw:
…the image of her son
impaled on the floor…
The truth…no longer at
the edge of their thoughts, but overtaking them like a baby
blue shag tidal wave.
(“Sex In My Parents’ House”)
Concerning a later encounter, Kelley writes,
…we haven’t met,
but you [Michael] will appear
…a bag inscribed “sexual confusion”….
then I’ll never see you again.
Later Kelley becomes a confirmed bachelor and reaffirms his love for his “broken” parents.
Now that I’ve given up on a ring
scrape my knuckles as I
surrender to the no name night.
Time brought Kelley to the point where his parents are older. When the Kelleys gather for the holidays, Collin’s father is blind, his mother subdued with memory loss.
Small talk will turn to accusation,
Grandmother will retreat to the kitchen…
We are suspended here,…
waiting for the world to spin again on its axis.
The final section “resolution” contains the single poem “Render.” Written with a voice-over, rendering an actual photograph, that ends with “Note that a blue sky and clouds are impossible to render/ Expect imperfections and subtle debris,” the poem, written for Sally Mann, does not conclude on one high, positive note.
Your darlings are poison
… son waist deep in rising water
…the moon turns silver to blood
And the children again, older
…the boy’s eyes fixed and dilated
three perfect funeral masks
No one here is living a fairy tale.
An autobiography in verse, Render by Collin Kelley is a book to be admired, its quality sought after. It is one of the best, if not the best, poetry book I have read this year. But Kelley’s memory is, of course, a human one, embellished and distorted by purpose and time. He, like everyone, remembers and records what he needs to go on. Yet the poems in Render give readers a good idea of what it is like to grow up gay in America.
by Brenda Smith
SKY UNDER THE ROOF
Bottom Dog Press
I have to admit that one reason I wanted to read Hilda Downer’s Sky Under the Roof was that the title intrigued me. Just how does the sky end up beneath the roof? I can’t say truthfully that I answered my own question, but I enjoyed every minute of the journey. Her poetry above all else is a masterful weaving of connections: connections through time, family, friends, the earth, history, culture, objects, and nature; connections between people and times, people and places, hearts and bones, love and loss. She creates a reality of her own with her words and images. If you have ever pondered whether we use creativity to withdraw from the world or to re-enter it, this book answers for the author’s view—we create to re-enter and connect.
Downer divides her book into three parts: I. The sky bears its own weight in watchfulness, II. Bottles and jars are the skeletons of light that hold up the sky, and III. The sky listens but offers no advice.
It is impossible to say of Downer’s work, “This section is about…” because, for her, all things are connected and a poem that begins with a childhood memory, may pass into a eulogy for earth, and continue on into a reassurance to the reader that we are all one, and that makes everything all right in the end. She begins with “Picking Cherries up Howell Hollow” which concludes with the lines, “deeper still in childhood/attempting to see into/who I have and have not become.” And so she leads us along on this quest of hers where we find that her journey is our own.
One sturdy thread of her travels reveals her love of the natural world as she illuminates many truths of Appalachia’s environmental struggles. She does not shove environmentalism down our throats, but her images and insights make us realize that what we have done to the earth had better be put right. One favorite in this section is a longer poem, “Flashlights and Fire” whose lines do not preach, but insightfully describe: “You showed me clear-cutting/where trees of whole mountains/won’t work anymore./Stray logs lay useless as dead flashlights/where too much daylight/needles where deer and bear,/and whole species of what could heal us,/have had a fire in their house.”
Another poem in this section, “What is Under my Dress” crosses time from ancient days and back again, ending in a revelation of who she has become. At first, it seems two topics, thrown together perhaps by a poet whose mind cannot find focus, but when seen as a whole, the connection becomes clear and the transitions seamless:
“Scops sing in an unwritten language;
arched stones and Celtic bones…
faith and prayer sent out in the direction of birds,
where the infinity of the small
reaches the infinity of the large,
and between any man and woman,
there is that something more.
An editor once summed up
my poetry as merely listing,
told me to put that under my belt,
and would I drive with him to Vermont.
Here’s another list;
I don’t wear a belt;
I wear a vintage prom dress;
I refuse to face life like a man;
and I’ll make up my own mind,
if there’s any room left,
about what to put under my dress next.”
“The Source of Confessional Poetry Along the Toe” juxtaposes time and place between the contemplation of Frankie Silver’s murder of her husband in 1833, to confessions of her children, to childhood memories of crossing the Toe River, ending with a satisfying conclusion to the odyssey:
“We are not strangers
when time moves forward
to meet time moving backwards…
When I return to the other side,
I do not return fully,
But I do return whole.”
In the final section of the book, “The sky listens but offers no advice,” Downer returns again to Bandana, her Appalachian home. Her scattered musings are united by her memories, expressed in such poignant words that they could be our memories, too. Those places and people and thoughts that we held dear in our youth are seldom forgotten, and she shares hers with such clarity that we are enveloped with her. We remember and ache with our own pasts as we travel her road built of words and images.
We begin to get an inkling of the book’s title in “Not Even the Bone of White Bedroom Furniture,” a poem dealing with memories of her sons:
“They prefer to play with their father.
Sometimes loneliness is not just a back turned,
But something lost, unnamed,
In the sky that sees but offers no answers,
A fear I won’t know what to say to sons.
They fashion guns from the bones and elbows of laurel.”
Downer ends with a final tender plea for the environment with her poem, “Watauga Lake is Manmade,” an ode to the land beneath the water, to the town of Butler, that no longer exists. It is a perfect ending to a book that travels back and forth between time and memory to make the connections.
Why is the sky under the roof? I don’t know. I could make something up, but I think I prefer to simply bask in the emotions that Hilda Downer’s words and images evoke.
She says: “In the writing of this,/I pull you closer to me./In reading, you pull back./We click together like hickory nutshells./For whatever purpose,/it is in this pull that I dance alive.” I want to dance with her. If you read poetry for how it can reach out and grab you, then you will want to read this book too, and dance along.
by Nancy Posey
WHAT THE TRAPEZE ARTIST TRUSTS
Malaika King Albrecht
In her new full-length poetry collection What the Trapeze Artist Trusts, Malaika King Albrecht sets the stage for the poems that follow with “Dear Stranger, This Is My Intimate,” a letter that establishes the elusive presence of a persona set “mid-dream.” Throughout these artfully arranged poems, she establishes what she calls in “Sound Knows Its Place in the Air” a “study / of loss in slow motion.” In the first section, “The Secret Keeper,” while some poems approach more implicit themes of separation, others deal directly with childbirth and parenting.
In many ways, the poems in this book convey a dreamlike state, and though “How to Walk Right Through a Woman” clearly indicates the breakup of a marriage as “he [steps] around [her] / packing his books, clothes, toothbrush,” the speaker experiences a loss of self, becoming invisible, immaterial. In fact, it is her self she seeks throughout the poems collected here, seeing “The rocks [writing her] name / on the beach” in “Leaving the Island.” When “lost in the waves / that sift the silt along the banks” of “Troublesome Creek,” she finds herself in the birds’ songs.
Anyone familiar with Albrecht’s other recent book Spill will notice the recurring watery images through the collection from the “push, gush / rush—the sounds of water” and the “wet cry” of “On Your Birthday” to “My Recurring Pool Dream” in which the speaker stands waiting to catch a leaping child.” The speaker seems to move between thirst and near drowning. In the second section she calls “Keeping Silence,” she shows the departure not of the husband packing his things and walking right through her, but of “The Drowned Husband” who leaves and simply “doesn’t wade back” but reappears later as a sea bass, a jar of water, the rain, the humid air, “so full of himself.”
In Part III “The Present,” she begins to come to terms with what is lost and what is found, noting in “When I Left My Country” that “there were 53 words for lost / and only 1 for found.” Despite all the loss, she finally declares in “How I Came to Me”: “I am in possession / of myself.”
Albrecht’s poems address what does and does not last. She notes in “What Grief and a Fever Bring” that horses “know / the beauty of impermanence” In poem after poem, she returns to the ripples of a stone dropped into the water, but in “Beautiful! Beautiful! Magnificent Desolation,” a title attributed to astronaut Buzz Aldrin,” she recalls those “footprints” left by the astronaut on his moon walk “that will last / longer than his life.” In “The Earth Is My New Pair of Shoes” the speaker finds herself standing silent unable to do anything “ but fit perfectly where I stood, my feet in the dear dusty earth,” as if at last aware of the rightness of place.
At last, in Part IV “The Broken and the Lost,” she declares “To the Man With His Back to the Chapel,” that she is “the footprint of a miracle, / the smoke of the just extinguished flame,” appearing indistinguishable from dust when captured in a photograph. In her closing poems, Albrecht does not promise anything less broken or lost, but concludes with hopefulness, encouraging the reader in “The Sunken Narrative” to “Imagine. . . survivors” whose “story can be told,” the pieces of the narrative, like “pieces of a broken mirror. . . collected and carefully / glued together to make a circle.”
As Malaika King Albrecht pieces together these lines, these poems, she creates a narrative, that while marked by brokenness and loss, forms something complete and new. Upon finishing the last poem, readers are likely to find themselves turning back to the beginning to reenter the dream.
by Patricia Deaton
THE HUSH BEFORE THE ANIMALS ATTACK
Main Street Rag
To be sure, Carol Matos’s book of poems The Hush Before the Animals Attack is not an uplifting book, nor is it meant to be. The “animals” in these poems take many forms, from abusive fathers and lovers to inescapable aging, death and tragedy, all in a poisonous universe with dragons.
The first poem “8MM” sets the tone for the entire book and reading it, one is struck by just how much at the mercy of adults, children are, and how easily for some, distrust of the gods we call parents, is to come by.
Dragons reside in the basement of this speaker’s psyche, but so do a few good memories of the family maid who is a childhood confidante and keeper of secrets. “Saved” shows just how much this woman meant to her. In “Dear Elizabeth,” the trusted friend meets a tragic end at the hands of a jealous husband.
Throughout the book, run the threads of disappointment and edgy despair. The poem “Salt and Ice” (the last line of which forms the title of this book), for example, seems to be about incest. Lines such as “She lets him gather her, luxuriates in his hands…she’s her own accomplice. Adept at his deceptions, she edits herself. Join his delusions…It’s not a dream she glimpses,” convey the obsessive psychology of sexual abuse and manipulation.
Also throughout, there are flashes of faces flat to the floor, bruised by carpet, suggestive of resentment or of hiding from abusive treatment or the world, in general. “Paper Wasps (P. Fuscatus)” is one example…“the muses of rapture are all mute now…Certain wasps recognize other wasps by facial features while some humans have face blindness…my head upon the fractured floor…I draw my name in the gathering dust.”
Even in romantic love relationships, there is no relief from doubt, fear of abandonment or a desire to make someone pay. Some of the most resonant parts for me dealt with the relationship of author and mother, and her mother’s aging and death. “Amethyst” reminds us how life-stopping the final days of a loved one can be.
The elegies in Part IV (written for the author’s niece from the perspective of the niece’s mother) are filled with the gut-wrenching grief of a mother who has lost her daughter–from the onslaught of disease to the scattering of ashes. If you are a parent, you will understand how these poems could be written. If you have lost a child, you may not be able to bear “Stay Near” because of its sadness.
This book is worth reading for the reality of the lines that describe how women feel in youth, in their prime and the invisibility of aging. “That Summer” is a poem about reaching puberty…”Watching the blood run down my leg, I worried the whole world could smell me”.
Being an older woman, this, from “39 Fifth Avenue” spoke to me. “The young women take no notice of me, see only themselves…the doorman smiles, with them in mind. I unbutton his uniform.”
by Betty O’Hearn
One Man’s Profit
Robert S. King
Reading Robert S. King’s One Man’s Profit was my first exposure to his work, and I was drawn to it from the moment I sat down and opened the book. King’s portfolio of work began in the early 1970’s and it suggests a writer who has looked not only into the world, but also into his own soul.
This book written at the end of a career in the private sector, while stepping down an active career as editor of FutureCycle Press can be viewed to some degree as a poetic autobiography. Many of these poems were pulled from King’s past work and make a statement of his life. King is a brilliant man with a very eclectic palate of work that comes alive to reach the soul of another writer. I connected in many lines and my life seems to mirror his views in several poems.
One Man’s Profit is divided into “Empires,” “From the Heights,” “Long Roots,” “Social Security,” “Migrating Shadows,” and “Profits.”
In the “Empire” section, King touches on former world orders, which contributed to so many sciences and technologies in our own present history and have touched him on a personal level as well. These poems pay a sort of homage to these great past civilizations. A sentence from each stanza of the poem “Empire” illustrates:
The pyramids are still falling..
Mayan temple stones sewn together with weeds
Greece taught Rome how to fall forever
The blood of the cracks of great stones never dries, never seals the wounds
Imagery and flow are so well demonstrated in this poem. I was drawn to my own experiences studying these pasts. Noted in the Pharaoh’s Night Light:
In the heart of the boy king’s tomb and in the hearts of intruders is a light burning 3000 years.
Written about King Tutankhamen, the words propel the reader into ancient Egypt and all this country brought to the table as it played into early Bible days as the imprisonment of thousands of Jews for hundreds of years, to the romance of Anthony and Cleopatra, a love story that never dies. King tells in 20 well-stated lines, a rich history that has coherence and relevance.
The “Heights” segment features poems that attend to ideas from the highest ground, as in “The Language of Trees,” a strong piece that talks about communication among this species of life that waves to us or perhaps have their own sign language.
Only felling shows us the history of trees.
Their long lives grow in widening circles,
in seasons telling their stories in a tongue
we partly understand.
King’s connection to nature and what is directly in front of or behind him is astounding as his poems remind readers of questions they have thought about, such as the relation of one tree to the next: “does one cry to another as it falls?” His articulation is astounding.
“Long Roots” covers some of King’s personal history. He has had a full life and with recent stepping down it appears he is soaring to his later chapters like we all think about.
Our family is part of who we are, and in “Grandmother”, King illustrates his troubled relationship with the matriarch as he was the bookworm and did not appear to have the same love of the land as his cousins.
We grew from the same soil if not the same spirit.
Your seed is firmly planted here, but mine is in the wind.
The writer does not apologize for his difference, but recognizes he is different and his thoughts and love go beyond the family farm. There is strength in these words showing that he did not back down during life.
The “Social Security” section combines poems from King’s personal life with a few that touch on his career. “Worker’s Compensation” was one I particularly enjoyed as it took the reader from the beginning of a work day through the issues we have all experienced in trying to fit into an office culture.
In my office suite, all the phones winked on hold. The water cooler
Had a cork and a long line. White collars loosened their Windsor nooses,
and lipstick wrote happy faces everywhere.
King’s well-crafted prosody takes readers into the office and the imagery put them into a large room of cubbies and all the mundane boring characteristics of working a 9-5 job. Personally, it was crystal clear to me and I could even hear phones ringing.
Winding down to “Migrating Shadows,” King is preparing himself to leave a career and start a new session of life. There is a line I fell in love with that kind of mirrored my own life. A road never leaves the past but already touches tomorrow.
King writes about life and brings the pain, sorrow and challenges into electrified pages that you will want to read and re-read as you will identify segments in the life of this speaker experienced by someone you don’t know that you can so easily relate to.
One Man’s Profit is a volume of breathing poems you will want to have in your collection. Robert S. King shares his life with us in a way that makes it possible to better understand and stay in touch with your own past.
by Scott Owens
Beat Chronic Pain: An Insider’s Guide
Line of Sight Press
This is a poetry journal, so why would I include, much less write, a review of a nonfiction, self-help book called Beat Chronic Pain: An Insider’s Guide? Because it is written by a poet, because it contains poetry (15 of them, to be precise, more than many chapbooks of poetry I’ve seen), because I found it remarkably helpful in my ability to understand those who suffer chronic pain and in thinking about my own relatively pain-free life, and because my favorite part of the book is a poem, specifically, the poem reprinted below, which exemplifies the quality of the work in this book, and which I hope will convince would-be readers to say Yes to this book.
The First Word I Said and Where It Led Me
by Maren Mitchell
Maybe I should have said: Maybe.
To hedge against all decisions,
weighing them for years.
Or: No. Insulation against everything out there.
I said: Yes.
Yes to sound: My breath in.
Yes to hearing the breath of others
pant of terror and exhaustion
sigh of relief
intake of surprise
tap dance of laughter
expectancy of touch.
Yes to the tiny grit grasp of birds who stay through winter,
to their warm-weather overlapping conversations
of hunger, fighting, passion, pairing: music.
Yes to my mate’s voice, calling, naming, telling: my music.
Yes to sight: Claiming all I see as mine.
Yes to the body light of fireflies, the glow of ocean’s lanterns.
Yes to the immeasurable, inevitable increase of light after night,
each day recreated, hints edging into definitions,
teasing shades springing into watercolors.
Yes to the growth and contours of my planet
that house more creatures than we will ever know.
Yes to looks, actions, thoughts, being of my Heart: my sun.
Yes to the coming night, window through the Milky Way, to out.
Yes to smell: Flesh of family and friends,
oscillating aromas of plants as they grow,
the blatant strength of their true natures released
as we harvest to eat, burn, cook, decorate.
Yes to touch: Air that almost acknowledges us
as it oozes, blusters, idles
around our clothed, hairy forms.
Yes to the protection of plants,
woven into caressing tee-shirts, quilt caves.
Yes to the silk of animals who musk us as their own,
the forever and daily holding of loves, their hold of me.
Yes to the essential slide of liquid down throats,
crunchy carrots talking the language of rocks,
the subtle slice of bread with butter comfort.
Yes to taste: Just-picked tart blueberries under sun,
taut neutral skins enclosing nips of sweet freedom.
Sour of the tropics, come-hither lull of key lime,
sparking the soul to believe in eternal youth.
Salt of sweat, anchor to earth.
The bitter of knowing we all leave, we leave all,
at the mercy of time,
time, the only mercy.
Review of Cameo Roles by Jo Barbara Taylor
by Nancy Posey
by Jo Barbara Taylor
As an underlying theme of her chapbook Cameo Roles, Jo Barbara Taylor explores the different roles women play throughout our lives.
While most of her poems are written free verse, Taylor experiments with form as well as she gives voices to these different women. In “Lost and Found,” she uses embedded repetition of words and images from the familiar nursery rhyme about the cow jumping over the moon to examine that time in childhood when one becomes aware of the difference between the literal and the figurative, “hyperbole, personification,” opting instead to believe the magic. The sing-song rhymes—moon/spoon, diddle/fiddle, infuse the poem but rarely as end rhyme. Instead, she picks up and repeats key words, circling back in the end line as she “return[s] to that time of magic” to the poem’s opening line about “a magical time.”
Many of the poems return the reader to childhood. In “Up the Mountain,” Taylor delves into a make-believe world of princesses, knights, and castles, using a pattern of six-line stanzas with end rhyme in the fourth and sixth lines. “Private Room” also explores child’s play, but in free verse, evoking strong images as the speaker finds a secret place beneath “an arched bower.” This poem appeals strongly to all the senses, evoking the strong scent of “purple blossoms. . . jade leaves/ and amethyst petals” as well as “peanuts/ and grape jam.”
Many of the poems take their beginnings in other classic works. In “The Long Sonnet, ” which begins with the line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “The night is long that never finds the day,” she plays with multiple meanings of the word “long” from the concrete—oolong and furlongs to the abstraction of her “reverie of longing” and “welcom[ing] the long dark night.”
Taylor also casts a reply to Robert Browning’s Duke in “The Duchess.” In this poem, she uses the same ten-syllable lines in rhyming couplets, although she doesn’t maintain the strict iambic meter used by Browning. In a surprise twist, however, the speaker reveals that rather than becoming a victim of the Duke’s misplaced jealousy, she actually had eloped with Fra Pandolf, the monk who painted her portrait.
The characters, primarily female, in these poems live varied lives in different times. In “Workday Dreams,” Carmen’s life alternates between the monotony of her day shift, working the “belching machine, holding her only “conversation / with belts and oily gears. . . .” and the escape of her night life, dancing salsa in a “harlequin skirt” to “the clatter of flamenco heels.”
Rachey in “The Wardrobe” wears the tattered remains of once-fine clothes, now “wrinkled and dun/ with age and mildew” as she lives on the street. Taylor’s diction makes readers aware of the sharp contrast between the woman’s reality—“dirty, gnarled. . . faded, / a bit out of shape, ripped. . .” and her fantasy as she lives in memory, and “curtsies a tilting fourth position ballet pose,” wearing her “once elegant fabrics and lace.
Readers will find humor in these Cameo Roles. “My Yoga Me” is a two-part poem revealing the reality and fantasy of a middle-aged woman practicing yoga. Each parallel stanza examines similar poses, in one her plow “awkward. . . in untilled soil,” while in the other she is “Asian lithe, a long limbed / plow.” While in reality her tree pose “wobbles,” she imagines in the second half that she merely “sway[s] in the breeze. The contrast between the speaker’s collapse and floating, distortion and stretch, groaning and flowing takes each section to the final “Namaste.”
Taylor also draws some of her humor from recent headlines with the images of a young girl’s Halloween costume: Nadya Suleman, the “Octomom” and from other popular culture, as “Murder One” responds to a story by Janet Malcolm in New Yorker of a woman on trial.
Some of the darker poems leave unanswered questions. “Likeness,” a conversation after a fiftieth class reunion alludes to a child’s likeness to a mother who abandoned her, ending with the speaker’s assertion: “I am nothing like her.” In one of the later poems, presumably autobiographical, the poet discusses her unusual double first name:
Barbara is a song of a name
for a favorite aunt, Jo a staccato
note after a mother I never saw
who would have chosen
no child instead of me.
Throughout the chapbook, readers will discover a variety of voices, many familiar, but many surprising, sometimes jarring. In the final poem, “God Wrote,” the speaker, when asked by God for a new, less “antiquated” name, suggests, among others, “poetry.”