poem04 Jul 2022 10:28 am
‘Youth’ 150 x 130 cm, Oil on linen by Hennie Niemann jnr, 2019, (illustration on creative commons license)

Sarah Shirley

Camera flashes, crimson sashes on a catwalk in Shanghai,
the newest line of fashion on the newest line of models
fresh from the grow-vats. Tall ones, short ones, 
slim and plump ones, faces engineered to a 
blank smear onto which the audience can 
project their own features using the handy goggles 
from the gift bags: this is how you’ll really look 
in the season’s latest offerings! Bass notes pumped 
in are hypnotic and everything is energy and striding
strutting motion, the mannequins marching the
precise measurements of the walkway, no need for 
eyeballs - their feet have been told where to go. Concern
was raised a while ago, but quickly put to rest - 
no humans were harmed in the making, my friend! 
They come unstoppable, stalking the floorboards
draped in silks, wrapped in satin, strapped in leather,
and when a Float-Cam stutters and sparks nobody 
notices, not until the flames lick up the cheap material
of the sashes, turning them into ash and smoke. The
hall empties out, a thunderstorm of pounding footfalls 
and shrieks, but the models march on in the thickening
fog, driven the fifty meters from the curtain to the end
by instructions hardwired into nerve and muscle,
and the meaty beat of a porcine heart.
poem04 Jul 2022 09:46 am

I have not been posting for a while due to moving. Er, while I obviously knew I hadn’t posted in some time, I was not aware that it was six months. I have a number of accepted poems, and sadly, some submitted poems I have not replied to yet. Now that I’m settled in my new home, I’m going to push through and get back to everyone.

poem09 Jan 2022 06:12 pm
Summer Night by the Beach by Edvard Munch, 1903

Sarah Shirley

Moonburn happens on very clear nights
to the pale swimmers venturing out, their
skin bare to the air and the water. 

They call to each other in trills and gargling
fluting sounds as they crawl over 
the rubble that is left when cities fall.

Their milky skin sings at the touch of
reflected radiance, tapping into an ancestral 
memory of a time when we strode out

into the brightest days, when we stood beneath
the orange sun and bathed in heat and light.
Long ago there was a sandy beach here,

but now our children, skin bleached
by the years spent trembling in the 
shadows of the fallout shelters, creep out

into the moonlight-silvered city, and lay
their pale bodies down to rest in the dark
at the water’s lapping edge.
poem12 Dec 2021 06:20 pm
Bell Telephone Magazine, 1922

Harris Coverley

I talk to the Machine
And how she whispers back
In her cogs
And gives Word through her dials
Chrome cool
Soothing a dead thumb
Oh how I love her
And how I hate
How she goes away
Even now
I can still hear her wisdom:
This is what you want to hear
This is what you want to hear
“Turn switch off and then switch on again”
This is what you want to hear

poem21 Nov 2021 04:10 pm
Saint-John the Baptist by Michaelina Wautier, 17th century

Marge Simon

Histories were told in the dry prairie winds
that swept the sandy dirt from here to there and back.
Lost are those masters, the old aristocrats.
How they doted on the old building, the museum,
like a shrine. The treasure they held in trust
for their lineage into an unknown future,
a monument to their legacy.

Came the spoilers, on their razor-spined mounts,
grinding fleeing bodies into the crushed prairie grass.
They plundered every shrine, 
stealing even the shining amber eyes of the stuffed beasts,
silver shafts and diamond needles
to make more tools of butchery.
When that was done, there were no children left
except the boy, and he was a slave-child.

His mother despaired on a daily basis.
She jumped at every sound
in the ruined house they lived in,
once their master’s stately home, now theirs.
Not that much of dignity remained,
their only mirror was the pond,
their only meat, the fish within it.
When she yelled at him, whether angry
or driven to tears, it only made things worse.
The boy would chase the rats off for her,
flinging stones with more rage
than duty called for.

The boy had his own place where he could
forget, for a long afternoon, the ache
of hunger, the gnaw of fear.
He would run there
every time she wasn’t looking.

In the old museum, vines trailed down
from the gaping tears in the roof.
A shaft of sunlight fell on the last dead beast,
preserved, with its empty-socket gaze, 
her coat stained, rain spotted,
no longer bristling with the sheen of life.
This mighty cat, frozen in motion, was his steed.
For him, she would bend down her graceful head
to whisper those things a boy most needs:

Ride me, ride me past the shadows,
the ghost wars of angry men,
and burning prairie grass.
We’ll go to the far horizon,
where none could know what
the brand on your wrist means.

Free, free, no need to hide
inside these rotting walls –
freed by rite of youth to ride,
your face ablaze with sunlight.

So came a day, he did,
with his crazy mother’s litany of self-pity
echoing in his ears, always too many sharp,
hurting things to bear, shredding hope,
sharing her pain over and over,
he ran away.

Once, he stopped to look back  
upon the broken buildings and fallow land.
A man could heal his mother’s wounds,
a man could rebuild.
But he was just a boy,
so he ran on.
poem07 Nov 2021 06:49 pm

Adele Gardner

This Halloween the old man picks out coffins.

His parlor looked bare without one: so many years in which

another relative died, and he sat nights

communing with the dead.  So peaceful, it didn't even matter

whether he spoke or watched, but by candlelight

there was plenty of time to get it all off his chest,

apologize to his daughter, his niece, his grandson, for birthdays missed;

chew out his son for running away and leaving the business to crumble;

tell his sweethearts precisely how he loved them.

His wife was hardest--almost as bad as Mom, when he was ten.

They're all gone, now.  He sits alone,

missing the coffins--company.

One last ritual to cling to.

The dead don't speak, exactly, but they fill silences,

pregnant with answers you can almost pluck from the air,

a little overripe with waiting, but pungent, sweet,

an earthy taste like the forbidden fruit

just the other side of the grave.

He misses the tinkle of his granddaughter's laughter, there in the silence,

the eloquent press of dust that traced his name

above her on the mantle, the titter of mice

scampering over her toes and down the legs of the coffin,

brushing him with silken whiskers like her hair

so that he reached out, tried to touch one,

caught just a fingertip taste of one silky, eiderdown cheek--

the same as hers, but soft, as it had been when she grew old,

still warm, not hard as that withered figure in her casket.

So, for one moment, lifted in hope, he believed her:

that she'd still be here to look out for him; that love never dies.

Perhaps it's true.  Now he's the last, and two

hundred years seems too long a span--

though too short to contain all the hours he wanted

to spend with them, all these branches from the same root, each unique,

and for his love too brief, too brief.

He'll order one more coffin now,

drape it in plush black velvet, paint it pumpkin-rich orange,

lie down for a nap on Halloween, the one night when his parlor

is still crowded with chatter

from the coffins long gone by.  Perhaps this time

he'll slip over to the other side--not in his sleep, but setting out to sea,

pushing off at last into the waves by the light

of a wavering lantern.  He's so excited.

He can't wait for them to join him,

crowding his parlor with delight in their coffin-ships

to pull him out from shore.

poem19 Sep 2021 04:33 pm
Jan Sanders van Hemessen – Tearful Bride

Skip Sorn

She is a pioneer.

She cannot teleport
She cannot communicate

Transmission is blocked
by spectral coronal flares
by solar mass eruptions
by sudden incapacitating sorrow.

The planet is too near the star.
She should have known.
Now, she is isolated.

She hides in Howe Caverns,
six million year-old caves that
plunge into blackness below
tourist level. She must not be found.

She’s keening-
her distress is telepathic
registering below consciousness
in human females within 500 kilometers.

It sets off an outbreak of ineffable
sadness, resistant to SSRIs. Psychiatrists
can’t fathom the widespread depression.
Women lie down, weeping without warning.

She too weeps without warning.
Her tears are warm syrup unlike
human dripping. Her hair is
foliage, green-yellow, now wilting.

Soon the darkness, the absence
of sunlight will kill her.
At her death, human females will not be
despondent, will rise up uncaring and

poem06 Sep 2021 10:50 am
Fasching in Munich by Fritz Quant, 1921

Jenny Blackford  

Every night, the hotel
on the fracture zone
hosts a cleansing ritual
with wine and music.
Guests assume it's a mere
commercial ploy,
forgetting all they knew
of ceremony, old

and new. Deluded fools,
they gulp free wine
and laugh. Staff crack jokes
even when guests fail to tip.

No one wonders why.
Still, the ritual seems to work.
Nightmares here
aren't so much worse

than elsewhere.
But even while musicians 
magic distracting sounds
(don’t look at the weird lump

there under the carpet!)
even while Buddha’s
brass head gazes down
with that archaic smile

(what is he thinking?)
the mound beneath the rug
persists baleful,

poem27 Jun 2021 06:05 pm
Bath for Prisoners in Portoferraio, 1890, Telemaco Signorini

Gerri Leen

The spaceship is cold, even through shoes
Not nice ones, but nicer than we're used to
Mist drifts down the corridor
Adding a damp chill as the aliens
Suggest we hurry
We're already jogging—their legs are so long
They have no weapons
They don't need them
Shows of strength have already been given
Earth knows who's boss here
Even if the aliens only destroyed abandoned things
I take comfort in that fact: they didn't hurt anyone
A door opens to a room thankfully
Lacking medical beds or anything
Reeking of torture or death
But then perhaps they have means 
Beyond the obvious
They asked for twelve of us: is that number significant to them?
One of them approaches, touching each of us in turn
A firm grasp, but not painful, its large hand
Easily spanning the width of our faces
And I feel my fear fall away
I stop it before it can move on
"Are you going to hurt us?"—hurt can mean so many things
Should I have been more specific?
But it shrugs me off and finishes the line
Then it turns to all of us 
"Did you volunteer to be tributes?"
As one, we say "No"
Other aliens are crowding in, expressions impossible to read
"How were you chosen?" the one who touched us asks
The others hazard guesses before we can answer
A lottery? A contest of skill? Wrong place, wrong time?
Or the alien version of that
"It was better than death row"
It sits out there, my statement
And the guy next to me looks down
Does he wish I hadn't said it? Does it make any difference?
"None of us pled guilty"
I know this; I asked my lawyer about it
Right before I was taken away
We're the kind of prisoners that make
The system look bad when convictions get overturned
But I can see the distinction is lost on our captors
"We didn't do it," I want to say
But I can't be sure of everyone
Guilty people protest innocence all the time
Just like innocent ones make plea deals
The system runs on pragmatism, not hope
The aliens leave, all but the one who asked the questions
"You're free to go," it says with
No sense of irony apparent
And a door opens in the side of the ship
The others flee but I don't move
"You wish to know why, tribute?" 
Its voice is infinitely gentle, soothing even
"We learn everything we need to know
By how or if tributes are chosen"
It shoos me away and I wonder if the aliens will simply
Leave or if they'll destroy us all
"Not everyone's bad" I say as I slip out the door
It's a whisper, a hope, a prayer, but is it the truth?
And if it is, will it matter?
poem25 Apr 2021 05:46 pm
By Pearson Scott Foresman – Archives of Pearson Scott Foresman, donated to the Wikimedia FoundationThis file has been extracted from another file: PSF P730004.png, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80192438

Anne Carly Abad

I should have held back.
You sat there, mouth ajar
by the staircase
while your father caught
shards of insult I threw at him.
I thought you’d cry but you clenched
your mouth shut; could have sworn
the clinks were glass shattering.
'Milk, honey?' I asked.
You shook your head.
You’ve turned three but you don’t walk
and your father still smiles
like I didn't just call him an idiot
(He forgot to lock the door again at night.)
You mumble, 'Mommy, sleep.'
So I carry you.
You're light as paper.
(Maybe you just haven’t had enough to eat.)
And your bed
isn’t it too big for you?
(Have you always been
this tiny?)
Your arms and legs curl up into knots.
Your skin hardens like the crust
on a pretzel. Somehow, you wriggle
out of my grasp and burrow deep
deep into the sheets.
The white cast has left your skin.
But you haven’t grown horns.
They say beetle larva gorge on
much sap and rot
so as to need less food in adulthood.
You just need to grow those horns
and you could lift
a thousand times your own weight!
I have to stop
counting the years.

I keep the light open for you.

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