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.
poem13 Apr 2021 06:19 pm
By Photo by Henry Van der Weyde (1838-1924; London, England) – http://www.photography-museum.com/jekyll.html / Originally uploaded to en.wikipedia; description page was here., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1819530

Robert Borski

Hidden or unhid,
a shadow playing peekaboo

in the reflecting
glass of our twinship,

he who is both kin
and chemical love child

floats in the clear aspic
of my lymph,

though at the moment
he is less preserved than confined.

I will always hesitate
to call him brother, but know

that even when we pretend

the two of us are both still there
in the amnion of blood

and violence that jointly unites us
in playing card fashion

as jailer and inmate, the Jack
of Murderous Wrath.

My biggest fear, however:
that fratricide will only liberate

the one of us who wields the scalpel
most intent on carving

himself out of the other, but is
too wholly absorbed with the process

to ever notice the resulting scars
never seem to heal,

no matter how much either my brother
or I caress them.

poem22 Mar 2021 05:50 pm

Sandi Leibowitz

Night and the forest has come into the kitchen with darkness tangled in its hair.
Angela Carter

Even his eyes have been eaten.
I remember him the way he used to be,
foreign presence entering our cottage
changing everything,
the Bear since swallowed by the prince.
I didn’t want his brother,
naïve duke in silver hose
and adequate broad shoulders.
Be happy, Rose said, beaming,
her wish also command;
we can stay together forever
just as Mama said.
Don’t think I covet my sister’s husband,
the prince with his amiable grin
full of blunt white teeth.
But Bear, oh Bear, what I would give
to feel those ivory fangs
slide slick against my shoulders.
Rose says his fur was brown
but it was the black of loam
to which arboreal dynasties deeded
their thousands of leaves,
black as the night that waited
beyond our fire-lit hearth,
breathing just outside the cottage door.
He wore the secret scent of the woods,
whiff of danger and decay,
savagery of owl,
sacrifice of dove.
Bear’s eyes gleamed more gold
than flame’s play on brass kettle
or bee darting through the dark paths of the hive,
the subtle soul alive.
How could I guess it was not
imprisoned prince
but Bear himself I glimpsed there?
Oh Bear, you have purged the wild within you,
the greenwood gone as if you’d torched the brush.
That’s not even a ghost of you,
the man cloaked in ermine pelt
who rules these marble halls
beside Red Rose, his placid queen.
Cultivated gardens surround us,
and fields tended by peasants
who scrape and smile when we ride through,
barricaded within our tidy carriage.
The woods are miles away.
Now if I would taste the night,
I have only my own heart to visit.

poem08 Mar 2021 05:18 am
A statue of an angel at a cemetery in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, Louisiana, photo by  Jon Sullivan

Adele Gardner

You bend, my angel, pensive, over graves.
He loved me--loved us both in different lives.
You have her hair, he said.  His eyes sought yours,
Hoping your eyes would follow--not blind stone.
You saw him.  Cameras caught you, quite alone,
The two of you, communion--in one frame--
Translucent arms to soften vicious blame.
You coexist on paper--muted muse,
Scarred poet--grafted through enlarger’s views
Into one entity, four arms, one heart
That speaks to one who's stood too long apart.
Your stone bouquet droops over a bronze vase--
A home now to dry dirt and spider lace.
Close in the breast of hollow ribs below
Lie crumpled poems written long ago
For her, then bundled up for me to save
Like gifts whose worth might shield him from your grave--
Despite the fact that he had left us both--
Cast off, trod under, then chalked up to growth--
So much for lover's promise, marriage oath.
How could I know that stone had pierced him through,
That sorrow made him restless with the truth:
That we'd have all too long to mourn, atone,
But you'd have just one day to live in stone,
Turned inward, trapped, and dropping out of sight,
Your footprint sinking deep in graveyard blight,
Your sadness given voice by downward gaze
That pierces where he lies--too soon--three friends
Now caught beyond the power of my lens.
Our hearts are full of stone.  And when I'm dead
I’ll know just where to lay my spinning head--
I’ll feel you stretching up into the sky,
Your eyes--my eyes--alike too sad to dry.
Your roses in my arms. 
                                                My billowing hair,
Cast loose, like yours floats out upon the air.
poem28 Feb 2021 05:18 pm
Image from page 780 of journal Die Gartenlaube, 1886.

WC Roberts

Tyla's friend
is always the same, dressed in that gingham dress
trying to get her to dance those old dances
saying not to worry about what's happening
"over there" in Germany.  President Roosevelt
will see us through this depression
and keep us out of the war.
Tyla tells her friend this is all old stuff
but she won't listen
she'll only listen when Tyla takes up
her Grandmother's old thimble
the interest clear on her friends face
when Tyla holds it.
Tyla hears her mother crying at night
her stepdad, he
tries to sooth her, telling her
that kids have imaginary friends
her mom cries harder sometimes
saying, but not to the teens!
She hears it all but can't say a thing
no one understands her
no one cares
but her friend, she is different
she understands when Tyla feels the pain
when she feels the - empty
darkness inside
Grandmother's old thimble, pitted
ALM engraved on the smooth base
Grandma's initials
It fits her thumb perfectly
helping Tyla find calm
remembering Grandma when she
still lived and listened
"Tyla!"  The friend is pushy when she shows up
but that's fine, not that she ever bothered
to look Tyla in the eye
the thimble brightens like new at her presence
sparkling, like the light that
once gleamed from grandma's bi-color eyes
and that still sparkled in Tyla's memories
"I miss Grandma, girlfriend." Tyla says
depressed, saddened more than usual
--"maybe I should go to her."
the friend was quiet, then she spoke
"don't talk like that, Ty-girl. It isn't that bad here."
The friend faced away, at the window
--"it can always be worse."
"Besides, I think your Grandma wouldn't like that."
Tyla couldn't look up.  "How would you know--
you aren't even real." she whispers
"you might be surprised" the friend's voice
the tone older, mature
sounds strangely like her mother
"I was born right after the big crash of '29
and I lived the Depression. I saw what the war
did to our men. It took my brother"
"I lived through hate and hardship and
bad things in life and family," the friend's voice
changes, firms yet remains
sympathetic, familiar
"So you hold that thimble, Ty-girl, take
from it some peace. Its feel can be a comfort
if you let it.  It was for me"
Tyla snaps up to look into
brilliant young blue eyes in a craggy aged face
Grandma's eyes
filled with love and care
"It can always be worse, but hold my thimble close
I'll always be there with you."

poem07 Feb 2021 04:05 pm
Räven och vargen by Jenny Nyström, 1900

Rita Chen

They told me:
Don't look down the well, girl.
There's something sick, at the bottom of it.

A family curse, buried in the earth.
A miasma rising—rotted smog.
Year by year, the manor gardens wilt.

Give us this day our daily guilt.

The other day, a bird lay dead in a rose-bed.
And your sister is sick, and your brother is frail,
and your father is failing, his heart swollen to bursting—
If your mother had lived, she'd tell you this now:
It's that cursed thing in the well.

Listen now, sit, as an old grey lady
tells you the story of a clan proud and stony.

It hung over us, call it a curse, or a spell—
a way of being passed down from father to son,
beat and ground firm into everyone.
A tradition of repression: bootstraps and hard lessons.
Don't spare the rod, don't waste your tears.
We don't speak of those things round here.
Every man for himself.
Shut your mouth, it's good enough.
Get the girl—get her.
Tame her, tether her, take her.

Our fears, they gather in the air and fall as words unsaid—
as proud, bitter words spat on the ground at her retreating back.
As grasping love, or as love's lack.
As love that comes at a price too dear:
as garden-variety mundane shame and young, bewildered tears.
Our slow-growing cancer of fifty-odd years
gone by without a single fight to bright the air.
Tears shed in secret. Dreams laughed at, trod upon, lying in shreds.
Ah, the poison of a well-meant lesson!
If you cut me, do I not run red?

Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers.
You know only the soil you grow in,
and no other.

Lance and drain the poison in the dark, hunched upon a ledge of stone.
It leaches to the bottom of the well, pulsing, swollen, twisting
round a dead thing's bone. The offal of us. Hardening
into a muscular lump of dried-up mucus.
Homunculus, born of bad blood and bile.
A stormy hot anger—strife—pushed down—buried deep:
that was the spark that, in the primordial dark of the well,
brought life.

This thing is our essence, creeping, steeping.
It grew three limbs with which to climb around with,
eyeless. And a maw.
Your grandad saw it hunting, one cloudy moonless night
(or so I've heard). If it can catch one, it'll eat a rat, a small bird.
It bites at children's legs for fun, till they stiffen and sicken—
yes, your sister will live, but she'll never not suffer.
Make sure to love her.

I'm sorry, my daughter's daughter, for this burden.
Our men won't do it—call it women's work—
so (fair or not) it falls to us to
repent our sons our sins.
It's got to be you who tells the truth.
Don't bite your tongue, don't eat your young.
Fight tough, love soft.
Demand he give you more than just
Scrape out the wound, let air heal it clean.
Be seen. Be angry. Scream.

Brave child! Climb down into the well, and at long last
dredge up this ugly, fetid thing.
Throw it in the hedge.
Stomp it (once or twice will suffice) (beware the teeth)
and leave it there in the daylight glare
to spasm, and shrivel, and

Don't let your father bury it in the ground:
the tainted earth will only bring it back around.
Aerial burial—leave it on a ledge; the birds will have their revenge.
Then the sun will come, and do the rest.

An eye for an eye for my heart-sleeved smile of a man,
your grandad, the gentle, sweet black sheep of the clan.
Love of my life—love wasn't enough.
Living here decades, his sweet became rough.
Husked by thirty, frame hale and sturdy,
but gone—spent—turned stone—long before death.
Me alone with a ghost of a man.
I got along. Best as I can.

Down there in the dark, out of sight, and light,
that thing's growing. We all know it.
I should have done it when I was still young,
but I'm bound to this bed now, for my time's come.
This tale needs a new heroine to find its end.

Yes, lovey, yes.
You're a very good girl for sitting still so long—
I hope you see now what's got to be done.
Listen to Grandma. Stay sharp and clever.
Go play in the garden, little one.
poem24 Jan 2021 07:44 pm
Empress Dowager Cixi of China, by a court painter, mid 1800s

Mary Soon Lee

At the center of all things,
a fountain in a garden.

Five yards from the center,
beneath a willow tree,
Ling Hua, Empress of China,
sat cross-legged
listening to the water
chattering to itself
in the hour after dawn,
the hour of consecration.

Her left knee ached.
She wished for her youth, long gone;
wished for a cup of green tea;
wished she could sail
right round the Earth's rim,
to see, as the great navigators had,
the line where ocean became sky.

A sparrow hopped onto the stone wall
of the fountain, bent down,
splashed busily.

Ling Hua, Empress of China,
watched the sparrow
while she sat beneath the tree,
five yards from the center of all things
(according to the astronomers' measurements),
that small separation a token
of her own imperfection.

For the stars and the sun and the moon
swept each in their perfect courses
around Earth's great disc,
but all who were born of women
were fallible.

Three hundred and eighty-two years
since China proved that it centered
not merely the Earth,
but the Universe.

Ling Hua bowed her head,
promised to safeguard China
from the least sparrow
to the oldest man.

Her knee ached as the stars spun round her.
poem10 Jan 2021 07:02 pm
By Albert Anker – Schweizerisches Institut für Kunstwissenschaft, SIK-ISEA inventory number 93320, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70014557

Deborah L. Davitt

I never thought of bread
as a living thing, but it is,
a colony of yeast bacteria
given living space and food
in a matrix of earth-given grain,
sea-born salt, and sky-born water;
they exhale their own breath
to make their city rise,
and we freeze them in place
with fiery oven heat.
Little wonder then,
that the Romans brought bread
and wine for libation
to the graves of their ancestors,
and sent the living food
down feeding tubes
to the bones and ashes
to appease the hungry ghosts;
little wonder, too,
that on Dia de la Muerte,
people for whom that language
hangs richly on their tongues
set out living bread for the dead,
marked with bones,
or Chimalma’s tears.
Maybe the ghosts can sniff out
the life in it, the bacteria
still struggling to survive
their own cremation,
entombed in the rigid shape
of their own mobile grave;
maybe they have to respect
the struggle to endure,
so like their own;
maybe, like the living,
they just like the smell
of hot, buttered bread,
fresh from the oven,
and cling to the heels
as we bring the last pieces
to our churning mouths.
Maybe they slide lusciously
down into our gullets,
ingested with the bread
and perhaps the wine
that we pour into glasses
instead of on the grass;
maybe they become a part of us,
and leave the graveside
nestled in our hearts and bowels,
instead of lingering
to stare at futile plastic roses
left to fade in the sun.
poem25 Oct 2020 04:23 pm
Asherah, 13th century BC, Israel Museum

Deborah L. Davitt

You tore down our mother’s temples,
fearing that to give glory to her,
the Queen of Heaven,
she who treads the sea, Asherah,
would take glory from him
who was her husband,
who divided his land from her sea,
Elkunirsa—more lately El
(which means Lord to those who remember
their Hittite—most don’t, these days).
You preferred to wander the desert
far from her shores;
you forgot her forgiveness, tenderness,
when faced with his wrath.
We forgot nothing on her shores,
transformed to guardian pillars
licked with her salt;
you abandoned our mother, your mother,
so we came for your daughters
with all the tenderness you’d forgotten,
taught them to find their wings within.
You called yourselves blessed
when you saw the grandchildren,
so strong, intelligent, and noble,
but as we slumbered, stone once more,
you forgot, and they forgot.
We never forget.
Awakening inside our descendants,
daughters of men and gods,
we wonder why you fear us so—
is it for the divine grace
burning under our skins?
Is it for the wings of flame
you cannot see, but surely sense?
This time, we won’t let you forget,
searing our mother’s name
into your souls
with a brand
of molten salt.

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