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John Smith

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Photo by Flora Westbrook from Pexels

Margaret’s Garden Hands

Margaret’s garden hands are dark,
mud-caked, bordered by lighter,
dried dirt, the pit of her palms
peeking through. They look like
blotchy prints of brown paint
a child pressed on a paper plate
or relief maps, the topography
of a life lived as close to earth
as a life can get this side of it.
But my sister’s hands aren’t prints
or raised maps. They’re cultivators,
as were our father’s, small
but strong and no strangers
to bare fistfuls of soil or fingernails
cracked and grouted; in fact,
first-hand familiar with the grip
and rip of weeds uprooted,
a clingy ball of earth, the weighty
shaking loose, and stubborn worms
that won’t let go, even with
part of them writhing on the
ground beneath. Years ago,
among unripe tomato plants
and the warm, licorice scent
of basil, sweet as memory itself,
Margaret’s hands were first
to touch our father lying
on his back in the garden,
life outgrown him. See how she
washes them now, one toughened
hand at a time, with the green
garden hose in the other.

***

Editor’s Note:
A simple action of washing muddy hands turns into a tender trip down the memory lane for the narrator and illustrates the continuity of life is and organic nature of life. The assonance and consonance keep the lines moving smoothly.
***
John Smith’s poetry has appeared in journals such as SmartishPace, Berfrois Journal, The Literary Review, and Spillway. His work has been set to music by composer, Tina Davidson, and commissioned by New Jersey AudubonHis book of poetry is titled Even That Indigo. John lives in Frenchtown, NJ with his wife, the calligrapher and henna artist, Catherine Lent.

World Poetry Day

In 1999,  UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designated March 21 is as World Poetry Day to celebrate ” linguistic diversity through poetic expression” and to increase “the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard.”

I take this opportunity to share beloved poems from the four languages, Sanskrit (Kalidasa), Hindi (Subhadra Kumari Chauhan), Marathi (Bahinabai Chaudhari), and Of course, English (Emily Dickinson). Except for the Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, I consider the other three poets as my foremothers in the sense that I love them, admire them, and draw inspiration from them.

  1. संस्क्रुत (Sanskrit)
    A verse from Meghdut (Cloud Messenger) by Kalidasa.

आषाढस्य प्रथमदिवसे मेघमाश्लिष्टसानुं।
वप्रक्रीडापरिणतगजप्रेक्षणीयं ददर्श।।

Loosely translated:
On the very first day of Aashadh, the cloud leans over
the cliff as if an elephant about to engage in amorous games

Aashads is the first month of Monsoon according to the Hindu Calendar.

  1. हिंदी (Hindi)

झाँसी की रानी (Queen of Jhansi) by सुभद्रा कुमारी चौहान (Subhadra Kumari Chauhan)

About The Queen of Jhansi.

A very good English Translation can be found here.

  1. मराठी (Marathi)

मन वढाय वढाय by बहिणाबाई चौधरी

मन वढाय वढाय, उभ्या पीकातलं ढोर ।
किती हाकला हाकला, फिरी येतं पिकांवर ।।

मन मोकाट मोकाट, त्याले ठायी ठायी वाटा ।
जशा वार्‍यानं चालल्या, पानावर्हल्यारे लाटा ।।

मन लहरी लहरी, त्याले हाती धरे कोन? ।
उंडारलं उंडारलं जसं वारा वाहादन ।।

मन जह्यरी जह्यरी, याचं न्यारं रे तंतर आरे ।
इचू साप बरा, त्याले उतारे मंतर ।।

मन पाखरू पाखरू, त्याची काय सांगू मात?।
आता व्हतं भुईवर, गेलं गेलं आभायात ।।

मन चप्पय चप्पय, त्याले नही जरा धीर ।
तठे व्हयीसनी ईज, आलं आलं धर्तीवर ।।

मन एवढं एवढं, जसा खाकसचा दाना ।
मन केवढं केवढं? आभायात बी मायेना ॥

देवा, कसं देलं मन आसं नही दुनियात ।
आसा कसा रे तू योगी काय तुझी करामत ॥

देवा, आसं कसं मन? आसं कसं रे घडलं ।
कुठे जागेपनी तूले असं सपनं पडलं ॥

Loose English Translation

The mind is a truant by Bahinabai Chaudhari

The mind is a truant like cattle in a field
You can drive it away, but it will always return

The mind is a stray; it wanders in all around
As the waves spiraling away in a breeze

The mind is temperamental; who can rein it in?
It’s as wild as the blowing wind

The mind is toxic; its ways are strange
A scorpion or snake is preferable; at least there are antidotes

The mind is a bird; how many of its exploits should I name?
One moment it’s on the ground; next, it has soared to the sky

The mind is too quick and so impatient
It’s lightning that strikes in a flash

The mind is small as a poppy seed
And how big is it? Even the sky can’t hold it

God, what is this unique mind you granted us?
What kind of Yogi are you? What is this marvel you created?

God, what is this mind? How did it arise?
What is this vision you saw while fully awake?

English
A Wounded Deer – Leaps Highest or as I like to say, “don’t let them see the blood.”

A Wounded Deer – Leaps Highest
By Emily Dickinson

A wounded deer – leaps highest
I’ve heard the hunter tell;
‘Tis but the ecstasy of death,
And then the brake is still.

The smitten rock that gushes,
The trampled steel that springs:
A cheek is always redder
Just where the hectic stings!

Mirth is mail of anguish,
In which its cautious arm
Lest anybody spy the blood
And, “you’re hurt” exclaim

Sparrows

 

It’s the Spring Equinox today. Not only that, it happens to be World Sparrow Day.  It caught my attention because I have grown up with sparrows around me, listened to the nursery rhymes about sparrows, read children’s stories about sparrows. In Bombay (Mumbai now) sparrows were the only birds around, at least the ones I noticed. So I was disheartened to read that the sparrows are becoming extinct in Mumbai and the pigeons are taking over.  Nothing against pigeons, but sad about sparrows. Here are a few of my sparrow poems to amuse you.

The House Sparrow

Sparrow pauses on my window sill,
chirps a quick note, looks left, looks right, and
flies away leaving behind a half-eaten seed,
like an unfulfilled desire.

I see her every day bathing in dirt,
small brown wings flick around dust.
Just a small bird flying under clouds,
livening up my solitary afternoon.

My friends say, the male sparrow feeds the nestlings.
but, I see her at dusk, baby sparrows by her side,
pecking feverishly.
Mouth of the nestling, open, eager, waiting.
She holds a seed in her beak and drops it in.
A motherly act, if you ask me.

Kitty purrs behind me.
I pick her up and carry her away.

(First appeared in Mused – BellaOnline Literary Review, Fall 2014)


The Art of Mothering

Sparrow like a seamstress
Pleats feather upon feather
Shielding the nestlings
From the perils of cosmos
Not one of them will
Perish of nature’s vagaries
Before she can train them
The intricacies of flight
Nourish & coddle them only
Until their instincts stir
Until they soar to the sky
A Simple miracle
Letting go
The concept so elusive
To humans

(First appeared in Entropy, July 2020)


Low-Flying Bird

upon being shoved aside, the shock
doesn’t distress her, only the flock
she wants to belong, those who fly high
the wings untouched by human hands

being accustomed to the margins
she cozies up with the flowering hedge
to escape the constant jet engine whir
maybe a nosedive in lightning & thunder

flying solo isn’t a choice but a necessity
for the fallen bird, forsaken from the nest,
who never learns the secret of soaring
uncertain wings in the air flapping furiously

(First appeared in Entropy, July 2020)


Burning Woman

I set fire to the memories every summer
all through the fall and winter, word by word
I string the song of a savannah sparrow
staying close to the ground
foraging the buried syllables
seeping through the snow
and thaw them over my warm breath
those little things weigh heavy on my tongue
I am so tired of the harshness
grating on my ear
year after year,
I return to the ground and
polish the rough edges of words
the fierce polishing—the fleeting gleam
sometimes the sparks fly
singe my lashes, hair on fire
this merciless struggle
yet this sweet song of the sparrow

(First appeared in Entropy, July 2020)


Hilde Weisert

Trillium

A Spring ephemeral

March mud slides into April,
April slaps the house silly,
slams the door back in my face.

May, I take a morning walk
in an anorak, only to find
trout lily’s sprouted gills

instead of flowers. Aeolus
roars and shoves me home,
my retreat now one more

sad retreat. I’ll stay in
and set the locks against
this botch, this washed-out

washed-up spring—

So who is it who calls
my name, and who is it then
who runs, arms akimbo,

down the brambly
path, afraid to be
too late, afraid

this mean and frigid
mountain has no more
place for fragile beauty?

Who but I
who cups the wide
leaves in shaky

palms, lifts
the bowed and
blood-red head

for a kiss,
thrilled once more
by what I’d almost lost?


Editor’s Note:
The narrator, concerned that the mountain landscape has altered due to climate change, looks for the familiar spring sights and flowers on her walk. Assonance, consonance, alliteration, and specific details of the landscape, weather, and flowers keep the reader engaged.


Hilde Weisert’s poetry collection The Scheme of Things was published by David Robert Books, 2015. Poems in magazines including Ms., Cincinnati Review, Plume, Cortland Review, Prairie Schooner, The Sun, Lips, anthologies including Choice Words and What They Bring: The Poetry of Migration and Immigration. Awards include 2017 Gretchen Warren Award (New England Poetry Club), 2016 Tiferet Journal Poetry Award. She is the president of the Sandisfield Arts Center in western Massachusetts. She lives in Sandisfield and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Goddfrey Hammit

Pulp to Pulp

The daily newspaper, it was announced
by way of a story buried on B3–
appropriately, the page just before the obituary pages–
would no longer be delivered beginning in the new year,

meaning no longer would the days begin with those heralds
driving through the dark before the dawn,
some with a sure aim,
their pitch landing a step or two from the porch,

and others with the haphazard hope that that baton,
spinning end-over-end,
thrown from the shoulder like a rock skipped across a lake
by someone who had never skipped a rock across a lake,

might, at least, come to rest
somewhere between one fencepost and the next.
And, for the sleeping, no longer would the news
be crouched beneath a car in the driveway,

or hidden in the lawn that should have been mown last week,
or buried beneath the gathering snow that had silently built up overnight,
the paper waiting as patient as a cat
and lapping up the wetness of morning,

which would be the first consternation for those barely out of bed and,
already, presented with such a simple disappointment.
In those final months, the letters to the editor page,
alongside the usual lectures penned from atop imagined soapboxes,

was filled with those concerned at the loss of a ritual:
how would coffee taste when not paired
with that smell of fresh pulp and cheap ink?
And here, I thought of my grandmother,

who had developed the habit
of opening the obituary section as if this, too,
was news that ought to concern us all,
these worlds that had ended some time in the last week and now

huddled together between local news and the weather.
Last year, she had appeared in those pages,
in an obituary we had found already written,
fit to print years ago,

composed when she had been in fine health,
and I imagined her at her kitchen table,
those faces of dead strangers stacked in their
four-down, four-wide paper mausoleum in front of her

as she looked for familiar faces
and then as she searched for inspiration,
finding the words,
one ordinary afternoon in the past,

to best capture her life that,
one ordinary afternoon in the future,
would be taken out with the evening trash
by a complete stranger who, on a rainy morning,

would bend down in that shaky way,
and handle the sopping pages like lily petals,
turning in that shaky way to B4
to read the news of the day.


Editor’s Note: The standard morning newspaper delivery and reading rituals described in vivid images stand for life’s expectations and disappointments and the inevitable end. I loved the way the poet portrays the poignancy of the experience and nonchalant continuity of the life-cycle


Goddfrey Hammit was born and raised in Utah, and lives in Utah still, in a small town just outside of Salt Lake City. Hammit is the author of the novel Nimrod, UT.

International Women’s Day 2021

March 8th is designated as International Women’s Day to:

celebrate women’s achievements
raise awareness about women’s equality
actively advocate for gender parity
raise funds for female-centric charities

The theme for this year is “choose to challenge.” Challenge ourselves and those around us to be alert for gender disparity and discrimination and actively seek to bring equality so that we don’t have to set aside such a day in the future.

On this occasion, I am bringing you an obscure poet from my home state of Maharashtra in India. I have always admired Bahinabai Chaudhari (1880 – 1951) for her natural poetic talent and fierce independence. She wasn’t aware of her talent and never wrote down her ‘songs’ which she composed while going about her daily routine. I am presenting her poem about the plague pandemic during 1940 as it is incredibly relevant today. The original Marathi version is followed by my loose translation. I can’t match her meter and rhyme, but the meaning is extremely relevant. I hope you join me in saluting this favorite poet and at least three more female poets I plan to present this month.

पिलोक पिलोक
आल्या पिलोकाच्या गाठी
उजाडलं गांव
खयामयांमधीं भेटी

पिलोक पिलोक
जीव आला मेटाकुटी
भाईर झोंपड्या
गांवामधीं मसन्‌वटी

पिलोक पिलोक
कशाच्या रे भेठीगांठी !
घरोघरीं दूख
काखाजांगामधीं गांठी

पिलोक पिलोक
आतां नशीबांत ताटी
उचलला रोगी
आन् गांठली करंटी

plague, plague
the lumps of plague are here
the towns are deserted
people meet in the open fields

plague, plague
people feel only despair
the huts are on the outskirts
the town has become a graveyard

plague, plague
what get-togethers?
every household filled with sorrow
lumps in armpits and groins

plague, plague
now only destiny is a bier
pick up the ailing
and remain in quarantine

Shelby Wilson

Bookmaking

for Al Brilliant, even though he probably doesn’t remember me

Those mild south Texas Spring mornings
you spent guiding and goading four college
seniors in the arduous art
of handmaking books might have
seemed squandered,
but I remember.

I remember the aroma of Earl Grey
in that makeshift classroom—
the Christian Science Reading Room
lent us through kindness—
even though our only shared religion was
a faith in the words on the pages
we saddle-stitched together.

We huddled around the table.
I know now, we were leaning into
your soft-spoken words,
wisdom you near-whispered
in your Brooklynite accent.

You talked of literature,
*******and travel,
*******and books you’d asked us to read,
*******and the sixties,
*******and social justice,
*******and California,
where you founded your
slow and steady press.

My klutzy hands would oft
poke the tip of my awl
clean through a signature of folded pages,
piercing my hand.
I’d bleed on your pages—
these spotted books, you let me keep,
proof of the sacrifice required
for the sacrament of the
enfolded black-inked words.

You taught me that humility is
not mentioning that you’d published
*******Robert Bly,
and Margaret Atwood,
and Leonard Cohen,
and Marge Piercy.

Once, Langston Hughes surfaced from your memories—
his serene, muted intonation
when he would finally speak after
a long pause, in thought,
prior to his purposeful reply
was all you really told us about him.

The art of making books is
lost to me now,
but the value of a life in books
has been collected, sewn, and
bound into me.

I think that is all you wanted
********all along.


Editor’s Note:
I love this heartfelt tribute to Al Brilliant by an eager student of bookmaking. The poet uses vivid descriptions of the bookmaking process, tying each one into a page of memory that finally results in an exquisite book in the student himself.


Shelby Wilson writes, teaches, and lives in Amarillo, Texas. He holds a B.A. in English from Texas A&M University and an M.A. in English from West Texas A&M University. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Ink & Nebula, Sparks of Calliope, Backchannels, BeZine, and anthologies from Madness Muse Press, Clarendon House Publications, and Elizabeth River Press.

Clyde Kessler

Coal Once

I warped back home ninety summers
before I was born, before the north valley train
swelled against trees during a drought, before
the marsh birds haunted their wings with wolves.
I think my grandfather was drunk or had swallowed
lightning, or had imagined his release from prison
as a sign of rain, a synonym for the body in one room
and the mind along the canal road, praying, prying
lifting voices from bread that had molded, but tasted
like heaven’s own wild, swirling feast. And this was
not even where he lived. His story was sunk in coal.
His language left him. He shepherded a machine
through slate rock like a worm, or something burning.
He couldn’t see that I had warped there into his time.
He thought I must be another striker who had given up,
kissed the foreman’s shadow, eaten breakfast in dust,
or had been raised like a soft pillow turned almost
human. I wanted to say grandfather. I wanted to
hand him money, real money, easy money, a stash
that would feel like the face of God placed there
in his mind, far from his home. It was like a human
shadow in Virginia. There was a laugh. It was like
water washing the coal, always sloshing and echoing
and growing and bending into a house. That was where
I forgot who I might have been, had I been real then.


Editor’s Note:
Who knows what you will find when you are mining for your ancestors. The narrator visits his grandfather in a time-warp situation and discovers something about himself. The grandfather was “lifting voices from bread that had molded,” and “His story was sunk in coal./His language left him.” It’s the narrator’s turn now to give the language/voice to the grandfather.


Clyde Kessler lives in Radford, VA with his wife Kendall and their son Alan. In 2017 Cedar Creek published his book Fiddling At Midnight’s Farmhouse, which Kendall illustrated.

Jeff Burt

Osiers

The willows severed from the branch slipped between glass among water
still live

fragile buds in vibrant green unfurling on the windowsill
in indirect light

During this sheltering, I wake some mornings feeling not the amputee
but the amputated

the lower leg or arm up to the shoulder cut off and tossed, the awful desire
to be reunited with the body

but every day without the blood of concourse and attachment
loss grows

I have become more moderate with others, less expectant of ambition
overriding circumstance,

more attuned to the minuscule warmth of the moonlight on my face
in a crisp night, the smell of tannin,

the development of language in a child and the slow crawl his letters take
on a page as if blooming.


Editor’s Note: This poem describes the distress of sheltering during the pandemic and the survival of the human spirit using tender images from nature. The last line hints at the future hope and progress.


Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County and works in mental health. He has contributed to Gold Man Review, Williwaw Journal, Red Wolf Journal, Sheila-na-Gig, and Heartwood.

Jean L. Kreiling

After Reading Hemingway Late at Night

My clean, well-lighted room was light too late,
the pages of my book far more appealing
than darkness and surrender to a state
of unengaged oblivion. But stealing
another hour for Hemingway may not
have been a good choice. Though at last I’ve let
him go, he holds on: characters and plot
fill pages of my brain, his alphabet
too well-arranged to spell the spell of sleep.
And since I’ve missed the hour when eyes could close
and stay closed with the counting of some sheep—
their fleece can’t muffle echoes of his prose—
I’m counting wives of Hemingway instead,
and wondering about the lives they led.

Four women married him. The lives they led—
the roles they played as Mrs. Hemingway—
must have been challenging. Had they misread
the man who’d leave them all? Each woman may
have thought that she had wed a different man,
since recent chapters in a life revise
what years have written. Each marriage began,
I’m sure, with hopes that it would not reprise
the previous debacle. But not one
would last more than a decade and a half,
each tale familiar: vows made and undone,
love doomed from the initial paragraph.
Write one true sentence was his famous creed;
truth written by the heart is hard to read.

The truth of one man’s heart is hard to read,
but Hadley and young Ernest started out
(as lovers do) as if all they would need
was passion. I recall a time when doubt
or wariness could not corrupt my heart,
when my own Ernest—though his name was Jack—
slept here beside me. What broke us apart
is hardly worth recounting, but a lack
of passion wasn’t it. We had our own
pale version of their Paris (the café
downtown); we too drank freely. If I’d known
how it would end—that Jack would soon betray
our bliss—I probably would still have lain
beside him, Hadley-like, bracing for pain.

Beside her husband, Hadley braced for pain,
and in time, his deceptions broke their bond.
How long can love and tolerance remain
when trust disintegrates, when you’ve been conned?
He left her for Pauline—well-educated,
a journalist. I can relate to her:
although perhaps not as sophisticated,
I too earned a degree; I too prefer
to write instead of watching someone write.
I wonder if I too would have felt free
to bed the married Hemingway. Tonight
I would have liked some manly company,
but as Pauline would learn, a man can make
a mess of things, make love seem a mistake.

Though Ernest left her, is it a mistake
to think him merely faithless? Macho code
or not, the men he wrote have hearts that break,
and so did he. Another episode
of short-lived marriage started in Key West,
where he met Martha. I wish I were there;
a warm salt breeze would surely help me rest,
and in the morning I might even dare
to drink a Bloody Mary with a stranger.
But Martha dared far more, and zealously:
fearless war correspondent, she faced danger
repeatedly. She went to Normandy,
grew famous, and became widely respected—
and so, it seems, her husband felt neglected.

Maybe most wives and husbands feel neglected
at some point in their marriages; some days,
or years, leave spouses feeling disconnected
or undervalued. More than mere malaise,
it feels like the beginning of the end,
and sometimes it’s exactly that, I’ve learned.
For Ernest, endings had become a trend—
beginnings, too, I guess, for he soon turned
to Mary, his fourth wife. Another writer,
twice wed herself, she must have understood
that he would not be easy: lover, fighter,
serial husband. But this marriage would
endure until the day Ernest could not—
until the moment Mary heard the shot.

The moment Mary heard the fatal shot
is one I can’t imagine. I’ve known loss,
but not that fathomless abyss—the spot
a bullet finds—where grief and horror cross.
And though each new grief leaves a heart in pieces,
mine beats with a desire to keep on beating.
Until the chapter when my breathing ceases,
I’ll keep the light on and I’ll keep on reading—
and maybe counting: famous wives, the men
I’ve loved, true sentences, false vows. Hindsight
may favor caution, but the heart and pen
keep writing. And though I can’t sleep tonight,
there’s no one but myself to implicate:
my clean, well-lighted room was light too late.


The poet weaves the story of Hemingway’s life and the narrator’s own marriage to comment on the state of relationships in general and arrives at a conclusion about self-love. The rhythm and deft rhymes keep the narrative moving smoothly.


Jean L. Kreiling is the author of two collections of poetry:  Arts & Letters & Love  (2018) and The Truth in Dissonance (2014).  Her work has been honored with the Able Muse Write Prize, the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters Sonnet Prize, the Kelsay Books Metrical Poetry Prize, a Laureates’ Prize in the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, three New England Poetry Club prizes, the Plymouth Poetry Contest prize, and the String Poet Prize.