Tag Archives: Poetry

Susan L. Leary

Fraipertuis

 

Scenes like this were common:

planks ready for building but having endured the opposite,

heaps of rubble

heaped as if intentional, life in black

and white.  Everywhere, aisles of human remains:

three and four story buildings,

the walls entirely

blown out,

so all that’s erect is construct and vague ideas of former activity,

for you, that of female souls,

a mother in the center of the living

room, her hair gathered in a handkerchief and knotted

at the nape, bent over a coffee table

about to dust it.

Walking through, you are young

but act like old men, carrying not guns or boots or medical

supplies, but the threat of self-made noise:

hand to pocket,

sole to gravel,

breath to atmosphere,

and later,

at an abandoned starch factory, its makeshift tables in wait of bodies,

the flickering of candlelight.

It is the first night,

but nothing about this is dress up:

no curtain raised, no recognizable transition,

only room made as someone is rushed in,

buttons torn,

flesh reached,

an artery clamped

with immediate improvisation, everyone crouched

knees-over-boots,

heads huddled,

not getting it yet, none of you, how, pushing morphine,

you are to become a prop of comfort,

the kind that

accompanies casualty.

So I’m wondering how,

later, it gets decided—and by later,

the span of a few days: who will wear the wig,

or hold the cane,

what to do with the detective hat,

or the one with, glued to its brim, looks to be a fabric daisy,

the petals exaggerated,

these things, as soon-to-be artifacts of your horseplay,

first noticed

from inside the government-marked box,

seeking exit,

so that among the crates and others boxes

and bags,

piled high, of grain, that box

tilted,

slightly, on its axis,

abandoned during the heavy fire in such a way—sticking out

and settled in,

though separate from the ruins—that guaranteed

your audience.

And yet, penciled on the back,

Company C actors of the 325th Medical Battalion—famous

among the locals,

and flipping it

to you and three others—yourselves

yet costumed,

it disappears, any reason, for you to be in Fraipertuis.

This image, there is no implication of war,

only camaraderie without context:

guffaw, grunt, bellow, the last leaning in, his leg kicked back

for effect,

as if home, grabbing a drink, something funny

just said,

nothing feigned in the ritualistic man-hoot of insider knowledge,

the slap of the counter,

or that quick brute contact,

so as to not pass that threshold where men are no longer themselves

but men.

Then the clang and ricochet of the glass:

cheers before tomorrow,

when midday, you will bring to life Tec Sergeant Seebeck

and Pfc Webb, no script, no devising,

no hunt for substance, only parody—artless

is its material, and to even notice,

artless—

so that out there,

what’s left of the city your stage,

a slab of cobblestone intact,

its people, who, you have only imagined, crawling from their graves

to rejoice in a scene in which you are you

but your comrade,

knowing, for the first time, what it’s like to be known,

without knowing

that you are.

A scene in which you are neither of these people:

not a soldier, not a man who will take his own life

when he returns home.

______________________________________________________________

Susan L. Leary is a Lecturer in English Composition at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL.  Her recent creative work is forthcoming in After the Pause.

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Gretchen Meixner

Notes on the Death of Henry VIII

He fell so heavily

Our hearts can barely hold

His holy mass, the divinity

Of his mighty flesh.

How does a man cease

When once he commanded

An army and all its wives?

How to silence a mouth

When once it bade our piety,

And the rising of our arms

Such inhumane tragedy!

Pustules leaking, staining

A glorious bed that birthed

Princesses and their brother.

Sour knob of flesh that

Tormented, and influenced

A trusting king to sew

Bright yarns of suspicion,

Threaded cloths of envy.

Pain, such agony to

View an empty crown

Stuck with bristles of hair,

Lightly touching the head

Unable to wrap around

And protect the brain,

How could he hope to

Resist the thrall of courtiers?

Scurrying around his mane,

Sticking needles in his bone.

A defender of faith and

The sanctity of marriage,

So much that he persevered

With those less inclined,

To marry again and again

Four times more with

Almost wives in between

To practice his fidelity on.

Glorious, gone to soon,

Despairing children continue

His massive dynasty,

How shall they know

Their own unstoppable value

Without his paternal instruction?

How shall daughters marry

Without the perfect image of

Body, soul, and enduring faith

To measure their betrothed?

A man of peace,

Painting pictures of war.

His enemies sought to

Bring him into battle

He responded so that

His children would have suitors,

And soldiers could die of

Glorious, gaping wounds

Rather than the merciless sweat.

No one alive shall regret

His rule, the corpulent kingdom.

Tower walls sigh happily

At their constant occupation

All men have employment

Whether it be sorting through

Adorned crosses and icons

Or plucking jewels off hands.

Someone must be paid to

Secure the woman in velvet

Separate her little neck from

Her wispy, gold-stained head.

Remorse is impossible!

Like forgetting the sun.

Sisters grew up humble

Unpolluted by tenderness,

All the better to obey

Their wet, wise prince,

Kept firmly hidden

In the house of glass.

All love runs dry,

By sword or by silence

And all progeny must learn

To deny their inheritance,

All crosses and oaths broken,

All devourers, eventually devoured.

Anne, Elizabeth

Wild to hold,

Easy to cut loose.

This, I learned from you.

To speak passion without provocation,

To form hungry enemies,

These things I must avoid.

Untouched means undigested,

I will not be devoured.

 

You do seem tame,

The mother replies.

And had I not your blood

Drying up in my veins

I would trust your stoic wrath.

But God-sent or God’s divined,

You still come from me,

The shrew, the whore, the

Apple-cheeked lie.

Your fire rages underneath

Your scalp, covered by a

Mane of false ruby.

 

How do we inherit pain?

I tried to spare you,

I tried to die with the

Dignity my crown denied.

But you still carried the blade,

Restlessly on a narrow shoulder.

Ugly men touched you,

Wept their ails upon you

Then lost their wooden heads.

 

How painful is death?

Worse for your heart than mine,

I had but one, daughter to lose

And you had four mothers,

Perhaps your father hurts

More than we could imagine

For the cost of each bride.

 

The daughter frowns at

Her mother’s sad dryness.

How can I love? She asks.

How dare I embellish

One mysterious soul to

Make him my own match?

God’s ordained and untouchable,

I come with a heavy price

No courtier can willingly pay.

What am I but dust,

A contradiction made of gold?

 

Legal, than subdued

Beloved, then reviled.

What fates could have waited

Were they not extinguished

By the aches of kings?

Happier in poverty than

In power, I do not seek

To question my own breath.

We are what we are,

You bones and I bread.

 

A mother wants her daughter

To be a daughter, and not

Only the bride of an island.

My dear, my darling one,

She speaks, how can I

Have lost you so completely?

It is not veins and lungs

That separate our souls

But the decay of decades.

I grew up proud, you ashamed.

The difference has made us

Sad strangers. I am not angry

For your disloyalty, who would

Claim a witch as a sovereign

Much less a mother?

You have been brought up to

Love the wives of your king

Then weep quietly when they die.

Law dictates your fealty

To the man that kills them.

Where would I fit in this story

But underneath the brick,

With all the forgotten?

 

I know their secrets, my love

I know how we all came to be.

A different turn, another line,

We would all be anonymous.

Portraits of unknown women

Holding hands, unknown author.

Look at our simple, tranquil faces.

 

The daughter feels an affront

To her status, to all the rules

She has broken and remade.

Mother, she commands,

Stop repainting our fates.

You want me to be a wife

Not a queen, not a gem.

Where then would our

Fellows and conspirators be?

I know, they condemned you,

But we still must pave their way

To Heaven. Our keepers

But also our flock. How could I

Have abandoned them to the bloody?
It is me, not my sculpture, not my

Skin and eyes, but my own self.,

That they call Gloriana.

 

And that is your own self as well

So no more nostalgia, no more

Desire for unknown timelines.

You died for me to breathe.

I have your picture, kept sacred

In my ring to remind me

How easy it still is to fall.

You are not dust as long as

I reach out my hands and

Purge all the depraved,

Empty hearts of our realm.

 

Our, I say, with conviction,

For we never stop colliding.

I carry you through an armada,

A host of swords and swears,

I bury you, I harbor you,

We speak with one painted mouth.

Whiten my face to make it not

Just mine but a blank template

For you to invade, and blur

The distinction between us.

No endearments left for men,

My heart is too full of memory.

______________________________________________________________

Gretchen Meixner has lived in Providence, RI since 2008. She has a degree in English Literature, but also took as many History classes as possible. She is most interested in World War I and II, as well as the English monarchy. Many of her poems are about these topics and specific historical figures. She has a long commute to work in Boston, which fortunately gives her plenty of time to read.

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Marianne Gambaro

Halifax Elegy

I.

Leviathan cruise ships glide

above salt bleached bones and splintered docks, 

revelers deaf to century-old spectral screams.

 

The Mi’kmaq called it Chebucto – “big harbor” –

so deep that even harsh Maritime winters can’t freeze it.

Perfect for cruise ships

and convoys.

 

Those not preoccupied with bingo and buffets may learn

how during The Great War, The War they promised would End All Wars,

a cowardly captain and crew abandoned

a floating bomb causing

an explosion unlike the world had known.

 

December 6, 1917, 7:30 a.m.: The French munitions ship Mont-Blanc left her anchorage at the mouth of the harbor to join a gathering convoy and collided with the Imo, a Norwegian ship bound for New York to collect relief supplies for Belgium. 

 

Not a pane of glass left intact on either side of the harbor

yet an ocean away from an enemy gun.

 

dead: nearly 2,000

homes destroyed: more than 1,600

homes damaged: 12,000

 

II.

More than 500 miles, nearly a century later

a white spruce towers above the Boston Common. 

 

More than 500 miles, nearly a century ago 

they came by train in less than a winter’s day

among the first to arrive,

among the last to leave.

Nurses and doctors salved burns, bandaged wounds

sawed off limbs and excised eyes.

 

limbs amputated: 25

eyes removed: 250

injured treated: more than 9,000

 

Each Christmas the progeny of the maimed and injured

send a majestic evergreen to Boston to honor those 

who tirelessly did what they could to help.

 

 III.

They’re all gone now.

Until a few years ago you could see them 

in nursing homes around Halifax. Some missing an eye.

Others totally blind never again to see 

storms coming in over the sea

or heron gulls slicing through summer skies

or rampant purple lupine bivouacked on June hillsides.

 

Children, settling into their morning school work,

heard the explosion and ran to windows,

imagining fireworks and festivities. Glass shrapnel 

pierced young corneas shattering hopeful visions.

 

IV.

Aye, the harbor was a sight to see in those days.

Supply ships from all over

and troops waitin’ for warships

to take ‘em across the sea to the front.

Some days it looked as though you could walk across the harbor

on all those boats and never wet you boots.

I tried to warn him, about the Mont-Blanc.

A floatin’ bomb she was, with that cargo – 

 

wet and dry picric acid: 300 tons 

TNT: 200 tons

gun cotton: 10 tons 

benzol: 35 tons 

 

right outside his little railway office.

 

Only a few of us knew her cargo,

top secret war stuff. Damned fool mixture

if you ask me.

 

Coleman, his name was. Vincent Coleman.

Kissed the wife and three bairns when he left that morning,

walked the five blocks to his office like any other day. 

So dapper in his suit and high starched collar, 

perfect pompadour, full mustache. 

No doubt pulled his muffler a little tighter against December.

 

I’d seen him through the window

when I was workin’ around the docks,

always at that telegraph key of his.

His boss left as soon as I told ’em.

Coleman stood up to leave

then turned back to that telegraph key 

thinkin’ about those 300 souls aboard 

Passenger Train No. 10, 

the overnight from Saint John

due in Halifax at 8:55 directly in front of that floatin’ bomb.

 

With those little dots and dashes

he saved ’em all:

Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor 

making for Pier 6 and will explode. 

Guess this will be my last message. 

Good-bye boys.

______________________________________________________________

Marianne Gambaro’s poems have been published in several print and online journals including The Aurorean, Oberon Poetry Magazine, Pirene’s Fountain, Avocet Journal, Snowy Egret and The Naugatuck River Review. Following a career as a journalist and public relations practitioner for nonprofit organizations, she now writes for the sheer love of the word. She is a member of the Florence (MA) Poets Society and serves on the editorial board for Silkworm, Florence Poets’ annual journal. She resides in Western Massachusetts with her talented photographer-husband and three feline muses.

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K.V. Martins

The Final Voyage

I

On his knees in the Torre de Belém, he prayed
for King and protection, gave thanks to the Holy Virgin Mary
for the riches she bestowed on a once obscure nobleman
and for the warmth of the bed he shared with his beloved Catarina.

Following familiar stars, he sailed down the Tagus
bound for the spice rich coasts of the Indies,
his nightly companions, unfurled maps of uncharted waters
where magical beasts rumbled and serpents writhed,
and he listened to sailors’ tales of giant birds
who built cliff nests from cinnamon sticks.

He sailed into Cochin port on the hot breath
of a monsoon wind, the dawn air spiked
with the scent of cinnamon and cloves,
his caravel lying low in the murky waters,
belly full of the gold, gems and velvet
he knew tempted greedy Sultans and Kings.
Arab dhows carried glass seals of spices
wrapped tightly in cloth, fear and hatred in the eyes
of fellow merchants as they watched the ship drop anchor.

II

They came down from the misty mountains and plantations
after the rainy season, father and son cinnamon peelers
who sat side-by-side cross-legged,
cutting and curling cinnamon bark
into the fragrant quills so prized by the Europeans
as medicine or to mask the fetid odour of spoiled meat.

They sat under a jackfruit tree, a tea wallah serving them
and licked cake crumbs from moistened fingers,
a coastal breeze carried the foreign words and shouts
of those working in a nearby storehouse
as the quills were dried and readied to join
a cargo of nutmeg, ginger, and peppercorn,
more valuable than the gold, gems and velvet
offered by the pale-skinned trader.

They watched as the sailors staggered ashore
sea legs unsteady on dry land after months
of plying the ragged coastlines and brothels of Africa.
With a cavalier swagger, the preserve of ship captains,
he passed by father and son
and the red and white stone houses of the wealthy,
set in oases of palm groves and purple bougainvillea,
oyster shell windows, shiny and translucent.

He reached the bazaar
where the colors of the world
mingled East with West,
Cathay silk of gossamer thread,
milky sweet pearls from Arabia,
amber beads, carved ivory and bone,
yellow myrrh and duck eggs laid bare,
Indian trinket sellers and African slaves
bathed in a cold sweat under a beating sun.

III

He was aware that the memory was raw,
that the cinnamon peelers were just two of many
who had witnessed his countryman’s ferocity
decades earlier, when Muslim merchants were
hanging from the rigging of Portuguese ships,
burned alive, the cinnamon market for an empire.

For a time, God was on his side as he searched
for a sea-route to India, for Christians and spices.
Returning as Viceroy of India,
his Catarina never far from his mind,
the cool caress of a pearl in his hand,
imagining the soft curves of her back,
the lilt of her voice on a rain-soft morning,
he thought of little else.

IV

Malaria took him on Christmas Eve, his bones lying in wait
at St. Francis Church for the final voyage home from Cochin.
A string of luminous pearls draped his splendid tomb
and the cinnamon peelers went back to their work.

______________________________________________________________

K.V. Martins was born in Sydney, Australia and now lives in New Zealand. She writes poetry, flash fiction and short stories. A keen photographer, inspiration comes from photos and observations whilst walking. With a BA (Hons) in History, her stories and poetry often have historical themes.

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Ami Maxine Irmen

October 8, 1871

Peshtigo, WI

 

We hid in the pond the night that fire fell

from the sky like rain. The smoke

that hung over the water was so thick

the foghorns had been blowing

for three days straight, trying to help

the ships guiding themselves,

even in daylight, by compass and hope.

They claimed it was draught, it spread fast.

It was Father that had the idea

to dunk ourselves into the pond,

knowing we couldn’t outrun it,

that if we walked in

as deep as we could, heads bobbing

above the water, we would be okay.

He told me to put my soaked shawl

over my face to keep my skin from burning,

allowing me to stay above the surface

to breathe. He removed his shirt.

The fire kept falling. It crackled

with the scent of burning leaves

and flesh. I’m not sure

how long we stayed in the pond.

I had waded over to Father

and leaned my head on his shoulder,

drifting in and out of sleep,

shivering all the while.

 

 

Ashes on Window Sills

Oswiecim, Poland, September 1941

 

Mama is cleaning again.

Tata can’t sleep

with the windows closed,

and since the factory

opened, Mama cleans

every day. She plunges

the rag into greying water;

the sound as she wrings

it out reminds me

of a hard rain.

It’s her eyes

I can’t pull myself

from, like mornings

when it is still dark,

when there’s mist,

but it’s difficult to tell

if it hangs in the air

or falls to the Earth

ever so slowly.

When I offer to help,

she swats my hand

away with more force

than she used to.

I never ask Mama

about the factory

because though I am

too young to know,

I am old enough

to know not to ask.

It will be years

before Mama, that same lost

look hanging in her eyes,

will finally sit

me down to explain:

the factory fires

burned so brightly

because they were fueled

by souls.

The ashes of bodies left

behind took to the air

as a last chance of escape,

only to gather

in the corners

of our window sills,

just out of reach

of Mama’s insistent rag.

____________________________________________________________

Ami Maxine Irmen is an introvert, writer, photographer, and teacher. She uses all mediums necessary to explore what it means to be human, to make connections, and to seek truth. She prefers her books to be paper, her music to be vinyl, and her trees to be weeping willows.

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Kate Falvey

On the Hawthorne Road: A Study

“Stand back, my Lord, and let the coffin pass,”

declaims the young Nathaniel on a day over-thick

with lake mist and the thaw from winter’s more

ominous tales. Like that of Samuel Tarbox

and his wife, who froze in a drift by their own

front door, the food for their brood hefted in a block

into a straining gust of hemlock,

Mrs. Sam’s spent, frantic shawl

braced across the outcrop of her

husband’s shoulder blades,

driving up through the massy snow

in brittle black sticks of fringe.

 

The eldest from the huddle of five children

blew and blew a horn, a bone-thin wail needling inside

the wail of the bony winds. Heeded, the children

were scraped like candle wax from their family hearth

and flung this way and that –

near-sheer flakes of malleable shivers —

re-shaped and rekindled in the arms

of morose and kindly strangers.

Nathaniel’s Uncle Richard took

the famished toddler, Betsy,

and Aunt Sue made sure

that springtime rose again.

 

Nathaniel roams the Dingley Brook

to Thomas Pond and sites along the sunrise to the misty

hint of Rattlesnake Mountain. His fowling piece

is more a loaded prop than any sort of tool, something

picturesque to heft, and manly to regard – a memento

from his sea-claimed father, held in trust by Uncle Richard

and provided when the thicker woods of Maine made

weaponry essential. There was still a lurking slink of

panthers peering from the brake

where the brookies clustered in a cove at Panther Pond

and rattlers denning in the crags he liked to hail and climb.

Primeval though the region was, there was a road

that sliced up Quaker Ridge where the new-built meeting house

took clear and reverent stock

of the distant mountains of New Hampshire.

 

 

The Hathornes, distant mountains of his past,

would not have wished godspeed to Quaker neighbors

with any hint of grace or sufferance.

The ancient unmapped woods

could never have been big enough

for peaceful coexistence

and the Quakers would have needs been

shunned, reviled, and rousted.

He could almost hear the rustling

grave clothes of his fathers

in the soughing of the winds

and sense their wizened scorn

in the eye-like chinks of Pulpit Rock

as he swapped his pocket knife

with young Rob Cooke, his comrade

and a Quaker.

 

And the home that Uncle Richard built

with all his wealth and whimsy,

dragging glass from Belgium on a dray

through rutted staging roads

and a clock of rich mahogany, elegant and gilded,

chiming the long tale of its survival through the parlor

every hour. The wall paper from England, the hewn pumpkin pine,

the rays of the iron sun embedded in an arching window,

welcoming the light above the door.

And a library with Shakespeare and with Sydney,

Illyria and Arcadia in the wilds of Raymondtown,

the words illumined by the fir fire crackling

scented shadows through the gloom, poems,

more than just medicinal or diverting,

flung like prayers

to the stilly miles of thick black ash and pine.

 

Uncle Richard takes pains to duplicate the stately

hip-roofed lines of his own unlikely dwelling

when building his sister’s home

on a rise nearby his own. He knows this is a place

where Turkey rugs and silver candelabra

can lend an air of civilized proportion

but not define the limits of a mind,

where wildness stirs and meets its howling match

in children, even girls, and this incandescent boy

who roam and dream unchecked.

 

Nathaniel and his sisters scrabble still

for huckleberries that cluster in shrubs amidst

aged white pine that may have even been mature

when Hawthorne was a boy.

I see them through the misted morning chill,

chasing along the boulders of Sebago’s eastern shore,

Louisa slipping once and clutching her brother’s steadying

hand, and Ebe, the eldest, watching the woods with

a preternatural concentration as if charging the air forever

with her own fleet, unbridled girlhood.

____________________________________________________________

Kate Falvey’s work has been widely published in an eclectic array of journals and anthologies.  The Language of Little Girls, her first full-length collection, was published in summer 2016 by David Robert Books. She also has published two chapbooks. She edits the 2 Bridges Review, published through City Tech/CUNY, where she teaches, and is on the board of the Bellevue Literary Review.

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