Tag Archives: historical poetry

Marceline White

Sewing machines line up in tidy rows like schoolgirls at dismissal.
Girlish laughter, a babble of Yiddish, Italian, and English floats
Through the air, cutting the loud thrum of the machines as the girls \
and machine becoming one instrument, an alchemy
Of sorts. No fairytale this. Rather than spin hay to gold, 
the y sew pieces of cloth to shirts, for which
Receive green not gold. Nothing gold can stay. 

Fabric eddies around their feet, white whorls, bits of white cotton
Fly through the air like snow. It is cold and the factory feels chilly
Despte the press of bodies. Outside in Washington Square Park,
Gentlemen and ladies stroll through the park in shirtwaists & skirts,
Fine suits, hats and parasols to protect their skin from the sun. 

The wealthy, their lives made out of whole cloth, the finest materials, walk through
Washington Square Park, oblivious that young women, their lives pieced together 
From fragments, watch them from large picture windows, ten stories closer to the clouds.

Late afternoon. Fabric and shirtwaists stacked in neat piles. Marbled monuments
To youth, energy, work. An ember catches, smoke rises from below. Flames dance
Along the walls, leap from one wall to another. A terrible beauty.
It becomes clear that there is nowhere to go, no way to leave alive. 

A young woman steps up to the window frame,
flings her hat into the air, opens her purse, 
Rains money down to the crowd below, who watch in horror.
She jumps. A young man holds out his hand, helps a young woman onto the windowsill
In another life, he would be helping her into a carriage. 
He holds her away from the building, lets her drop. In another life, 
he would be waltzing her in a ballroom. He does the same for a second and third woman. 
A fourth woman steps up, his love. They embrace, kiss. He holds her out into space 
Drops her. He follows, jumps with his hat on, wearing brown socks and black shoes.
Pas de deux. 
 
Laws were passed. Everyone agreed “Never again”. 
101 years later, 112 young women in bright shalwar kameez
Enter the Tazreen factory, never to emerge.
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Marceline White is a Baltimore-based writer. She writes policy, prose, poems, essays, and plays. An artist and activist, Marceline’s poetry has appeared in The Free State Review, The Loch Raven Review, The Shattered Wig Review, anthologies including Ancient Party: Collaborations in Baltimore, 2000-2010; and Life in Me Like Grass on Fire.  Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in Woman’s Day, Baltimore Fishbowl, Baltimore Sun, and Mother Jones

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Yusuf Tahir

The armies of the Great Khan,
swiftly as hawks,
surrounded the ancient city of Bamyan.
Destruction blackened the brow of the Khan
because the city was slow to fall,
and he was impatient for glory in lands far.
 
But the way was found to the City,
through the heart of the fair princess of Bamyan,
who fell for a bold Tartar
when she saw him.
And she told the secret way to the city,
which was beneath the mountains, over the streams.
So, in the blind heat of her love
she did betray, unknowingly,
the well-guarded secret
of countless generations gone by,
and the lover pressed her to his breast,
promising to make her queen over vast domains.
 
The strong city fell through treachery;
The enraged conqueror spilled blood freely.
Then he ordered the deaths of many,
including the Princess; she betrayed her fathers!
The arm that had embraced her so tenderly,
was raised to kill her, with a single sharp blow!
Thus ended her young, un-bloomed love,
under the hoofs of conquering horses.

____________________________________________________________________________

Yusuf Tahir has written numerous poems on diverse topics, his favorites being nature, the human condition, destiny, and desires. His poetry collection was published in 2003 by Pearls Book’em Publishers Atlanta under the title Just like a blooming rose

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Rosalind Adam

All Grandmas spoke Yiddish
when I was five. I now understand
she came from far away
bringing her feather bed
for winter night snuggling
and her candlesticks
for Friday evening prayers.
 
She never spoke of the journey,
of being third class cargo
forced to disembark at Tilbury,
down-wind of discerning Londoners,
scrutinised by Health Inspectors,
defleed, deloused,
dehumanised.
 
She never spoke of the warnings
from Government officials,
from Times letter writers,
even from London Rabbis;
no room, no jobs, don’t come.
She came anyway.
There was no choice.
 
She sought work
sweat-shop-stitching,
cutting, machining,
becoming part of an East End shtetl
with Jewish neighbours, kosher shops,
a Synagogue on every other corner.
She almost forgot to be afraid.

______________________________________________________________________

Rosalind Adam lives in Leicester, UK. She is the author of several children’s history booksincluding The Children’s Book of Richard III. Her poetry has been published in anthologies and online sites. In 2018, she won the G. S. Fraser poetry prize and was awarded a distinction for her Masters in Creative Writing at The University of Leicester.

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Beatriz F. Fernandez

Father Abelard, they call me—father, 
who shall never be one again.
Even this reminder cannot break me,
though my love for you was torn
from my breast as violently
as my manhood from my flesh.

When I met you, you were but a girl,
yet in your mind what worlds burned!
Your eyes—my incandescent girl, your eyes
glowed with mysteries I could not fathom—
even now you remain opaque
to me, who knew you best of all men.
As your teacher, I fanned those flames
into a bonfire—as your lover,
I was consumed by it.

Together, you and I, we defied them—
we survived. Summer dragonflies
bereft of wings, we will not fly again—
the tidal waves that stormed between us
seem but surface swells to me now.

The dry husk my soul represents
consoles itself with the promise
of redemption in another realm.
I entreat you, Heloise, to embrace
likewise this redoubled peace,
though in your words I read a spirit
unresigned to this new life.

Never doubt that I remember you—never—
you rule forever an enclosed parcel
of my mind, as a queen
over a once fertile land
that now lies fallow.

________________________________________________________________________

Beatriz F. Fernandez is the author of The Ocean Between Us (Backbone Press, 2017) and Shining from a Different Firmament (Finishing Line Press, 2015) which she presented at the Miami Book Fair International. She has read her poetry on WLRN, South Florida’s NPR news station and was the grand prize winner of the 2nd annual Writer’s Digest Poetry Award. Her poems have appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Falling Star Magazine, Label Me Latina/o, Thirty West Publishing House, Words Dance, and Writer’s Digest, among others. Beatriz has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes as well as Best of the Net.  Twitter: @nebula61.  

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Avra Margariti

Stuttgart, 1942
 
The baker, the butcher, the florist—
they all call him my brother.
But no common blood
runs between our veins.
We didn’t grow up together,
Ansel and I.
We just wish to grow old side by side.
Old as bristlecone pines.
Old as monoliths.
But with war spreading septic through the world
and more and more people carted off to the camps,
that’s beginning to look like a pipe dream.
 
#
 
Entire generations of Ansel’s family
have owned Schwarz & Sohns,
the funeral parlor situated under our apartment.
Business has never been better,
and I guess we have this war to thank,
this father that eats his children.
Ansel builds the coffins,
no longer glossy, silk-lined hardwood caskets,
but rough, bare boxes made of planks of wood
nailed haphazardly together.
It’s better than being tossed into mass graves
or left to rot in the street, he says.
I let him handle the black-clad mourners,
the hollow-eyed orphans thin as stick insects,
the wailing, thrashing widows.
I’m better with bodies than I am with people.
I set their features, embalm, groom, dress them,
good as new.
I’m better with quiet.
Sometimes I think how Ansel’s father
prepared my mother’s body,
back when Ansel and I were unlucky thirteen.
How my boy, his father’s apprentice,
built her a final bed to rest.
And it’s a good thing my mother is dead
because the war,
it would have broken her heart.
 
#
 
“Good morning,” I tell Ansel
when I enter the parlor’s kitchenette.
He hands me a cup of coffee and leans in for a kiss,
forgetting the screws and nails peeking out of his mouth
like rays from a sun.
The dark circles around his eyes are the colors of dusk.
“Busy day?” I ask, sipping the precious coffee, tar-black—
cream and sugar elusive birds.
“Several bodies came in today. A suicide pact, I think.
I’ll be in my workshop if you need me.”
He returns to his frantic coffin-making,
and I to the embalming room
where the bodies await,
the smell of formalin and decomposition clinging to me,
a second skin.
I look out the window as I work,
a new nervous tic,
always waiting to hear the tell-tale stomping
of heavy boots on cracked cobblestone,
inhale the stink of hate.
I search for signs the Gestapo is here to take us away,
stuff us into striped uniforms with inverted triangle badges,
pink as the insides of the bodies
laid out on my embalming carts.
 
#
 
Sometimes, when I can no longer stand
to look out the window and brace myself for the worst,
I wander through the rows of makeshift coffins
in Ansel’s workshop.
I see the holes in the coffins,
though I turn a blind eye:
little pinpricks studded through, only visible
to me, who knows Ansel’s handiwork,
the workings of his brain.
I see the people entering the funeral parlor,
how Ansel rushes them all the way back to his workshop,
to talk in clandestine whispers for hours on end.
He’s putting us in danger,
and we’re already under a lot of scrutiny,
being two lads and all, two unwed
so-called brothers who look nothing alike,
living under the same roof.
I thank heavens every day
we haven’t been conscripted and sent to battle
(yet, a little slithery voice inside me hisses),
but now a new danger looms,
and my heart feels tight as a kite string.
“You know you can tell me anything,”
I tell Ansel in bed at night.
Just when I think he’s asleep, I hear him cry,
soft wheezes like the wind through the cracks in the woodwork.
I hold him, as I did after my mother’s funeral,
back when she was buried in the casket he made for her.
Oh, how we cried together in the deserted cemetery afterward,
the stone angels our only witnesses.
Ansel whispers, “I couldn’t bear it anymore.
Doing nothing. Being afraid. I’ve been helping
some Jewish and Romani folks escape, hiding them
in the coffins long enough to be transferred to a safe house.
You can hate me for my secrets, Gilbert,
but I tried to keep you safe.”
I kiss his tears away, ignore the fear coiled in my gut, and tell him,
“I’ve never loved you more than I do now.”
 
#
 
Love is no shield.
I don’t know why I keep forgetting that.
I’m still in my mortician clothes
when Ansel bursts into my domain.
“The police,” he says, paler than the cadavers around us,
“they know.”
“How?” I stammer, breath thick through my respirator.
Ansel claws at his scalp. “Someone turned me in.
My people don’t know who, exactly.”
I think about the baker, the butcher, the florist—
all those in the street who did nothing when our neighbors
were taken away.
I did nothing, too, playing it safe,
playing pretend with myself.
Not anymore.
Ansel keeps talking, frantic words strangling each other.
“They only know about me—my coffins.
My family business, Gil. I can keep them away from you if I—”
“No,” I utter with vehemence. “You’re not sacrificing yourself.”
“Then what do you propose?”
He leans weary against my silver tool table.
Deflated.
Defeated.
Right now, I’m not thinking about
the barbed wire noose wrapped around my heart,
or how I’m more comfortable around bodies than people,
or even how I might never see my mother’s grave again.
My voice is as steady as my hand is with a scalpel when I say,
“Bring me in contact with your people. I have a plan.”
 
#
 
The coach lumbers down uneven roads.
It rattles, a relic, branches slapping its sides,
the horses neighing, agitated.
And I—in the back of the windowless wagon,
surrounded by coffins—pray to childhood angel statues.
I don’t believe we’re in Stuttgart anymore.
Ansel’s people thought it best I don’t know where we’re going.
Where their safe house is.
I have my mortician’s license at hand in case someone stops us,
my fingers crossed the way my mother taught me
to call luck to our side.
My hand drifts toward the closest coffin,
rubbing against the gritty wood.
I close my eyes and picture Ansel’s fingers
on the other side, pressed against mine,
flowers turned toward the far-off sun.
My breathing turns shallow in response,
as if I’m the one trapped inside the cramped space,
dark as a womb.
Hold on, I think. Just a little while longer.
The coach comes to a screeching halt.
The driver opens the wagon doors, a halo of light blinding me.
His chin juts toward me.
“You’re on foot from here on. Your man,
he knows the way to the safe house.”
I rush to Ansel’s coffin,
grabbing the hammer from my pack,
bloodying my fingers in my haste to get the coffin open.
I pull the lid back and draw Ansel up
by the lapel of his coat.
I kiss him on the lips as if I’m waking Sleeping Beauty.
He kisses me back, taking greedy gulps of air and
freedom.

________________________________________________________________________

Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. She enjoys storytelling in all its forms and writes about diverse identities and experiences. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Online, The Forge Literary, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Argot Magazine, The Arcanist, and other venues. Avra won the 2019 Bacopa Literary Review prize for fiction. You can find her on twitter @avramargariti.

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Aurora M. Lewis

I had my own ways, spirts and chants to see me through
 
Until them girls, both named Sarah wanted to learn what I do
 
I showed ‘em how to dance by the light of the moon, my conjuring

and hexing, watched them bloom, folks said I was beguiling
 
the Sarahs and other girls, a slave, bringing Satan to their
 
Christian world, their Bible say they shall not suffer a witch
 
to live, our lives we would surly have to give
 
 
The Sarahs and me was put on trial, accusing others to save
 
my hide, told of black dogs, birds, hogs, even a broom stick

I’d ride, said one of them Sarahs had a demon creature
 
of her own, head of a woman, two legs and wings, turning
 
folks to stone, all this I said not to seal my fate and be hung
 
 
I told them it was the Sarahs who made me do evil things
 
Seeing as I was a slave with no power of my own that it brings
 
They hung the Sarahs, sent me to jail, then one day let me out
 
sold to another cause my master wouldn’t pay my jailhouse fee
 
I died a slave and the witch was me

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Aurora M. Lewis s a woman of color in  late sixties, retired from the Banking Industry.  In her fifties, she received a Certificate in Creative Writing General Studies with Honors from UCLA.  Her poems, short stories, and nonfiction have been accepted by Gemini Magazine, The Literary Hatchet, Jerry Jazz Musician, Persimmon Tree Magazine, The Copperfield Review, Lucent Dreams, The Blue Nib, Trembling in Fear, and others.  Aurora has been nominate for two Pushcart Prizes and The Best of the Web.  

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bg Thurston

The Lost Boy—

            Winfield Scott Weeks (1847-1856)

watches from the front window,
murmurs as he strokes the ears
of his smooth collie, who thumps
her long tail, hoping for a walk.

The rooms are empty, the hearth
cold and quiet, but he remembers
his mother singing as she stirred
the iron kettle and kneaded bread.

He had held his father’s last hope
along with his mother’s heart.
But when he died, his family
took their grief and moved away.

He never met his younger brother,
Frederick, orphaned at five years,
who grew to work in the wool trade
then started his own shoddy mill.

His sisters assumed other names,
married, had their own children.
Now they lie next to husbands
in graves far from this old farm.

Across the road, the sky glows
reddish orange as the sun sets
past the hayfield where Jersey cows
are lined up at the milk barn gate.

He hears his mother’s distant calls
but he is not ready to join her.
Some souls stay tethered to a place—
for him, this home is heaven enough.

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After a career in high-tech, bg Thurston now lives on a sheep farm in Warwick, Massachusetts. In 2002, she received an MFA in Poetry from Vermont College. She has taught poetry at Lasalle College, online at Vermont College, and currently teaches poetry workshops.

Her first book, Saving the Lamb, by Finishing Line Press was a Massachusetts Book Awards highly recommended reading choice. Her second book, Nightwalking, was released in 2011 by Haleys. This year, she has finished the manuscript for her third book about the history of her 1770’s farmhouse titled From Cathouse Farm.

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Kristine Rae Anderson

 Richard III (1452-85), King of England 1483-85
Anne Neville (1456-85), Queen of England 1483-85
Their son, Edward, Prince of Wales 1473-84
  
Forget what you’ve heard. Dismiss it all 
except that Richard could charm the blue from the sky
and wanted, yes, to be king.
Forget Shakespeare’s gift of limp and hump.
Richard stood right, finely formed. I ached
to touch him. I, no victim, chose him,
even as children together among potent green hills,
miles and miles, the undependable spring sun,
and old stone of Warwick Castle. Even then
I wanted him. Only the State—cold spinster—
had me as Edward’s wife, Henry’s daughter. 
But England needed Richard. I needed him—
his voice filling a room gently, his generous touch
the way a child explores a wondrous thing—
a son such insufficient proof of us.
Forget the myth of my murder. We two died a little
with our son: three hearts, then none.
At times Richard believed and at times he fought
and I came to know these as one and the same.
Forget the insults of history, what you’ve heard
about his body. His ambition. My frailty. 
I, his cousin, his wife. The woman
he made widow and orphan then queen. I know:
Put you in my woman’s skin and feed you on my woman’s blood
in the empty hallways of my seasons, in my hard, gray rooms,
in my deep blue nights of life and dreaming,
you too, with all your free will,
would give, would take
exactly this much.
__________________________________________________________________________

Kristine Rae Anderson’s poetry has appeared in Soundings East, ReedCrab Creek Review, and Copperfield Review, among other publications. An award-winning journalist (first place award in criticism from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Chapter, and award for arts story from the San Diego Press Club) and award-winning poet (Tomales Bay Fellowship, Fishtrap Fellowship, and first place in Southern Indiana Review’s Mary C. Mohr Poetry Contest), she teaches English at Norco College in southern California.

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The Minoans Speak

We left that land

                           when ground shook

despite our prayers. We lined

             baskets of bread and grain,

jugs of oil, wheat sheaves

                                          on the stepped east altar,

set out small clay figures, arms raised

to assure good crops, rain.

                                          When still soil rose like dust,

we came to the peak, bore lambs for sacrifice.

When lambs did not appease,

we slaughtered a sacred bull

presented it to the goddess,

sure the wine of such blood,

flowing below frescoes

                                      through furrows

                                                                  and into bronze vessels

would placate wrath.

                                 But when no offering sufficed,

when roadbeds cracked, when

foundations of our homes heaved, collapsed,

                               we called upon the priest to intercede

and in the chamber between west and east,

a ring of silver and iron

                                      on his sinistral hand,

pitiless out of fear, he

                             plunged a dagger

into a young warrior’s throat

then

          laid a boar’s head lance across

the stilled chest.

                       The altar shuddered.

                                                   Amphorae shattered.

West of the village,

                                 when earth shook

bones of the dead

                            exploded against tomb walls.

______________________________________________________________________________

Susan Roney-O’Brien lives in Princeton, MA, works with international students and young writers, curates a monthly poetry venue, and is part of 4 X 4, a group of visual artists and poets. She is the Summer Writing Series Coordinator for The Stanley Kunitz Boyhood Home. Her poetry has been published widely and translated into Braille and Mandarin and been nominated for seven Pushcart Prizes. Publications include two chapbooks: Farmwife, the winner of the William and Kingman Page Poetry Book Award, and Earth published by Cat Rock Press. WordTech published Legacy of the Last World in 2016. Aldrich Press, an imprint of Kelsay Books, published Bone Circle in December 2018. Kelsay Books will publish Thira, a new collection based on ancient Minoan culture, in March 2020.

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Ann Taylor

Finally arrived in this company,
prepped for on-stage wit,
I ease out on my couch,
drape my new robe just-so,
accept my welcome kylix.
 
With two hands,
I tip it straight up,
high to my face,
take a deep draft,
pronouce on gods, the law,
women, war. They laugh.

As the aulos weaves
a wind-song, strings ring,
I refill to the brim,
raise my cup again.
They laugh the more.

My robe slides to the floor,
my sentences blend.
I spy Medusa,
painted inside my drink.
Through wine, she shimmers 
red to the surface – snake hair,
tongue lolling to her chin,
eyes stone, set on me.     

Across the room,
smirking Archynes lifts 
his cup with both hands,
straight at me. Ah!
Now I see blurry black eyes
staring back, his cup base
a gaping mouth, the big handles.
Dionysus donkey ears? 

I see now the all-night joke I’ve been,
a mockery of my besotted self.

Escaping, I trip on my robe,
hurl my cup at his. Miss. 
________________________________________________________________________
Ann Taylor is a Professor of English at Salem State University in Salem, Mass. where she teaches both literature and writing courses. She has written two books on college composition, academic and freelance essays, and a collection of personal essays,Watching Birds: Reflections on the Wing (Ragged Mountain/McGraw Hill). Her first poetry book, The River Within, won first prize in the 2011 Cathlamet Poetry competition at Ravenna Press. Her recent collection, Bound Each to Each, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013.

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