Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Thoughts in the Dark" by Sierra July, Frequent Contributor

Thoughts in the Dark
Sierra July

If her eyes were headlights,
She thought she could see through the dark.
If her tongue were paper,
She could rip it out, no bleeding
If her ears were both stone,
She’d never hear a painful word.
If her heart, mind, were stone,
She’d never have feeling again.

Poet’s Notes: This poem came about while thinking of dramas I’d seen on television. Many characters enter dark places in their lives and, as in the real world, we don’t get to hear their thoughts. This is my imagining on how some devastated character might feel.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Special Memorial Day Feature: "Mobag" by the Editor

Steven Wittenberg Gordon
Dedicated to my brothers and sisters in arms:  "All gave some.  Some gave all."

Every square inch is precious.
Flight suit,
Battledress uniform,
Flight gloves, work gloves,
Garrison rank--captain,
Garrison rank--major (in case I get promoted),
Underclothes, socks,
Black tees, brown tees, one civie tee,
Boot polish, tennis shoes,
Glasses, glasses, glasses, glasses,
Sunglasses, prescription sunglasses,
Disposable contacts (three-month supply),
Toiletries, mirror (for shaving and signaling)
Emergency book (something funny by Wodehouse),
Dog tags (name, rank, number, Jew Jew Jew
God keep me from being captured),
Yarmulke, prayer book,
Chewing gum, tissues, wet wipes, hand sanitizer,
Photo of my wife, my son, my little baby girl.
Every square inch is precious.

Poet's Notes:  I served as a United States Air Force flight surgeon from 2000 to 2005.  Every airman (and presumably every member of the military) is required to have a "grab-and-go" mobility bag or "mobag" prepared at all times to be used in case of a last minute or emergency deployment.  I used mine only once--on September 11, 2001.  

Space in the bag was limited, and careful planning was required in order to pack a mobag properly.  The contents of mine reflect not only what I though was necessary but what I thought was important.  My biggest fear was breaking my only pair of glasses, thereby rendering myself completely useless.  Hence, a substantial portion of my mobag and a full three lines of the twenty-line poem was devoted to corrective lenses.  

My next biggest fear was not death but capture.  As a Jew, I knew my experience would be unpleasant if I were to be captured by our jihadist enemies.  I favor my Irish mother in appearance, so I could have "passed" for a gentile, and I debated whether or not to indicate my religion on my dog tags.  In the end, I decided to label myself a Jew--defiantly and proudly.  The yarmulke and prayer book would have been concealed deep in the bag and used only in secret.  Open use of such items would have violated General Order One and even possession of them probably did too.

As for my "emergency book," one might infer that, as a physician, it would be a medical manual of some sort.  For me, however, I wanted to be prepared for the long periods of boredom that occur during most deployments--the "hurry up and wait" or "HUAW" with which everyone in the military is familiar.  I chose an omnibus by P. G. Wodehouse.  I wound up reading it years later after I left the service.  A review may be found here:  http://stevesofgrass.blogspot.com/2015/11/review-of-very-good-jeeves-by-p-g.html.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Special Feature: Three Poems by Terri Lynn Cummings

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present three poems by Terri Lynn Cummings, all of which were finalists in the 2016 Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest.  Cummings is a 2015 Woody Guthrie Poet and curator for the monthly Poetry @ the Paramount readings in Oklahoma City. Her poetry has recently been published in: Red River Review, Illya’s Honey, Melancholy Hyperbole, and Ancient Paths Online.

Ms. Cummings, an Oklahoma City resident, retired from grant writing to pursue fiction writing, but after suffering the loss of her special needs son, turned to poetry. She has studied poetry, fiction, and nonfiction at Creative Writing Institute. She also holds a BS in Anthropology/Sociology from Oklahoma State University and continues to examine social and cultural humanity around the world.

Grey Abbey, N. Ireland
Terri Lynn Cummings

A fine rain bathes the feet of
Mary marbled in devotion.
Roses on her collar beg
for sleep. One stone after another,
the abbey closes her eyes.


Flowers nod
on emerald carpets of
grass where vacant doors
once let secrets in.

On solid walls of devotion,
elderly script declares
the rank of the wealthy.

Windows gape
at parades of
passing generations.

A leafy corset crushes
the ribs that guard
the abbey’s heart.

The altar no longer shepherds
lambs under the sanctuary’s ruined
loft. Stars reel in place
of embroidered histories.

 Stubborn wall
rocks the grounds
in a long embrace.


A headstone leans
like a weary soul on its homeward trudge.
Here lies the silken gown, the woolen vest,
consecrated disarray in a pagan meadow.

A silver ray strikes old wounds
on stone -
a small name for a small soul
asleep in his dusty cradle.

Below deep layers of faith,
below grief,
coins lost in the ground
await charity.

Poet’s Notes:  Did divine intelligence have beauty or ruin in mind when Grey Abbey was founded? In my eyes, the two leaned into each other, inseparable as truth from the truth. In my ears, they whispered the paradox of man’s spacious and narrow heart. In my mind, divine intelligence peeled the abbey’s walls like an apple, exposing the raw flesh of time, sweet and mortal.

A native of N. Ireland, my mother picnicked on the abbey grounds as a child and young adult. Later, she shared her love of the quiet splendor with her husband and daughters. Whenever I am troubled, I remember this place and its lesson. Goodness is present in an ever-changing landscape.

For those of you who enjoy history, Grey Abbey (pictured) is a Cistercian abbey church. Affreca de Courcy, the wife of Anglo-Norman invader of East Ulster, John de Courcy, founded the church and living quarters in 1193.

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the somber mood that the poet creates in her moving description of the ruined abbey, how the glorious works of man have been replaced by the equally glorious natural environment.  The abbey becomes a symbol of what it once was--the good and the bad.  Grey Abbey, N. Ireland” was first published in Red River Review, May 2015.  Additional pictures of Grey Abbey may be found here:  https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g319809-d266563-Reviews-Grey_Abbey-Portaferry_County_Down_Northern_Ireland.html#photos;geo=319809&detail=266563&ff=70275823&albumViewMode=hero&albumid=101&baseMediaId=70275823&thumbnailMinWidth=50&cnt=30&offset=-1&filter=7.

* * * * *

A New Season
Terri Lynn Cummings
And Merlyn said to Arthur, “When you’re very sad, the only thing to do is go learn something.”
-- T. H. White, The Once and Future King 

April gray stole through the hospital window.
Pressed her lips, with the promise of new life, to his cheek.

Our son lay tucked in morphine’s arms instead of mine.
We’ll see you soon, I whispered, and hoped it was true.

Generous hearts poured mercy for thick tongues.
Flowers flamed as if they could burn
the hymns I dreaded to hear.

My eyes and smile mirrored vacant lots.
Anonymous miles and rooms served as bread
until my reflection disappeared from the mirror.

I wanted to return as something else –
the bud of a mountain,
the light in a word.

Somewhere between his eyes and sunrise,
I leaned in for one last kiss.

I climbed from the book of our son
to the day’s blank page,
picked up the pen,
and wrote a new season.

Poet’s Notes:  Without an alphabet, how does one describe the loss of a child? For years, I had found it impossible until I picked up the pen. Miles and miles of pages spanned the void that yawned when our son forgot to breathe. I used the pages as gauze, wadded them up, and stuffed them into the abyss. Slowly, my world healed. From mean and ugly, an elegant patterning emerged. Loss begat learning, and like my son, I learned to live transformed.

Editor’s Note:  This is a beautiful elegy.  The opening is strong, with brilliant employment of personification.  The poet follows the personification there with a devastatingly beautiful use of it in the next stanza.  The mood she creates is one of profound sadness and yet of profound hope and acceptance.  I also appreciate her use of assonance, particularly in the fourth stanza. 

* * * * *

Death of a Marriage
Terri Lynn Cummings 

When I threw truth at my husband’s feet,
he wagged his shoes on the ottoman,
shook his head no, got up and walked
out the door for the night shift. I ran
to the closet for my jacket. It wasn’t
there. My shoes were gone, too.

I closed the door to the bedroom
where his lover’s diamond ring
winked under the light on
my nightstand. Passed through
rooms like years. Sampled single
parenthood. Sipped pretense and
considered it like a wine connoisseur.

When I waved the flag, as white
as my heart, his lover claimed our
house like a prize, wore my jacket and
walked in my shoes. Crawled into
the skin I shed and settled in a shell.

Poet’s Notes:  When the knot of our marriage had unraveled, my husband and I dangled at the end of a thread. I kicked and screamed while he hunted for a pair of scissors. After he found them, he cut the thread, and we fell. Thankfully, we survived. The years passed out understanding and forgiveness like bread, yet it did not ease my hunger. I wanted the last word.

Editor’s Note:  I have read (sadly) many poems on this subject, all of them, like this one, bitter, depressing, and filled with a sense of betrayal.  However, this poem uses metaphors that are unique in my experience.  I particularly appreciate the multi-layered one at the end, comparing the adulteress at once to a snake and to an echo of what a true wife should be.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Special Feature: The Editor's Review of Crowned by Frequent Contributor Mary Soon Lee

It is rare for me to read a collection of poetry and to enjoy every poem in it.  I daresay such an occurrence would be rare for anyone.  Crowned (Dark Renaissance Books, Brookings, Oregon, 2015) by Songs of Eretz Frequent Contributor Mary Soon Lee falls into this category for me.

Crowned--The Sign of the Dragon: Book 1 is a collection of sixty-one poems centered around Xau, a fictional Mongol-like warrior prince and horse whisperer who, though he is the youngest son, winds up inheriting his father’s kingdom and winning the love and respect of his people and foreign bride and the grudging respect of his enemies.  The collection is about 175 pages in length and is available through Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/CROWNED-Sign-Dragon-Book-1/dp/1937128741/for $16.95.  It is worth every penny.  The collection is complimented by beautiful and occasionally breathtaking black-and-white illustrations by M. Wayne Miller.

It is important for readers of Crowned to realize at the outset that the collection is an epic poem about a larger-than-life hero.  Detractors have criticized Xau, the hero of Crowned, as being “too perfect.”  Little do these critics realize that such a comment is actually the highest compliment that could be said of the hero of an epic poem.  The hero of an epic poem should be perfect or nearly so--Superman perfect, Odysseus perfect, Beowulf perfect, Aeneas perfect, perhaps with a single but often fatal flaw.  King Xau is such a hero.

Epic poetry is, well, epic, as The Iliad is epic, as The Odyssey is epic, as The Aeneid is epic, as Bewulf is epic.  The narrative thread that weaves the poems of Crowned together is a beautiful, inspiring story that, though entirely fictional, has the feel of legendary mythology.  Detractors of Crowned, including even Lee herself in her “Author’s Note,” have criticized the collection for lacking “real” poetry.  Such critics do not understand epic poetry.  Not a single poem in the collection lacks poetry.  On the contrary, the collection is ALL poetry.

That is not to say that every poem in the collection is equally great.  All of them are great, but some are (yes, I’ll say it again) epic.  The poems that tell the story of Prince Xau’s encounter with a prophetic dragon and the story of King Xau’s winning of the hearts of the Horse Lords come immediately to mind.  These and several others in the collection are simply stunning, awe inspiring, and above all memorable.  I will not reveal more lest I spoil.

Two of the poems in the collection, “Companionship” and “Stables,” were first published in Songs of Eretz and may be found here:  http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2015/03/poem-of-day-companionship-by-mary-soon.html and here:  http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2015/02/songs-of-eretz-poetry-review-is-pleased_24.html.  If you are a lover of fantasy, mythology, and epic poetry, read those for a teaser and then get yourself a copy of Crowned.  It will not disappoint.

"The Latent Motion of Mannequins" by Ross Balcom, Frequent Contributor

The Latent Motion of Mannequins
Ross Balcom


The mannequins: frozen Eros
in the shop window.
I had to do them.
"Here comes Papa!"

I smashed the window
with a trashcan, and then

I was all over them,
hammering them with my

pelvis. "I'm fertilizing the
void, the plastic void!"

Know me mannequins;
feel my fire, blazing.


The men in blue arrested
me and brought me here.

"You can't jail my passion,"
I told them, seething.

You can't jail my fire.
It's spreading, spreading.

An army of mannequin
women, unfrozen, march

to free me. Millions of them,
their feet pounding the earth,

 a vast rhythm rocking
the streets, toppling buildings,

bringing down the walls
of this jail. "Come to Papa!"

A force unstoppable,
all-powerful, manifest

now and evermore. "Feel it,
feel it! Released at last:

The latent motion
of mannequins!"

Poet's Notes: We've all been exposed to stories about dolls and mannequins that come to life. Recently, while walking through a department store, I "saw" a mannequin move very slightly. I recognized this as a perceptual error, but the experience was still unsettling. I decided to write a poem about mannequins-in-motion, and this is it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"Another Week" by Mary Soon Lee, Frequent Contributor

Another Week
Mary Soon Lee

At the end of summer,
when Prince Keng was seven,
one week with his father.

One week of riding,
hunting, walking, climbing,
standing atop a limestone arch,
the grazing horses far below,
tiny as toys,
his father's hand
on his shoulder.

One week without school,
without people fussing
over his clothes,
without Ying or Chye
or his baby sister,
with his father
to himself--
except for his father's guards,
seven guards with them that week,
that almost the best part:
watching Atun shooting
from a galloping horse,
fencing with Captain Li,
helping them set up camp,
their conversations, their jokes
sometimes baffling
but never condescending.

One week of campfire suppers,
his father helping him
skin his first rabbit,
roasted pears, the smell of smoke,
Dao and Gan singing duets,
three warm nights sleeping on grass,
the patterned stars.

And the day they did nothing
but laze in a two-man fishing boat on a lake,
chatting and dozing in the heat,
jumping into the water to cool off,
the dip of the oars
rippling the still surface,
the lake's depths undisturbed,
his father wearing a conical bamboo hat
like a rice farmer;
a memory he dipped into, later,
time and time again,
unable to recall what they'd talked about,
only the easy back-and-forth of it,
and beneath, undisturbed,
his father's love.

Poet's Notes:  This is part of The Sign of the Dragon, my epic fantasy in verse. It is one of a handful of poems that focuses on the relationship between the king and his eldest son. Though the elements of my childhood were different from Prince Keng's, I too look back on the time I spent with my father on family holidays. My father was far from perfect, but I never once doubted how much he loved me. More poems from The Sign of the Dragon may be read at www.thesignofthedragon.com.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Poem of the Day: "Payphone" by David Pring-Mill, Frequent Contributor

David Pring-Mill

Once, there was small comfort
in seeing booths
with plastic phones,
metallic cords,
reflective silver,
light blue labels…

There was great relief
in reaching
into denim pockets,
and fumbling
for reeded edges
and knowing that
by the powers
of spare change
the voice of a friend
or family member
could be summoned,
for tucked-away connection
in the midst of clamor.

And the coin was part
of the experience,
and because of it
the conversations
we partook in
were not taken
for granted.

Now, fingers text away:
a billion empty words
and abbreviations
sent up into outer space.
These cosmic offerings
tumble back down,
seconds later.

Poet's Notes: Nostalgia can affect anything, including inanimate objects.

Monday, May 23, 2016

"Arachnia" by Anne Carly Abad, Frequent Contributor

Anne Carly Abad

curtain the windows
cover them
creepers peek
from down below

emerald eyes acquire
a taste for what they see

rise and fall
of chest and pulse
shudder of  laughter
sheen of tears

as one lounges before
those noisy shows
one becomes the show

they will strike--
slipping past slits on sliding glass
or closed doors--
with spider silk tongues
thin enough to enter pores

they will feed
on breath and heat;
in return feed victims
a lengthening sleep
night after night until
one awakens
in homespun shadow
stalking a familiar face
behind a glass window

Poet's Notes:  I like taking walks and running at night. The warm light of from lampposts and the cool wind make me feel like I'm in a different dimension, or so I like to imagine. There's this one house that keeps catching my eye. In my country, houses are heavily gated for safety. This house doesn't have a gate. And to top it off, it has a gigantic sliding window.

In Philippine mythology, there are fearsome demons like manananggal (pictured). They have long, thread-like tongues that can slither through the smallest openings on roofs and walls. Manananggal eat fetuses using their tongues, as if drinking from a straw. They fly about at night, often unseen. Recently there have been sightings. My imagination ran wild, thinking these things, and so, the poem.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

FC Lee Picks Her Favorites from The 2016 Rhysling Anthology

The 2016 Rhysling Anthology edited by Charles Christian  http://www.sfpoetry.com/rhysling.html contains all the science fiction, fantasy, and straight science poems nominated for the 2016 Rhysling Award. I liked many of the 117 poems, admired the skill of many more though they weren't my cup of tea, and loved a few of the poems. Lately I've been drawn more to fantasy than science fiction, yet in this anthology many of my favorites were science fiction or straight science poems connected to space. Of these my favorite was the extract from Simon Barraclough's "Sunspots," closely followed by both "Observations from the Black Ball Line between Deimos and Callisto" by Alexandra Erin, and "Requiem" by Matt Quinn. Three other space poems that I particularly liked were Bronwyn Lovell's "Challenger," Robert Borski's "The Astronaut's Heart," and Mack W. Mani's "And then the stars...." The poem in the short category (under 50 lines) that I enjoyed most was "Attack of the Saurus" by John Reinhart. Another pair of poems in the short category that I very much enjoyed were the gentle "Venice Letting Go" by Sandra Kasturi and "Origami Heat/Light-Defying Spaceship" by Naru Dames Sundar. Two poems that I greatly liked, but found darkly upsetting rather than enjoyable, were Sandra J. Lindow's "Under the Cancer Tree" and J. D. Fox's "The Argument Box." Two last favorites of mine were F. J. Bergmann's "Chronopatetic" and Lev Mirov's "An Unexpected Guest." In addition to the poems I've singled out, there were several others that I think I would have loved if I had understood them more completely. (This is probably my fault: I find many poems hard to fathom.) The two such poems that I liked best were Ruth Jenkins's "Drowned City" and Adele Gardner's "Deliverance."

Mary Soon Lee, Frequent Contributor