Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Poem for Shavuot by the Editor

Shmuel ben Moshe HaLevi

Seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt
Forty-nine days after God passed over
The firstborn of the Jewish people
The Lord appeared before His chosen
Assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai
And took to Himself His people
As a bridegroom takes his bride
And in token of this vow to husband them
He gave unto the Jews not a ring
But the secret to a holy life--the living Torah.
And every year for 3,316 years now
On this day, the sixth day of Sivan,
The chosen few re-accept the sacred Torah
For every living Jew and every Jew that ever lived
Is said to have been there in spirit
With the six hundred thousand
On that awesome day--witnesses to the One
And only Living God--Blessed be He!

Poet’s/Editor’s Note:  Shavuot is arguably the most important Jewish holiday of the year.  If not for Shavuot, there would be no Jews or Christians, for it was on Shavuot, forty-nine days from the Exodus from Egypt, that God bestowed His Torah upon His chosen people.  It is believed that not just the 600,000 men plus an unknown number of women and children received the Torah that day, but that all of the Jews that ever would live from that day forward were present there in spirit at the base of the mountain.  Every year at this time for the past 3,316 years, observant Jews re-dedicate themselves to and re-accept the Torah, especially the Ten Commandments.  So, this day is not all about cheese blintzes, although they are yummy.

Sadly, many Jews do not mark Shavuot at all, and I daresay most non-Jews are unaware of this significant holiday.  I hope that my poem will serve as a reminder of the importance of God’s greatest gift to the Jews and Christians (perhaps excepting Jesus for the Christians).  We need to return to God’s teachings now more than ever.  Find out more about Shavuot here:

The poem is comprised of eighteen lines of free verse.  The number 18, or chai meaning “life”, holds great significance for the Jews.  Find out more here:  I tried to make the poem proceed in a relentless, driving manner to the glorious climax in the final line, a metaphor for the voice of God crashing down the mountain--emphasis on metaphor, for no words I could ever write could actually achieve this effect. 

I used my Hebrew name for the byline.  Literally translated, my Hebrew name means “In the Name of God son of Moses the Levite”.  The Levites were the assistants to the ancient Jewish Priests.  Chag sameach!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Water" by David Pring-Mill, Frequent Contributor

David Pring-Mill

The questioning mind surely sees itself
in physics and our institutions.
This world whispers secrets into its wind:
Origin stories,
and elaborate myths of legacy.

Outside, puddles gather as if to show
the persistence of each drop,
and recesses to be filled.
I study this delicate movement and mass.
The mighty cliffs break to become
sediment of the sea. Mother Nature,
are your facades constructed paper-thin?
Over the ocean, our horizon bends:
A supple curvature, placed before the vacuous coldness.

The darkness between those stars so cleanly mirrors
the darkness dividing our own illuminations.
With the salty air reminding me of
Those wonderful things that emerge
from brine and crashing swells.

Poet’s Notes:  This poem directly investigates the dynamics of the natural world. It observes a universe that is defined by its deeply co-occurring unity and division. Every contradiction of matter and energy is somehow folded within a spectacular congruence. There is some common character that exists within vastly different forms and textures. Defiance and agreement are within the same movements, the accruing of volume and mass, and the many degradations of this beloved Earth.

The first two lines of “Water” suggest that there is a consciousness in the universe. The opening lines also imply that we establish and enforce institutional structures in a manner that imitates the structuring of our own minds. This is a subtle nod to Professor Robert Sternberg’s theory of mental self-government. More info here:

The mirroring of darkness in outer space and the separation felt between people is again a way of drawing an unexpected parallel. “Water” aspires to trace a few of the astonishing similarities that span our universe’s bigness and diversity; it makes the humble and scientifically-substantiated claim that the stuff of the self is indeed from the cosmos and contends that even the most abstract characteristics can be perceived in some externality of our own doing and within our own environment. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Memorial Day Poem by the Editor

MEPS:  Freedom's Front Door
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

He walked in to the Military Entrance Processing Station.
A hayseed from Missouri, he had never been to a doctor
Until the day he volunteered for service with the Navy.
Years of work on the farm had made him hale and healthy--
A physical specimen--and years of hunting for his food
Had made him a crack shot with mild hearing loss on the left.
He had never seen the ocean let alone been on the ocean
But late hot summer evenings spent at the local waterhole
Had made him a strong if untrained swimmer.
At the age of seventeen he swore the oath of allegiance
That everyone entering military service must swear:
“To support and defend the Constitution of the United States
Against all enemies foreign and domestic”
And he left Missouri, its seas of grass, its open spaces, and
The hayloft where he often slept when nights were warm
For the violent Atlantic, the placid Pacific, the mysterious Indian,
And the stacked bunks in the forecastle of an aircraft carrier
Where he would spend month after month below deck cramped
And claustrophobic shut away from sun and sky and sea.
Yet during his sleep interval--for day and night had no meaning--
Racked in his bunk sandwiched between two others
And an arm’s length from another stack of three
He would think about all he had left behind in Missouri
And smile not for himself but for his ma and pa and
Brothers and sisters and all of his friends and fellows
Who could sleep all the more soundly because of his service
And that anyone who would try to take away their freedom
Would have to get through him and the US Navy first.

Poet’s/Editor's Notes:  On Memorial Day, we pause (or should pause) to remember those members of the armed forces who died in service to the United States.  As with the subject of my poem, every one of them went through a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) at the beginnings of their military service.

I work part-time at the MEPS in Kansas City, Missouri doing physical examinations on applicants for military service.  My poem typifies the applicants that I evaluate--brave if naive young men and women, all of them ready to put service before self.  Although I could have had the subject of the narrative pictured as joining any other branch of the service, I chose the Navy as I continue to be astounded by the exceptional bravery of the many Navy applicants from Missouri who have never seen the ocean. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

"first stars winking on" by Lauren McBride, Frequent Contributor

first stars winking on                               
hush . . . multi-legged musicians
begin their nocturne

--Lauren McBride

Poet's Notes:  I have always loved dusk when the hustle and bustle of day yields to the stillness of night, especially if sitting outside on a porch, perhaps by myself with a good book, perhaps with others, or that one special person. When twilight fades to star shine, frogs might begin to announce themselves, joined by a cricket or two, or the only sound might be the soft hum of insects in the distance. With a haiku, most of that has to be imagined.

I chose "nocturne" to represent nature's symphony because it is by definition a musical composition suggestive of night. Also, it worked with my syllable count, an inescapable requirement of 5-7-5 haiku. 

Also for the syllable count, I added "hush" to the second line, and then decided that I liked it because it could be interpreted two ways: the natural hush of night falling or someone hushing others to listen.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"Snatched" by John C. Mannone, Frequent Contributor

John C. Mannone

Before it’s jaws locked
on you, the grizzly
growled mostly at me.

I could almost understand
the reasononing, she had
gone without anything

for the last three days,
not even water, except
for a slight hot drizzle

yesterday. She was delirious
with hunger, and thirsty
for blood. You tried to save

me, danced in front of her,
she meerly leered
at me while she ate

the forbidden fruit.

Poet’s Notes: Perhaps I was in a surreal mood, or maybe a silly one. Perhaps I conflated a love poem with a grizzly bear dream. Whatever I was thinking, it simply came out in this poem. I had hoped to write a humorous poem, and maybe it was headed that way…up to the 11th line. Then Bam! It took a different turn!

Editor’s Note:  What a grizzly horror!  I read it as a metaphor for the perverse pleasure sociopaths take in perpetrating violent crimes but perhaps I read too deeply.  

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Appreciating This First Morning of Daylight Savings Time" by Gerard Sarnat

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Appreciating This First Morning of Daylight Savings Time” by Gerard Sarnat.  Dr. Sarnat has authored four collections: Homeless Chronicles (2010), Disputes (2012), 17s (2014), and Melting The Ice King (2016) (previously reviewed in Songs of Eretz  In addition to several features in Songs of Eretz (, his poetry has been published in:  Avocet, LEVELER, tNY, StepAway, Bywords, Floor Plan. Dark Run, Scarlet Leaf, Good Men Project, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Tipton Journal

Dr. Sarnat was educated at Harvard and Stanford Universities. He has worked in jails, built and staffed clinics for the marginalized, and has been a CEO of healthcare organizations, and Stanford Medical School professor.

Appreciating This First Morning of Daylight Savings Time
Gerard Sarnat

Mudita is my favorite inspiration in Buddhism.

In Pāli it roughly means Empathetic Joy. Sort of being able to see through others’ eyes, get into their skin, ultimately love.

I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent single word in English.

That’s one part of why I relish it.

A second reason is that cultivating Mudita has been challenging.

The Buddha composed lists; Mudita is the third Brahma-Vihara, or Noble Abode.

It is surrounded by the equally worthy goals of Lovingkindness, Compassion and Equanimity.

Into my eighth decade, except when in physician mode, I have had some difficulty not considering cripples They.

After months of prodromal fits/starts, suddenly a grimacing pretzel, walking stick in left hand, lurching right, I am They.

Since housebound moving minimally as possible, it is improbable I would be your individual Mudita opportunity.

But we are around should you wish to try engaging with simple acknowledgement, perhaps just a smile to start?

Although I appreciate receiving Compassion, my intention here is not purely personal.

Relinquishing independence toilet to driving’s hard – still so far I’ve been able to maintain Equanimity on the whole.

Today if not too cold I might be warmed on our forest deck or through the lens of spring’s blooming garden perfection.

Kind, brave, mostly mindful family and dearest friends extend good will and take excellent care.

My "Rest and see what happens" phase is reaching its end as optional suffering begins to magnify inevitable pain.

While medicine interventions offer relief in the form of a limitless prescription fog bummer, marijuana seems pleasant.

And surgical clarity likely soon will Roto-Root plus fuse Lumbar 2-4 Spinal Stenosis with Retrolisthesis, make me well.

In the meantime using a Lumex Rollator is safer than a cane and allows me to maintain upright posture.

That freaks people out less, but since I don’t have a free hand, it requires extra trips or more proactive support.

I learn how to let go, surrender control, request help constructively, encourage companions to think ahead\along with me.

Buddha’s first sermon laid out Impermanence -- things change -- as the # 1 basic fact of existence.

Last night was even funny: repurposing a takeout BBQ chicken plastic dome as a pisspot, I didn’t notice the vent holes!

I am fortunate compared to those of us who can never be made whole, or live with awful terminal illnesses.

Why do I write now from my little world?  Because once better, like blind people who regain vision, humans forget.
"Mudita" (Joy) in Sanskrit

With Metta (Lovingkindness) for all sentient beings.

Poet’s Notes:  This poem attempts to move readers to experience the inevitable ups and downs as mindfully and skillfully and lovingly as possible in their own lives as well as those of others. 

Editor’s Note:  I especially enjoy the way Gerry seamlessly mixes Buddhism, Judaism, and allopathy into the poetic narrative.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"Looking Back" by Sierra July, Frequent Contributor

Looking Back
Sierra July

For years he'd held on to
A child's book from his past

Cover cracked, pages yellowed and scribbled
It opened tired, with a sour breath,
His eyes misted as he looked, saw it new
Grandpa's wrinkled hands turning the pages
Fun adlibbed dialogue teasing his ears.
It's old and simple, far from the best but . . .

Once closed, the book rested
Back on his favorites shelf

Poet's Notes: How easily I could give my favorite song or book or movie as a teen, and how hard it is even to give a top ten now.  Sentimentality can play a part in favoritism, but that isn't a bad thing. My favorites are more numerous, flowery, and meaningful now, and I'm sure they'll keep changing, while old ones rest in my heart. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

"The Written Word" by Terri Lynn Cummings, Frequent Contributor

The Written Word
Terri Lynn Cummings

He stuck a pencil behind his ear
lead blunted from words on paper chains
that weighed more than iron 

She reads   mixes his sentences 
with flour and salt until yeasty aroma 
lures her from a life of secret sleet 

then drifts into his realm
held forth like communion
Yet   how do words bear life 

They cannot stroll through a story unread
though bang their fists when called on
Lungs demand the labor of language

all splinter   spark   and ash of it 
Voices resurrect dried pen   barren page
until   at last 

sparrows commune within tall grass abbeys
autumn paints with molten tears
books thicken the marrow of bones 

and ears 
to their light

Poet’s Notes:  I am awed by the power of the written word, no matter if the words be plain or intricate. They may drown in description or sing like birds, yet when inspired they halt the planet from its spin. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

"flight" by Ross Balcom, Frequent Contributor


in the tower

a prisoner
of heights forlorn

your spells

your magic 

your dreams
of flight


birds painted
on the walls

of Never

--Ross Balcom

Poet's Notes: I wrote this poem after perusing a book of bird paintings. There is nothing worse than being imprisoned, literally or figuratively. If necessary, kill to be free. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

FC Cummings To Give Poetry Reading

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that Frequent Contributor Terri Lynn Cummings will be offering a poetry reading on Sunday, May 21 at 2:00 PM at The Depot in Norman, Oklahoma.  More information about the venue and event may be found here

"Ever and Anon this Way with Shades" by James Frederick William Rowe, Frequent Contributor

Ever and Anon this Way with Shades
James Frederick William Rowe

What beats 
What beats 
In my brother's breast? 
At night he holds me to his breast 
And I can hear naught but the ticking  
Of the clock throughout the night   

By day      
By day       
He ignores my cries        
He walks abroad and ignores my cries 
And though all my fears are mounting    
I cannot gain his mind at all      

What song         
What song         
Will he sing today?          
Returning he will sing today       
And though I know not this tune          
He sweetly will till eventide          

I used
I used
To play the lute
With my brother I'd play the lute
And now it but gathers dust
I forget to pluck its strings?

He holds me near
At night once more he holds me near
And now I fear the clock's ticking
For I know it foretells my doom

I am
I am
A memory
Alone and lost, a memory
And as the lute no longer played
The strings will sound no more

I fade
I fade
With every moment
In his heart with every moment
And as the days and seasons pass
I soon shall be forgotten

It is 
It is
This way with shades
Ever and anon, this way with shades
And now I see my fate designed
I await annihilation

Poet’s Notes:  This poem is about a pair of musician brothers, one of whom has died and now exists as a shade whose existence seems to depend on his brother's recollection of his life. He fears, and rightfully so, that with time he will be forgotten, and when he is forgotten that he will no longer exist. That is why he is a "shade", a term I take to imply the spiritual state of said beings whose ghostly essences are unstable and liable to dissolution, as in the Homer's depiction of the afterlife. I thought this suited a poem about a ghost's trepidation over his fate, and indeed there is always a sense that ghosts are sad beings to begin with, given that they are no longer part of the world of which they no doubt wish they could once again be a part. 

This poem is about characters that have lived a long time ago, hence my use of the terms "eventide" and "lute". Eventide is a fairly archaic term, and the lute went out of favor by 1800. I imagine this poem takes place sometime in the 17th century, which would correspond well with a time when the lute was still a common instrument, eventide a term in common use, and clocks (which are referenced) found in homes. Obviously, I intended that it should have a feeling of the past but I have kept it ambiguous as to exactly when.

I also feel the poem’s setting melds well with the structure I conceived for it, a format is of my own creation. It follows these rules:

1. Each stanza is 7 verses long.
2. The first two verses are two syllables long and are repeated. 
3. The third and fourth verses are related to one another, with the third verse being repeated, or at least partially incorporated, into the fourth verse.
4. The 5th verse is longest and the concluding word is rhymed with a single-word 6th verse.
5. The 7th verse concludes the stanza and continues from the single-word 6th verse.

Concerning the meter, I am a little loose aside from the restraints explicitly mentioned but I attempt to keep the length of the verses relatively uniform, with some deviation. 

I have used this format for other poems and am obviously pretty pleased with it. I think it gives a song like quality that suits the theme of this specific poem and gives a sense of desperation to the narrative voice. I really like how musical each stanza sounds to me, especially with the pause in the single-word rhyme that precedes the ending verse. 

The poem concludes with the hope for continued existence being lost. The dead brother resigns himself to being a fading memory that will in time be forgotten. This really goes hand in hand with the unused lute gathering dust, and "the strings will sound no more". Though he wishes to be remembered, he will not be, and in time the melody of his life will no longer be heard.  

Editor’s Note:  This is one of the best from James that I have ever published--and as James’ best are quite good, that is saying something!  Even though Poe did not use James’ unique and lyrical poetic form, I think he would have approved.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"Orrery" by Simon Constam

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Orrery” by Simon Constam.  Constam hitchhiked around the world at eighteen, something he describes as probably his “most formative experience.” He worked for a publisher for a couple of years then owned a small bookstore in British Columbia for a long stretch. Today, he has a small sales consulting business. 

Constam wrote poetry as a young man but gave it up after just a few years, put off by the growing influence of academia. One day in his middle fifties, thirty-eight years after he’d given up, he returned to poetry. Constam has had a few poems published in online magazines and is looking for the right publisher for a complete collection of poetry as well as a poetry chapbook.

Simon Constam

If I go outside and it happens to be
a cold, clear night, 
I take an hour there
but I still damn the cover of dirty light
that obscures the stars.

And then I say nothing when I’m back inside.
Everyone is sitting around watching football.
No one asks me where I’ve been.  
My bride is feigning interest in the game,
giving me the stare when I pass between
our guests and the 60-inch television. 

Time is wasting away.
She is going to be beautiful for only so long.
That’s true, isn’t it?
I think you know what I mean.
Love thinks time is obscene.  

As like or not, I know what love is.
She enters and leaves.  I don’t know
enough of what she thinks of me.
We never mention it, and I am and she’s
holding too fast to the idea we brought with us.
And even though it’s a neutral darkness,
it’s still the kind from which you can't be saved.

And then they’re gone.
And she turns to me
sympathetic, and yes
of all the versions of her,
the one that softens into love
is unclear tonight.
She has it, I assume, at her fingertips
but perhaps not. She goes upstairs.

I’d follow, but she hasn’t asked me to,
so I pause at the window by the back door
to imagine the planets in their places
revolving at the speed they’ve been given
seeming to move closer to one another,
as often as not, appearing to
have absolutely nothing to do with each other. 

Poet’s Notes:  I was married for thirty-eight years. The breakup of the marriage came in big part because the calm devolution towards disinterest and unfeeling became too much for both of us. Also, not coincidentally, I had started to write again, which you may read, I suppose, as self-examination. Late in life beginnings can be pretty silly but they can also be incredibly profound. The jury is still out on which of those two roads I am travelling. 

This poem came about one night when we had family over, and I had no interest whatsoever in sitting around watching a football game. It was one of those moments when alienation starts slowly and spreads to all nearby relationships. Contemplation of the stars and planets has also always led me to a feeling of alienation, and that also snuck into the poem.

Editor’s Note:  The title sets the tone for this interesting and moving piece, leading to a well-executed poetic conceit.  The best part of the poem for me is the twist on the worn out metaphor of comparing a lover to the celestial bodies--in this poem, the comparison is not one of beauty but of isolation, the heavenly objects revolving around each other but never touching, just as the speaker and the wife in the poem do.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Once Again, FCs Heavily Represented in Star*Line

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that three of our Frequent Contributors have multiple poems in the latest edition (Spring 2017, #40.2) of Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

Mary Soon Lee has two poems in the journal: "The Dark Equations", and "Advice to a Six-Year-Old".  The latter is an editor's choice poem and may be read online here:

John Reinhart has three: “another world”, “neighbors howl monthly”, and “when the dragon’s tastes changed”.  In addition, in her “Stealth SF” column, Denise Dumars features his poem "shifting for love", previously published in Crannog Magazine.

Finally, count two for Lauren McBride: "humans achieve biological immortality", and "23rd-century ebooks".

"Twice Startled; Never Bitten" by Lauren McBride, Frequent Contributor

Twice Startled; Never Bitten
Lauren McBride

The day I stepped 
on a centipede
and felt its multitude                                           
of little legs wriggling
under the arch
of my bare foot,
I never imagined 
I could utter a sound
that high-pitched -

nor did I imagine                                      
that I could run
all the way up the hill
in my heavy yard boots
to find my husband                                                   
until the day
I nearly weed-eated
a copperhead.

Poet's Notes: Both stories are true. Both happened in southeast Texas. Encounters with the poisonous are rare, but always memorable.