Friday, June 30, 2017

"The Light Within" by Ross Balcom

The Light Within

The tapeworm found itself
inside you.

Its faces multiplied
in the mirrored hall of your


Those faces were beautiful;
they glowed like Heaven.


lay on your pallet,
wasted and thin. You were dim

as a dying sun. You shivered.
A darkness grew.

The tapeworm smiled,
and its smiles multiplied 



It was happy--happy to know
it outshone you.

--Ross Balcom

Poet's Notes: There is a dire shortage of poems about tapeworms. It's time we poets addressed this shortage. I hope "The Light Within" brings delight to all readers. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"nothing comes from nothing" by John Reinhart

nothing comes from nothing
John Reinhart

which is why sitting alone in the dark
in the silence yields only so much theoretical
physics, so many calculations, dreams
of dreams, phantasmagoria of postmodern symphonies
no one wants to listen to

which is why I start cooking bacon,
frying eggs, the stuff concocted from what my hens scratch
from the earth, sizzling in cast iron, extracted from black holes
by rough hands, blackened faces, the crack sizzle pop
of something

which is why I left the stove on to get my computer,
propped up on the dishwasher so the cable could reach
the frying pan – download a little grease
to cook this poem from something

Poet's Notes:  Campbell McGrath first came to my attention in a collection called Word of Mouth: Poems Featured on NPR's All Things Considered. I then bought his Spring Comes to Chicago and loved it. McGrath writes in long lines that seem like they're ready to fall off the other end of the page, something I have experimented with and found difficult. However, his "Delphos, Ohio" stands out as one of my go-to examples on the effectiveness of repetition. In the poem, McGrath describes a cross-country road trip - an attempted one, anyway. The couple at the center of the poem are expecting a baby and every twist in the adventures leads to a series of "which is how" we came to consider naming the baby...insert place names, popular roadside restaurants, etc., which is ultimately a powerful tool that keeps the rhythm while playing on the power of repetition in humor as well, which is a good reminder of one important poetic tool in an age when form has a tendency to dissolve, which is fine most of the time, but the human psyche still needs something to hold onto... 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"Plague Graffiti" by Beatriz F. Fernandez

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Plague Graffiti” by Beatriz F. Fernandez.  Fernandez’s chapbook, “Shining from a Different Firmament” (Finishing Line Press, 2015), was featured at the Miami Book Fair International in 2016. She’s a former grand prizewinner of the Writer’s Digest Poetry Award and has read her poetry on South Florida's NPR news station.  Her work was chosen in a national competition for the Arte Latino Now 2017 exhibit in Queens College, Charlotte.  For publication news visit

Plague Graffiti
Beatriz F. Fernandez

Kingston Parish church, 1515

On these consecrated stone walls
I dare carve your names,
perhaps the last knife wielded 
against them by the last hand—
Time past for burials or proper prayers,
only hundreds of flickering white tapers
that burn on and on illuminate these letters,
scrawled in a feverish haste—
Cateryn, Amee and Jane.

The parish priest, dead or in hiding,
may deem a farmer’s daughters unworthy 
of remembrance beside the local gentry.
What I inscribe here is not for his eyes,
but for those that may survive.
This scourge that doles out death in equal measure
to silken lords and ragged paupers
makes fools of us and our pretensions—
all that remains hides curled like flies in amber
in the scrolled shadows this scraped plaster casts—
a mother’s love, her daughters’ names,
Cateryn, Amee and Jane.

I flee to the north by nightfall, 
the Black Death hounds my shadow.
No choice but to leave you behind, you
who were to be my legacy on this earth,
now lie cast beneath it,
quicklime like first snow 
frosting your unmarked graves—
Cateryn, Amee and Jane.

Poet's Notes:  I often write in response to interesting articles that come my way.  In this case it was an article about archaeologists discovering hidden tributes to the dead carved on the walls of medieval churches following bubonic plague outbreaks. They discovered so many they actually had to form groups of volunteers to uncover them!  I tried to imagine how the parents who lost their children to the plague must have felt, needing to run for their lives, not having even enough time to properly mourn their dead, and nowhere to bury them.  Their desperate desire to memorialize the names of their lost loved ones in a sacred place and how it finally came to light centuries later is rather miraculous! 

ref:  "Cambridgeshire church plague graffiti reveals 'heartbreaking' find."  (2015, 21 May).  In BBC News.

Editor’s Note:  This is a unique and moving elegy that resonates as much today in the age of indiscriminate terror attacks as it would have 500 years ago during the black plague that struck Cambridgeshire. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Urban Waterfall" by James Frederick William Rowe

Urban Waterfall
James Frederick William Rowe

The melt waters of a March snow
Pouring from the scaffold
Gush a sprinkled 
Stream of tricklings
In a staccato sheet
Plunging to the gathered puddles
Which resound with the concentric circles
Of the silence of their song
The music of the days old storm

Poet’s Notes:  Between 23rd and 24th on Lexington Avenue, there is currently one-storey scaffolding around the George Washington hotel. One Monday, I was walking along there when I witnessed the striking sight of melting ice producing the eponymous "Urban Waterfall" dripping from the scaffold. The Wednesday prior to this, a snowstorm had dumped a substantial amount of ice and sleet onto the city, and this snow must've remained rather undisturbed until then, as it was gushing a copious amount of water down a few dozen different trickles. It really seemed like a melting waterfall, and I was captivated enough to write a poem about my experience as soon as I returned home that night.

Though simple and direct, I am pleased with the aesthetics of the poem that I believe capture as well as possible the experience of seeing this sight. I believe I may have been the only one who recognized in the waterfall the beauty that was present as I saw no one else pay any mind to it whatsoever when I was walking. As I was the lone preserver of the value of that moment, I felt especially inspired to write this poem and I think I've done justice to it. In effect, I've recorded the "the music of the days old storm". 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Review by the Editor of Botticelli Magazine of Art & Literature Issue 8

I picked up a hardcopy of Botticelli Mag Issue 8 for eight dollars last month at the place of its publication, Columbus College of Art & Design, Columbus, Ohio, where I was attending my son’s graduation from that institution.  I read it in fits and starts since then, finally completing the ninety-page collection today.

The art is varied, eclectic, creative, and for the most part fun.  For the most part the photographs did not rise to the level of art, unless I am missing something, but many of the illustrations were as good as anything I have seen offered by the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art and Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in the Kansas City area.  I particularly like the creepy yet stunning drawings by Komikka Patton and the fairytale two-page illustration by Seulki Choi.

The opening prose piece by Anna Peluola has a Kerouac-ian feel to it that had me grooving to its rhythm.  I enjoyed the way that the narrator took the mundane and made it interesting.  Her description of what it must be like to be an artist from the outside looking in really moved me personally, having raised artistic children who can draw, paint, and sculpt better than I can read and write.

The poetry in the volume is consistently good.  With the exception of one nicely executed pantoum by Lexi White, the poems are free verse but contain many poetic elements, particularly assonance, consonance, alliteration, imagery (often vivid), and the occasional plays on words.  My favorite longer poem in the issue is “What the Twig Wants” by Rebe Huntman, which folds all of the aforementioned elements into a beautiful, almost pastoral narrative.  My favorite shorter poem is “Dialect” by Amber New, which leverages all of the above elements plus some clever enjambments to create a delightful aural affair. 

The faculty and students at the Columbus College of Art & Design publish Botticelli Mag in the spring and fall.  Enjoy Issue 8--the fall 2015 edition--online for free here

--Steven Wittenberg Gordon

"People Are Starving" by John C. Mannone

People Are Starving
John C. Mannone

Wall-to-wall people
standing and waiting
to be fed, so many
eyes empty—hollowed
out bowls. It’s always busy
at the end of the week.
            Fridays are good,
people are hungry,
aromas—opulent as soup
lines. Many mouths
gape open for bread.
            It was a sin
to leave anything
on my plate. So, I say
grace in the booth
at the Italian bistro,
            kneel into
the stained glass
dish in front of me
with a broken piece
of bread to sop up
a dishful of olive oil
pressed with bits
of crumbled oregano
and basil, garlic granules,
coarse salt and parsley
            in remembrance
of bitter herbs.
Red pepper clinging
in the back of my throat.
I choke
out a moment of silence
for my own guilt
from which I was once
delivered, but still starves
            an empty heart
full of unholy words,
panging from the
wall-to-wall hunger
            in my soul.

Poet’s Notes: I came early for dinner at Carrabbas Italian Restaurant before it became a crowded Friday evening. People lined the walls, so to speak, and I had a flash of the soup lines in a larger city in which I had once lived. Thoughts from my Catholic upbringing seeped in from my subconscious, like “it’s a sin to waste food” and “there are people starving all around the world.”

I didn’t know where the poem was going when I started writing it. I was as surprised as I hope you were. All that religious subtext up welled, and no doubt, from Amos stating that man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by the word of God. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

"On Reading O'Brian​" by Mary Soon Lee

On Reading O'Brian​
Mary Soon Lee

Without passport or visa,
without luggage or provisions,
I have sailed with the Royal Navy,
fought the French and the Spaniards,
crossed the Atlantic, rounded Cape Horn,
stood on the pitching wooden deck
beside Aubrey and Maturin:
soaked wet, cold, far from home,
in the company of friends.

Poet's Notes: The first draft of this short poem was about reading in general, one of many attempts I've made to describe how important reading is to me. However, in the end I decided to make it specific to Patrick O'Brian's naval series about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Patrick O'Brian is one of my favorite authors. I love the range of his prose, at times humorous, at times harrowing. I love the way he lifts me onto the ship and into the story. Most of all, I love his twenty-book-long portrayal of the friendship between Aubrey and Maturin. I wish there were twenty more books in the series. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"Gemini" by Sierra July

Sierra July

Hikari gazed in the universe's mirror
The waxing, waning milk of the galaxy had her 
Lively eyes, reflecting young stars that burned bright although
She saw differently

Yami couldn't turn away, though she wanted to
The universe's mirror showed her pure energy
When her eyes blazed like ancient torches waiting for wind
She would burn out soon

Hikari . . . Yami . . . Though in other ways the same
Eyes fresh and eyes exhausted, stared into each other
Seeing and not seeing, missing the realization
That they weren't alone

Poet's Notes: Since my oldest sister and I have birthdays in May, and both of us fall under the Gemini astronomical sign, I decided to write about twin star sisters. Tying into the “living star” theme of my "Dancing on Stars" poem (previously published in Songs of Eretz), this poem personifies the stars. One was meant to have a bit of my sister's spirit and one mine. It also came from the thought of a lonely person looking in a mirror, thinking he/she and his/her reflection are all alone when they're actually staring at a being that is just as lonely. The twins' names, Hikari and Yami, mean “light” and “dark” respectively in Japanese, a language I've been studying.

Editor’s Note:  This is probably the best I've seen from Sierra, reminding me why I invited her to be an FC.  The theme is powerful--that even twins can look at the same phenomenon and come up with completely different interpretations.  The use of Japanese adds a nice, modern, anime flair. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

FC Rowe Has Debut Article Published in Scholarly Journal

Songs of Eretz is pleased to announce that Frequent Contributor James Frederick William Rowe has had his debut scholarly article “Time and Change” published in a peer reviewed journal of philosophy, The Philosophical Forum - A Quarterly, volume XLVIII no. 20, summer 2017.  In his article, James touches upon some of the same themes that he employs in his more philosophical poetry.  Readers who enjoy his poetry should find delving into his academic prose quite interesting.

"Hearing Loss" by Terri Lynn Cummings

Hearing Loss
Terri Lynn Cummings

Leaving the world
to youth’s beat and screech

her hearing shuffles 
to the land of the old

She swims from sound 
to silence and back

through the breath 
of invisible waves

sinks in the ceaseless ringing 
from rock bands’ cannon

Others’ lips open and close
down one-way lanes

while she shrugs and surrenders 
the map she cannot follow

Light dims in the space 
of unopened language

disappears into dust 
as unseen as she

Poet’s Notes:  I wear hearing aids. There. I admit it. Quite frankly, I choose to wear them, because I do not want to be left out of family gatherings. All too often, people quit speaking to those who cannot hear well. I do not want to be left in the cold! Hence, the inspiration for this poem.

Editor’s Note:  This poem is not only poignant and beautiful but could serve as a PSA about hearing loss prevention and treatment.  It is indeed the “rock bands’ cannon” as well as the failure to wear proper hearing protection when required that leads to permanent and irreversible hearing loss.

Hearing loss is NOT a normal or inevitable part of aging.  I am living proof that hearing protection works as advertised.  When I was in the Air Force and exposed to all kinds of toxic levels of noise, I always, always wore my issued hearing protection.  Even off duty, I did (and still do!) wear protection when performing noisy chores such as mowing the lawn.  Well into my fifties, I can still hear cars approaching from the left before I see them in my rearview and I can still hear heart murmurs through my stethoscope that younger doctors cannot appreciate.

The cavalier attitude that today’s youth has towards its precious sense of sound frankly appalls me.  Not a shift goes by at the Kansas City Military Entrance Processing Station where I work part-time doing physicals on military applicants that I do not see several teenagers with significant hearing loss--sometimes so bad that I must permanently disqualify them from military service.

So, I hope that the take home message of this lovely poem is LOUD AND CLEAR:  USE HEARING PROTECTION WHEN REQUIRED.  ‘Cause once it’s gone, it’s gone.... 

Monday, June 19, 2017

"moon maidens" by Ross Balcom

moon maidens

moon mists
multiply images

moon maidens
enchant me,
seduce me


the morning 
says otherwise--

moon maidens'
panties heaped
by my bed

--Ross Balcom

Poet's Notes: I wrote this poem while under the spell of the moon one night. Indeed, the moon is my mistress and master. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

"A Morning in Manhattan" by David Pring-Mill

A Morning in Manhattan
David Pring-Mill

Brittle thin branches stretched over the street,
skewing upwards like spiky tangled hair.
Strange silhouettes would not concede defeat.
Bodies blemished the white and frosted air.
Big hoods and scarves hid peering blanched faces
and new snow fell to cover their traces.
With nowhere to go, nothing to become,
Life tries to cage you, yet I roved errant.
Prudent people with fading souls succumb.
Is God their puzzle?  Is He transparent?
Do others wait for their release with age?
I was disengaged, but had time to think,
not like a poor dunce dancing for a wage,
or those who sip and suffer on the brink,
whose coffee cups with wistful dying steam
appease twinges of spite for the sick scheme.
I craved their dark-roasted fuel and banished
alarming love from crossing my young mind.
I had hoped that with the damn past vanished,
I could feel happy, free, one of a kind.

I watched coiling heat from the dry cleaners.
I entered a dingy N train station,
paid the fare to avoid misdemeanors,
and pushed through a turnstile as vibration
celebrated each train to the city.

While sitting, I watched the varied faces ―
refined girls who boast in states so pretty,
working men who come from distant places.
I dozed, then awoke as we passed under
the steel arches of the Manhattan Bridge.
With eyes glazed, we muted the deserved wonder
as we traveled along a stately ridge.
The copper-clad green speck in the distance
ignited a new pride in resistance.

A homeless man whose eyes were deep drained black
walked across the train car in staggered gait,
holding a cardboard sign, suffering’s plaque.
A boy with big eyebrows slouched by his mate.
A girl hunched and pushed buttons on her phone.
A man let his hat droop to hide his eyes.
Some traveled in pairs, some traveled alone.
Bulgy coats enlarged them to twice their size.
Assorted ads lined the metal ceiling.

Forlorn, I stepped out at 34th Street.
I felt sickly and my heart was feeling
consigned dreams of people: poor and elite.
I decided to go to Bryant Park.
My soul was lost, adrift, an aimless ark.

I rode the F train to 42nd
and ascended from the station to walk
in lonely stroll as great noises beckoned.
Her smile flashed through my mind, teeth white as chalk.
Though I felt warm in rags I couldn’t hem,
It is the way of girls, in youthful spree,
to deny fires that burn easy for them;
and when older to ask, for me? for me?
And yet it’s known, beauty fades before wit.
I swear my passion’s fire will always stay ―
it flares up, dims down, yet still remains lit,
and it never will burn in the same way.
Despite its capricious spirit and haze,
in my darkest times, it keeps me ablaze.

Runty green tables and chairs lined the park,
once dotted with women in excesses,
lightly perched with coffees and eyes that spark,
chatting while wearing slim summer dresses
that showcase pink patterns and bright flowers;
All were gone, replaced by bundles of snow.
The women had withdrawn and snow showers
covered the paths and suffused the park aglow.
Domes of fallen snow sat atop trash cans.
I trudged through a trench of snow dug by feet
towards streams of yellow cabs as my plans
percolated and I hopped on the street.
I heard mostly noise for winter precludes
those easeful exchanges of platitudes.

I saw homeless folks with signs and scabies.
The respected strode past the dejected.
I saw grandmothers and bundled babies,
three generations and still connected.

A NYPD van was covered white.
A light green billboard stood out strongly.
People in puffy coats turned left and right,
while thinking rightly and thinking wrongly,
beneath a streetlight that rose up and arched.
They passed signs and designs and orange cones.
They blew their noses, rebounded, and marched,
fumbling in deep pockets for buried phones.

The signs cut short the dollar’s deviance.
Steam rose from gutters in braided, spry plumes.
Electric emblems begged for allegiance
and biased business in festering fumes.
A cascading cacophony of honks
shrieked and enveloped people, all around.
Traffic plodded from Midtown to the Bronx.
It slithered forward, with persistent sound.

Scrawny, angry hippies sat in loud woe,
claimed incessantly that a shelf of ice
would split from the cold continent below.
They sold damning thoughts, abstract advice.
Everyone always has something to sell.
Sell me a thought and give me a number ―
Baptize your baby or he goes to hell.
If you use paper, you support lumber.
Stop genocide and save the humpback whales.
Save money: then spend it on closeout sales.

I saw necks wrapped with scarves, frustrations,
snow banks, stalactites in subway stations,
and in spite of it all, I thought of her ―
and pained memories I could not deter.

She was a person I had lived without,
when I once stood beneath neon flare.
Then I became convinced beyond a doubt
that without her I was deprived of air.
She was a stranger then, now one again,
yet in her place was the presence of pain.

And why was I so badly affected?
I felt things with heightened intensity ―
as though my young heart was unprotected.
I knew the cause of this propensity
to stagger at every slight and heartbreak.
Most small, growing children are fortified
with lasting love that deflects and heals ache.
My harsh upbringing left me mortified,
starved, beaten, and always susceptible
to blows from everything perceptible.

My parent’s nails had sunk into my skin,
leaving behind crooked red reminders
of the deep worthlessness instilled within.
In a wondrous world, I wore her blinders.

And she told me that I deserved each scar,
and when you’re a child regarded as trash,
you start to think perhaps that’s what you are.
I tried slashing my wrists, looked at the gash,
But I found defiance inside of me,
an urge to conquer my predicament
and change this sick world to what it could be.
Although I was still an adolescent,
I dropped out, hitchhiked to New York, and found
oppressors oppress but brave hearts rebound!

I circled back to the moment and stopped.
A fare-seeking cab turned in tracks of slush.
With a thin lace left from what the sky dropped,
the yellow hunter prowled, in steadied rush. 

Poet's Notes:  "A Morning in Manhattan" is connected to the narratives in "And the Darkness Continued" (originally published in The New Verse News) and "Trauma" (published here in Songs of Eretz It is part of an epic poem that I wrote in 2008 and subsequently revised.

The themes of this epic poem are comparable to those found throughout The Catcher in the Rye. The work is about teenage angst, identity, and alienation. Taken as a trio, these excerpts have a particular focus on trauma.  Our emotional responses to terrible events can be unpredictable and powerful. Oftentimes, we are stronger and wiser people once we overcome the damage.

Editor’s Note:  David has done marvelous work here, as though O’Hara and Wordsworth teamed up to compose a poem together.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

We Are Now

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that we have acquired the domain name is still our website's host, but gone are the cumbersome "blogspot" and the difficult to remember and perhaps confusing inversion "EretzSongs" that our site name formerly contained.  Our new and more logical name should help new readers find our site more easily and lend an additional air of legitimacy to our site as well.  Our old name,, will automatically link to our new one.

"The Rain" by Michelle Luo

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to debut the poetry of Michelle Luo with “The Rain”.  Luo is a sophomore at Baruch College in New York City and student of Frequent Contributor James Frederick William Rowe.

The Rain
Michelle Luo

Droplets ripple through the tides of the silent pools
Rain pours down the city lights
We look up from the pond to face the stormy night
to see the stars hidden behind the facades.
Though there’s no light that slips through the sorrow night of the crying clouds of grey
The sky roars the tremor hidden deep inside our souls as we buckle to our knees
We look up once more to the stars that are searching for their way to our eyes
But we draw them shut before the twilight shows.
The wetness soaks us to our shoulders as we turn to grieve
To grieve for our own sorrows
To look back upon our regrets as the night draws into darkness

The clouds draw back, and the mist clears
Yet we still lay there
on our knees with tears trickling down our cheeks
We look upon the night sky wondering what we did wrong
and we realize that the night is just an illusion.
All that has passed and all that has been done 
have been wiped away clean by the rain
All the regret is buried as our tears penetrate the soil
We rise to our feet and look up to see the moon
free of the stars’ gaze as we walk down the flooded ground. 
We turn around to repent
but see nothing behind us but the smiles of our old memories.

Poet's Notes:  I believe that everyone has been through rough times in life. We all look back and wish we could turn back time and do things differently. Sadly, time does not stop, and we risk drawing further and further into sorrow until the day we learn to let the past go. 

In this poem, I try to create a tone of despair in the first stanza. I want to paint with words the feelings that one may experience.

The second stanza is the turning point of the poem, and there is a shift in the tone. From the feeling of despair, the speaker moves in to a state of recovery, and the tone slowly becomes more light-hearted. I would not say that the speaker is fully happy, but he or she feels relieved. It would be the same feeling as someone taking a breath of fresh air and taking the first initiative to see the world as somewhere he or she belongs again. 

This poem was inspired by my own feelings when my grandma passed away two years ago. Sometimes pain expressed in poetry seems so beautiful. It also makes it easier for us to express our emotions without being too blunt. 

Editor’s Note:  The water motif is expertly executed.  I especially enjoy the way Luo uses different forms of water (rain, pools, tears, floods) to create subtly different metaphors.  The mood she creates here, at once somber and hopeful, results in a nice emotional release for the reader--a thing for which most poets strive but few achieve.  The narrative is pleasant and easy to follow. 

It is a rare honor and privilege to debut a poet, and I am particularly pleased to be the first to publish the work of this up-and-coming young versifier.  I shall follow her career with great interest. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Flag Day Poem by the Editor

Old Glory

I know not red states or blue states
But only white stars united on a blue field
Hold me whole and high and I inspire nations
Tear me apart and I am nothing but cloth

--Steven Wittenberg Gordon

FC Mannone Awarded the 2017 Jean Ritchie Fellowship

Songs of Eretz is pleased to announce that Frequent Contributor John C. Mannone was awarded the 2017 Jean Ritchie Fellowship at the recent Mountain Heritage Literary Festival. The fellowship, which comes with a $1,500 honorarium, is considered to be one of the most prestigious awards for Appalachian literature. It is offered by Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, Tennessee.  Congratulations, John!