Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"The Poet" by Gene Hodge, Frequent Contributor & Poet of the Week

The Poet
Gene Hodge

I watched him on the balcony of the Days Inn,
from my apartment window across the street.
Early it was—6 am.
Everyone sleeping
but noisy blackbirds
on rooftops and power lines.
Oblivious to passing traffic
he sat reading a book,
sipping coffee
and occasionally looking-up
to see if he was missing something.

Laying the book aside
he stood, holding the handrail . . .
scanning the street’s double yellow lines,
white parking spaces,
cracks in the sidewalk,
bouquets of morning glories
hanging from each lamppost, 
a runner with tattooed arms chasing the morning
and a grey Siamese cat with three white mittens
tip-toeing across a porch roof;
gutters hanging loosely
from antique houses
where peeling, painted bricks
checkerboard the exterior.
He thought about the dirt and cigarette butts
laying in the parking lot,
who was the last to turn the parking meter knobs?

I saw his lips move 
as he peered into the sky.
I thought . . . he’s praying!
Then with his head lowered,
smiled and returned himself
to reality—
disappearing through sliding doors
behind curtains of the day.

Poet’s Notes:  This poem is speaking not only to the reader but to the poet, who desires his readers to have a deeper understanding of what he feels as he is touched by his surroundings.  Every detail, every little observation matters.

Editor’s Note:  The reader is invited to ask, "Who is the poet here?"  Is it the speaker?  The subject of the poem?  Poets in general?  The author?  The reader wonders about whom the subject of the narrative might be.  Are two poets observing each other? 

One wonders how the speaker can know the thoughts of the subject of the poem.  It is easy enough to believe the observer can observe what the observed observes--but to know his thoughts, as is implied in final lines of the second stanza?  That implies the speaker and the subject of the poem may be one and the same.  Added to this mind-boggling fun is the beautiful imagery throughout the piece, as well as the notion of poetry as prayer.  How delightful! 

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Poem for Martin Luther King Day by the Editor

Donald Takes Liberties with Emma
Steven Wittenberg Gordon
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
--From Emma Lazarus’ famous poem displayed on the Statue of Liberty
Give me your desired, your dour,
Your coddled masses earning six not three,
The richest recluse of your north-most shore.
Send these, no Haitians, hempless-tost to me,
I give my stamp when gold comes through my door!

Poet’s/Editor’s Notes:  I did not believe Donald Trump was a racist until a few days ago when he actually met the definition--he advocated treating Haitians differently because they are Haitians, a fact which he does not deny.  Even Trump’s defense that he was advocating that the United States should have a merit-based rather that a quota-based system for immigration, does not convince me.  Our president is a racist, and it is safe to conclude that some of his policies will be guided by his racist ideology.

I may support some of Trump’s policies in the future but I will do so with much greater care.  That does not make me a racist, as I am sure Dr. King would have agreed.  Racists can still have good ideas.  An idea from a racist is NOT the same thing as a racist idea.  On the contrary, sometimes racists have excellent ideas, such as the Founding Fathers, racists all--out of the context of their era and by today’s definition.  Without those “racists” from our past, we would certainly have nothing to celebrate on this Martin Luther King Day. 

"Mundane Morning" by Gene Hodge, Frequent Contributor & Poet of the Week

Song of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to introduce Gene Hodge as a new Frequent Contributor and Poet of the Week.  Gene's biography may be found on the "Our Staff" page.

Mundane Morning
Gene Hodge

Old man Fred
sits on his front porch,
sucks on a cigarette
and watches the passing day.
Nothing to do . . . but 
wallow in declining health
and die,
he scratches his unshaven face . . .
then turns to watch the L&N Train
two blocks away.

Driving by his house
I wave and blow my horn.
His stare follows me
up the street and around a curve.

As I top the hill
he appears beside me—
in thoughts.
I tell him . . . he’ll always be my friend
and how special his presence—
sitting on the porch— 
fills the emptiness of this mundane morning.

Poet’s Notes:  Fred is a man around whom I once worked and came to know.  I remember him much younger, healthy with dark hair—always jubilant.  He lives close by where I often run.  It used to thrill him to drive-up quietly behind me—while I was running—and blow his horn, then ask if I needed a ride.  A neighbor told me that Fred’s health was failing and he is now past driving.  Occasionally, I see him sitting on his front porch and I am filled with love and compassion.

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the wistful mood Gene creates here as well as the way he plays with time.  The positive ending is poignant but uplifting.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Murmuration" Yoni Hammer-Kossoy, Frequent Contributor & Poet of the Week

Yoni Hammer-Kossoy

It's there in the swirl of starlings
when day gives up its secrets at sundown
and it's there as brake-lights follow
brake-lights down a hill around a bend
give or take a lane no prior consent
or future commitment, 
there saying kaddish, I listen for cues
from strangers, can somehow feel them
as we step together
then apart, even there onscreen 
in a pixelated follow the leader of favorites, 
it must be how we look to God
as we blunder about, that swoop and roll 
of plans and scams, war and peace, 
dashes or dots on an over-folded map, 
it's anywhere except alone, cannot happen 
beyond an empty glass despair, 
but starts in silence as the barest dance 
and builds like static before a kiss
the way a field of yellow wildflowers
almost holds the world.

Poet’s Notes:  I fell in love with the sound of the word “murmuration” even before I knew that it refers to a flock of starlings flying together in huge and amazing patterns. But how do these birds know how to do that? Or for that matter, how do people – friends, loved ones, or even complete strangers – know how to come together to form long-lasting or fleeting communities of encounter and experience? 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Frequent Flyers" by Yoni Hammer-Kossoy, Frequent Contributor & Poet of the Week

Frequent Flyers
Yoni Hammer-Kossoy

Sleep with its white noised embrace
is a trans-Atlantic flight
piloted by the steady hand
of a golden voiced captain
that takes off on time
and arrives seven hours later
with little fuss or fanfare
just a have a nice day nod and smile
from the bird-like crew
as I leave the plane.

After all these years
I like that you and I lying side by side
get the occasional upgrade
to business class, maybe share
a premium movie package
on the long haul.

But for all its perks
flying isn't what it once was –
when I can't sleep
it feels like gravity failed
or the pilot decided
to try parabolic loops on a whim
instead of the usual flight plan.
And some mornings
it’s almost accidental
that we manage to meet
in the same sun-slanted arrivals hall
rolling day-bags in tow.

Poet’s Notes:  I’ve always been pretty good at sleeping, although I also know plenty of people, including my wife, who don’t have it so easy. And on those occasions when I can’t sleep, apart from my wife’s shock (What’s the matter? Are you ok?) I’m always struck by how wrong the world feels the next day, as if something fundamental, like gravity, has suddenly come undone in the world. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"In Translation" by Yoni Hammer-Kossoy, Frequent Contributor & Poet of the Week

In Translation
Yoni Hammer-Kossoy

I say window and you see curtain
or think glassy sigh of sunlight.
It’s like crossing a rope bridge
while it falls plank after plank into the mist
and being left to dangle
between worlds
between languages
by a frayed end of hemp.

You say page and beach don’t rhyme, 
but I say their Hebrew echoes do. 
Oh this doubled life, blank and rewritten
one line at a time. Nothing’s so naked
as what comes before words, 
so beautifully ruined as what’s after.

Poet’s Notes:  I experience writing as a multi-layered, if almost futile act of translation: first to describe something wordless in words for myself, and then, to try and convey this image, feeling, etc. to another person. But words can be tricky, slippery, and worst of all, wrong. Add to this the challenge of negotiating different languages that people think and speak and it’s a wonder anyone ever understands another. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"To a Virgule" by Yoni Hammer-Kossoy, Frequent Contributor & Poet of the Week

To a Virgule
Yoni Hammer-Kossoy

Some people say
you're just a scribal leftover
with an overblown name,
an ambiguous slash
on the keyboard's margins
prone to either/or poses.
A scratch comma to the core,
I've never heard you shout
in full-throated exclamation, 
or seen you enjoy the satisfaction 
of a full stop. You are singularly
awkward, but to dismiss you 
with a sneer feels
like the graver crime.
Is that not a flock of virgules
too distant to know 
if their wingbeats
are syncopated or synchronized?
Is there anything more beautiful 
than a plum tree's blooming virgules 
after a stormy night?

Poet’s Notes:  This poem started out as something of a mock writing prompt: what would it be like to write about a punctuation mark? Apart from a lot of interesting background research about typography, it grew into a meditation on the beauty of ambiguity, which is certainly not where I thought I was going when I started.

Monday, January 8, 2018

"How to Throw a Pot" by Yoni Hammer-Kossoy, Frequent Contributor & Poet of the Week

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to formally introduce a new Frequent Contributor to the readership, Yoni Hammer-Kossoy, whose poetry will be featured this week.  Yoni's biography may be found on the "Our Staff" page. 

How to Throw a Pot
Yoni Hammer-Kossoy

The wheel sings between your knees
at two hundred forty spins a minute 
which means your off-center throws 
will be useless from the start.
Take solace as these almost pots 
gallop in your hands
that after wiring away another flop 
you can easily try again.
Weeks later, when your least spectacular failure 
is finally glazed and fired
be sure to spare a smile 
for what may never stand straight
but at long last holds water
and glints as it catches the morning sun.

Poet’s Notes:  One summer a long time ago, in what feels like a galaxy far, far away, I took a ceramics class. And was certifiably terrible at it. But that didn’t stop me from trying and trying some more, which I suppose is how any creative process works, in that it almost never ends up with something perfect, but with any luck leads to all sorts of beautiful discoveries along the way.

Editor’s Note:  I like this one, particularly as both of my children are ceramic artists and I, like Yoni, am a ceramic artist wannabe.  The act of creating through ceramics, literally molding bits of the earth, is an interesting and thought-provoking metaphor for creation and creating in general. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

"On Handel’s Messiah" by John C. Mannone

On Handel’s Messiah
John C. Mannone
            After Isaiah 9:6

He wept. He said he saw the face
of God as he wrote his melodies

to mimic the literal meanings, lyrics
from the scriptures themselves:

appellations of the triune godhead
attributed to the Savior’s name!

No wonder the tears of Handel
as he sang to his Messiah,

my Messiah, I sing the same libretto,
my tears mixing with his.

Poet’s Notes: Almost every time I hear Handel’s Messiah, I am drawn to tears. I suppose this poem was inevitable. 

Editor's Note:  This will be the last poem in our "Twelve Days of Christmas" series.  I hope the series helped to bring a good portion of the spirit of Christmas into the New Year.  Songs of Eretz will begin formally introducing our new Frequent Contributors with Poets of the Week features beginning next week.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

"Places Touched by Christmas Graces" by Sierra July

Places Touched by Christmas Graces
Sierra July

Every ornament made her think of places
Imagined and visited made profound
All parts of land touched by Christmas's graces

Gold: all things the sun licked and tanned
Silver: like metal from the ground
Red: canyon dirt upon her hand
Blue: where abundant life near water is found

More radiant colors than she could name
Made her heart feel just the same

Poet's Notes: This is a poem inspired by the simple act of Christmas decorating. A lot of ornaments that go on the family tree have their meanings and memories. This poem is a story of non-specific memories evoked by the subject of places around the Earth represented by colors where people such as she may be hanging their ornaments. It's meant to capture the unity and joy for which the holidays are known. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

"Christmas Eve in the Hospital" by Howard Stein, Frequent Contributor

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present a holiday-related sneak peek by one of our new Frequent Contributors, Howard Stein.  Howard will be formally introduced to the readership in his new role with a Poet of the Week feature in the first weeks of this year.  His biography may be found on the "Our Staff" page.

Christmas Eve in the Hospital
Howard Stein

Christmas Eve, sometime after midnight,
A young Mexican woman and her baby boy
Enter the hospital ED.  A pediatric intern
Is on duty, her turn to work the ED.
She imagines home, her husband,
Their baby, their tree. 

She examines the sick baby boy,
Starts preparing paperwork
To admit him to the hospital.
Her supervising physician
Interrupts her sharply:
“We’re on divert, we’re full,
No room tonight – send her
To another hospital.”
“How can we do that!” 
The intern protests in horror,
But to no avail.  All she can do is to
Tell the mother in halting Spanish,
“We’re sorry, but you’ll have to try
The hospitals across town.
I’ll call to see if there’s room.”

Ten years later, another Christmas Eve,
This time she is surrounded by family.
Images of that long-ago Christmas Eve
Percolate up, as if it were
Happening again today,
Unfinished with her.
It is like this every year.

Poet's Notes:  For around forty-five years, I was a medical and psychoanalytic anthropologist who worked in healthcare organizations as a medical educator.  I worked with many trainees and medical professionals at many levels and learned countless stories from their experiences. I often could use these stories as teaching moments and sometimes as occasions for thinking of creative solutions to situations in which the trainees found themselves. The story in this poem actually happened, and I amplified it somewhat with my imagination. 

In the poem, the pediatric intern was confronted not only by a situation of powerlessness but of a current situation that uncannily resembled the Christmas Story. The doctor was horrified that there was nothing she could do to find a way to get the baby boy admitted to the hospital. Rather, she had to comb the city to see whether any other hospital had room to take this child in.  The two stories were intertwined. This juncture of a present medical situation with a story of mythic proportions inspired this poem.  It portended tragedy on simultaneously a human and cosmic scale. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

"Snow Cone, Hold the Cone" by Sierra July

Snow Cone, Hold the Cone
Sierra July

Snow blessed the country of Norm with flavor once a year
For a single week, they didn't have to deal with bland
People, young and old, ran from home, mouths open to catch
Flakes that would melt, explode on their tongues so they could taste
Chocolate, vanilla, whatever the clouds bestowed

Poet's Notes:  This is a little fantasy piece inspired by winter weather and ice cream. After ice cream, I thought of snow cones, which I haven't eaten in forever, and came up with the title. Really, everything came about by simply imagining flavors falling from the sky in snowflake form, the only flavors the people in this fictional land get to taste all year, bringing a stronger desire than usual for the first snow. As long as they can be caught fresh, I think it would be amazing if nature could invent such a thing, without losing all other flavors of life, of course.

Editor’s Note:  From a literal standpoint, this one reminds me collecting freshly fallen snow and pouring maple syrup on it and eating it--a rare treat!  The poem also reads as a larger metaphor for those who work in mind-numbing and/or backbreaking jobs and enjoy only a short period of paid time off each year (like my father for most of his life).

Monday, January 1, 2018

"An Indian Christmas" by Aparna Sanyal, Frequent Contributor

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present this “sneak peek” seasonal poem, “An Indian Christmas,” by one of our new Frequent Contributors, Aparna Sanyal.  Aparna will be formally introduced to the readership in the first weeks of this year as a Poet of the Week.  Her biography may be found on the “Our Staff” page.

An Indian Christmas
Aparna Sanyal 

Christmas isn’t easy to find in India
If giant trees and tinsel are
your kaleidoscope. 
If caroling elves and reindeer define 
your jolly time, then, this joyous 
sultry Yuletide, will be difficult for you 
to mine. 
It’s in the corners, but glowing. It radiates
from handcarts of chintzy red bubble-drop tree decor 
that shines with a
special ‘Made in India’ smile. 
It’s there in tiny homes lit by bare bulbs 
and mossy stained walls, that make 
trays of nutmeg- rose cookies, 
invite a reed-thin Santa Claus in to frolic 
and dance, as carolers show entirely 
too much enthusiasm with the 
neighbourhood drum kit. 
It’s in the midnight Mass, with lines of 
red satin and velvet-heeled giggly
maidens excited for their first sip 
of wine. 
It’s in that corner shop, that through the year, sells you 
your bread and milk,
and is now not festooned, no, 
but shyly accepting, accommodating 
of a wreath made of plastic holly and
found twigs.
That shop gives you 50p off on your pint of cream 
for the ‘Big Day’. 
And in the evening, polyester-bright, 
tight-suited, that shop owner comes to visit, with 
fresh-faced children and bright saree clad
wife, powder-faced and grinning,
starched handkerchiefs wiping away
moisture from the billion-greasy wind
on their faces. 
They sit with you, meet and greet, 
they wish you well, for a festival they 
see only on TV and in your keen eyes.
They eat the rose and nutmeg cookies
and truly, they smile.
They love you for you, for they 
are like you, 
and they have seen Christmas 
on the inside too. 

Poet’s Notes: I grew up in a mixed household with a Hindu dad and Christian mum. There are so many upsides to this! In India, Hindu festivals like Diwali are a big deal; the others like Christmas are a bit more sedate. I get to celebrate everything! So often, I’ve been considered ‘different’ because of this mixed parentage. It has been such a blessing!  It has given me a chance to see so much more love from people of different castes and creeds, people who open their hearts to me, and to other minorities in India. They have taught me the true meaning of Christmas and giving without reservation.

Editor’s Note:  What a lovely and interesting poem!  I enjoy the way it flows and sings while at the same time it educations.  I also enjoy the way it stimulates all of the senses, particularly taste.  I am definitely left wondering what a rose and nutmeg cookie might taste like.

I also find it interesting that Aparna’s “mixed” upbringing was such a positive experience for her--a tribute to the world’s largest democracy.  My experience being raised by a Jewish father and Catholic mother in the supposedly enlightened American democratic republic was mostly negative.