Monday, June 18, 2018

"Mortality" by Aparna Sanyal

Aparna Sanyal 
At 84, I'll go.
Mortality’s philter and potions
would've lost their efficacy, I imagine
upon that twilit hour. 
Easier to fall swift and hard
than trundle down
wheelchair bound. 
For a few seconds to fly
like I have in many dreams-- 
higher ever higher
on a swing untethered from reality
--this would be a sudden, 
immaculate joy.
--Bathed in anti-crepuscular rays;
their convergence an illusion 
as much as life's purpose is--
Perhaps linear windfall will pull
the tears from me so swift, 
my eyes won't recognize, 
my face won't know
that I have cried. 
At 84, I'll go.
There is a certain neatness, 
package-bound beauty-- 
to write my epitaph exactly the way
I want, unyielding of control, even in 
that absolute finality. 
Perhaps the moue of surprise 
overtaking my mouth
will disgorge leaden care-boulders,
of a lifetime spent scrabbling for tiny joys
and relief; 
brandished mediocrity like a shield 
and beliefs like a spear--
at 84, I'll go.
Yes, I think I know.

Poet's Notes:  Old age scares me sometimes. Being at the halfway mark (I turned forty in 2017), I think about mortality sometimes (more than I did when I was twenty, for sure!). And I think, “wouldn't it be so much more simple, so beautiful, almost perfect, to go at a time and in a way of one's own choosing?” 

Editor’s Note:  Ah, the longing for the nearly impossible--a death with dignity if not with glory.  Aparna captures this natural human yearning perfectly with her beautiful poem, accentuated by assonances, consonances, and gentle rhymes throughout the piece.  Her judicious repetition of "at 84, I'll go" makes a nice refrain, and her choice to end in a rhyming couplet makes a strong finish for a powerful poem. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

FC Stein Publishes Poetry Collection

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that Frequent Contributor Howard Stein has just published a new book of poetry, Centre and Circumference (MindMend Publishing, New York). It contains about 100 poems together with artwork by Sandra Indig.  The book is available in perfect paperback from for $24.99

Comments Policy Change

Dear Friends of Eretz,

Songs of Eretz has begun accepting anonymous comments and comments without full attribution--a major change in policy.  Since part of the mission of Songs of Eretz is to promote its poets and their poetry, all comments will be screened, and only positive comments will be published.


Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD

Friday, June 15, 2018

"The mockingbird sings" by Lauren McBride

"Mocking Bird" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
The mockingbird sings; and, having sung,
Falls silent: from each note its fullness wrung.
Not for all my soft whistling urging more                 
Will it repeat the melody already far-flung. 
--By Lauren McBride after Omar Khayyam's “The Moving Finger”

Poet’s Notes:  Who hasn't whistled a birdcall to coax an answer back? I mention mockingbirds in my poem because, where I live, they fill the spring air with their songs, trying to attract a mate. The ritual that follows is an intricate, lengthy and almost comedic mating dance worth its own poem.

Editor’s Note:  Khayyam’s poem may be found here

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Urban Horizon" by James Frederick William Rowe

Urban Horizon
"Hidden Cityscape" Watercolor & Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
James Frederick William Rowe

I almost thought it a forest
So well was the city obscured behind
The layered landscape
Of thick crowns of trees 
Lush with recent rain
Green beneath a sky
Grey but for a blush of peach
That did but slightly heat the cool colour
And colder air
Of the darkened clouds adrift so languid
In a breeze barely perceptible
Yet enough to blow their wispy sails
Across the dawn sky

Poet’s Notes:  I found this poem stuck in my general file of miscellaneous notes, having forgotten to place it in my poetry notes folder. I had written this sometime in the spring of 2017, and though I still have a vivid sense memory of the scene that inspired it, I cannot tell exactly when it happened. 

Nevertheless, after being inspired by the immediate beauty of the scene from my apartment window—and trust me, my view isn't enough to warrant much inspiration usually—I immediately wrote down this poem which required just a few tweaks much later on in order to reach its final form.

Given the simplicity of the structure and content, I haven't much to say about it from an aesthetic standpoint. It captures a moment of beauty on a morning where the light fog and mist of a rainy dawn served to isolate the trees that lined the horizon from the city that usually intrudes behind them. In that moment, Brooklyn lost Manhattan, and the trees became a forest beneath the pale sky. The poem can speak for itself beyond this.

Editor’s Note:  I like this one, quite in the Imagist style, and have had a similar experience myself in Kansas, mistaking the roofs of distant houses for rolling hills and mountains.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"after the freeze" by Lauren McBride

after the freeze
a stump sculpture
where graceful palms
once shaded
the garden

--Lauren McBride

Poet's Notes:  Our last bad freeze in Houston was in 2010. That time all our non-cold-hardy palm trees survived. However, recently we were not so lucky.  Record low temperatures wreaked havoc across the south in January 2018. Among the victims, non-cold-hardy palm trees such as the popular and graceful Queen Palms.  After my husband had to chainsaw down a lifeless cluster of palm trees, I tried to finds words to beautify their remnants, which led to this poem.  

The freeze affected many states across the south. I cannot imagine the money it is costing city after city to remove or replace the trees that died. In my area, most are still standing, silent reminders of the freeze.  And to my great surprise, our local garden stores are still selling non-cold-hardy palm trees right alongside the more cold-tolerant ones. So the problem will repeat, and the cost will multiply. My tiny poem is trying to address a big problem.

Editor’s Note:  A poem by Lauren with a happier ending, “Winter Weary Palm Trees”, which was inspired by an earlier bad freeze in Houston, may be found here

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"Gone" by Mary Soon Lee

Mary Soon Lee

The words weren't at the hospital,
all those long days Gary sat
by his dad's bed, listening.
He just wanted a couple of sentences--
the clock's hands wound back
for one more joke about the Pirates
throwing a ball game.
he cleaned out his dad's house:
pillows steeped in tobacco;
thirty-year-old jackets
almost in fashion again;
fishing rods lined up like soldiers;
boxes of intricate handmade baits;
a house full of things
saying their last words.

Poet's Notes:  This poem is about a fictional character but draws, inevitably, on my own experience of my parents dying. The details are different--no tobacco, no fishing rods--but the emotions are universal. Reading an article entitled “A Million Words” by Dave Barry, about his own father dying, triggered the poem. It was a grief-stricken piece in a book of humorous articles, and it was heart wrenching.

Monday, June 11, 2018

""Jesus Wept"” by Kaitlyn Vaughn

“Jesus Wept”
Kaitlyn Vaughn

The moment when a certain line or sentence from a book wrenches your heart with a certain squeeze like that of a tiny fist that’s wrapped completely around it

That sentence or phrase stops your reading and freezes you in place because you think to yourself about how true and perfect that phrase or sentence is to you.

It seems to resonate with your soul because you feel an electric surge that pulses throughout your being, and your brain’s hard-drive seems to breathe and chatter because it recognizes this phrase or sentence

Maybe because it reminds you of a memory from childhood, or of a person whom you’ve loved, or a pet, or even a place, or something that stood out to you once.

This phrase may bring you a solemn truth or maybe it brings you a solid understanding of something, for this phrase somehow clicks with your thoughts, with your being, and ultimately makes you feel.

The moment when one leans back from reading, listening, or writing, and pauses to either reread this unique phrase or copy it down for tomorrow’s inspiration because it was so ridiculously intense that it’s almost next to impossible to describe to another person

Avid readers and writers experience this euphoric phenomenon time and again, whenever they are reading, listening to a piece of this puzzle we call language, or even writing it out themselves.

Poet’s Notes:  I wrote this spur of the moment after I had read the line “Jesus wept” from a book that I was reading. Every now and again, I’ll hear a certain phrase or read something that really hits home. Sometimes it’ll make me cry or make me smile. It has to be the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s bizarre to me how seemingly insignificant words can move people in such a way that can inspire such powerful emotions.

Friday, June 8, 2018

"Solo Run" by Alessio Zanelli

Solo Run

Alone in the fog,
amid the faded countryside.

No signs of movement
a furlong all around.

Unbroken silence,
then caws of distant crows.

--Alessio Zanelli

Poet’s Notes: Here’s a short poem, one of the kind I like best, inspired by running. It’s a good example of what I call a “Zen” poem--a plain, minimalist, instinctive description of what’s going on around me, of reality while it just happens, and how it is perceived by the senses. No thoughts, considerations, speculations. No metaphors or any other figures of speech. Nothing of the sort, just what the eye sees, the ears hear, and the skin feels. Both the mind and the heart must be banned from such poems.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

"Possession" by James Frederick William Rowe


It was Diotima who first declared
Long ago this truth:
Remember that love is not a god
It is a demon
And so it must possess

-- James Frederick William Rowe

Poet’s Notes:  In Plato's Symposium, Diotima, the Pythia, teaches Socrates about the nature of love. Her main belief is that Eros (personified love) cannot be a deity. Rather, he is a d(a)emon, a demigod half-way between the perfect deities and mankind. He cannot be a deity, because the deities, by being perfect, can want for nothing; but love is always something which one lacks. Therefore, love "is a demon / and so it must possess". The play on words here is an equivocation between (eu)daemon, a positive spiritual entity, and the modern demon known for possessing its victims, with possession being used also in a double sense.

This poem was more or less created in a minute's inspiration at home. Originally, it consisted only of the last three verses; but when it came time to prepare it for publication, I thought to add a little clarifying contextual note of two verses to indicate the reference to Diotima.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"For Eternity Wed" by Aparna Sanyal

For Eternity Wed
Aparna Sanyal

Even graveyards have pure white lilies, intoxicating. 
Adorned in death--resplendent, commiserating-- 
a boutonnière on the tuxedo 
of dusty parchment skin, seep complexioned. 
It covers rattle-dry bones,  
fitted tightly by a tailor-tomb. 
Mulch-wet earth, is the loafer suede--  
creeping up to feet-digits nibbled 
by bridesmaid rats and kin arrayed.
Around, within, without, they roam--
eyehole, nostril, ribcage home. 
These creatures; that live beneath are
sly comers to this untidy feast.
The beetles at the ceremony, minister play,
as earth bride lays claim to groom decay. 
On Golgotha skull, is placed a wreath of thorns,
a kiss divine from the loam is shorn.

The living essence dissipates
into thin shreds of vapour laced 
with memory shrapnel
and fragment plays-- 
of days gone by 
in sliding soft, gentle inaudible sighs.
It watches the beautiful disarray wrought
by muscle, sinew, brain, once taut. 
Finds a gladdened, darkened joy and laughter-- 
that in goings’ butchery, it has given sustaining slaughter
to creatures deemed of nights’ darkness fey.
As dust to dust, soil to soil, it now lays. 
it has of itself, these creatures fed--
and is for eternity, to them wed. 

Poet’s Notes: I wrote this poem on a day when I was thinking about my grandfather’s burial--how he was arrayed in his best suit as if he were headed to church for Sunday service or for a wedding. The obvious questions about mortality and the afterlife followed. Questions I face often, given my upbringing--a mix of Hindu and Protestant but largely scientific beliefs.

Editor’s Note:  This one reminds me of some of the darker poems of Sylvia Plath and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"Old-fashioned" by Lauren McBride


Storied keys feel left for dead.
Typewriter waits for fingertip tread--
mutely gathering dust instead.

--Lauren McBride

Poet's Notes: I applaud any novelist who has turned out a story on a typewriter without the benefit of cut and paste, find and replace, delete and spell check, to name a few of the functions a computer offers to a writer's advantage.

Editor’s Note:  Taken literally, the poem is a poignant little story about a personified typewriter--cute, but nothing special or really worth publishing.  However, taken metaphorically, the typewriter becomes a symbol for all the things and people left behind by the relentless advance of technology.  I find myself deeply moved by this poem.

Monday, June 4, 2018

"Unwritten Forgiveness" John C. Mannone

Unwritten Forgiveness
John C. Mannone

If only there could be a way
to make those words disappear,
unwrite them from your ears before
they find their way to your heart,
if only I could unpierce the flesh
of your trust caused by the 2-pronged
pitchfork vee in the word forgiveness,
the stuck-in-the-throat gutteral gee
that’s there when I try to say I’m sorry,
and the sharp chop of apology,
that also cuts into my own heart,
then maybe those ineffective pleas
for forgiveness, with their failed
balm, and their stinging antiseptic,
wouldn’t have to hurt us both so much.

Poet’s Notes: In this poem, I work with the sound of words as a play on how our words may sound to our spouse/significant other.

Editor’s Note:  Ah, a lament that all lovers should understand.

Friday, June 1, 2018

"Renunciation" by Mary Soon Lee

Mary Soon Lee

"Sword" Watercolor & Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
​No one but sparrows
to see the young girl
pull the sword from the rock,
the iron grip sure in her hand
as if she were trained to it.

No one but sparrows
to hear the blade whisper,
promising glory, a throne,
that armored warriors
would fall to her in battle.

No one but sparrows
to witness her temptation,
that momentary hesitation
before she set the sword
back in the stone.

Poet's Notes:  I often write a group of poems around a common theme, and, late last year, I wrote several Arthurian poems. I wrote poems about Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Arthur's soldiers, even Arthur's dog. Then I strayed further from the familiar legends, wondering what might have happened if someone else had pulled the sword from the stone.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"Plenty" by Yoni Hammer-Kossoy

"Apricots" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Yoni Hammer-Kossoy

Despite tight-fisted rains
and an early bloom
when all but the hardiest
or most foolish bees
were tucked deep
in winter slumber,
the backyard apricot tree
was crammed full of fruit
come the middle of May
like a clown filling the air
with a cascade of balls
mocking gravity
and the laws of motion.

For a few panicked weeks
it was impossible to keep up
with the ripening flood:
here and there sat perfect
golden orbs while most
grew cracked and bruised,
ugly ducklings only a parent
could love, but oh so sweet,
each a captured rub of sun.

There was never enough
for this insistent harvest:
not enough buckets
or jam jars, never enough
time to trim and wash,
never enough recipes for cakes
or crumbles, salads, tarts
or pies and then it was a relief
to simply give the fruit away
to anyone else with a basket.

Until one warm windy night
when the highest stragglers
came down like a final
meteor shower. I could hear them
from the bedroom window
crash between branches
before landing with a dull thud.

Poet's Notes:  There is, as one might imagine, an apricot tree in my backyard. When that tree was just a few years older than a gangly sapling, my wife asked a gardener if there was any reason to be concerned that it was barely growing any fruit. How many fruit, he asked. Just four or five, she answered. Four or five? That’s wonderful, he said. Which I guess was his gentle way of saying don’t worry, good things take time. The memory of him saying this always puts a wide smile on my face now, especially when dealing with hundreds of apricots ripening over a few very hectic weeks.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"The Flying Goats of Mexico" by Ross Balcom

The Flying Goats of Mexico

"Praise the Goat" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
the flying goats
of Mexico

bearded marvels

the brujo's air force
his familiars

the flying goats
of Mexico

see their shadows
on the ground

fool, look up
in wonder

the flying goats
eat anything:

tin cans, peyote,

to the moon they fly
at night

they were there
before NASA

and they have
more fun (moondust

makes them laugh
and sneeze)

the Devil dances

on the moon

--Ross Balcom

Poet's Notes: Mexico is a land of magic and marvels. The flying goats are real. Look up in wonder.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

"The Picture" by Alessio Zanelli

"Photo" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
The Picture
Alessio Zanelli

On the sly, the hand into the drawer.
The one that should have never been pulled out.
Of a sudden, from under a dusty sheaf
of dated sepia postcards, the picture.
The one that should have never been retrieved.
A shiver down the spine,
a bitter smile, as twisted as fleeting,
for an instant the impulse to tear it,
as if the two gloating looks could be killed
by ripping to shreds the paper bearing them.
Afterwards long minutes,
the sunlight slowly fading in the room,
staring at those sneering faces,
supposed to speak
before being wrapped in darkness.
Maybe expecting both to say
what was wished to be heard
rather than the truth.

Poet’s Notes:  Deliberate actions (including those prompted by curiosity or suspicion) always have consequences; so do involuntary or instinctive ones, and so do accidents. Some of them have the undesired power to unearth events long buried and best left forgotten or undiscovered.

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the way Alessio leaves what is depicted in the picture to the imagination of the reader.

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Memorial Day Poem by the Editor-in-Chief

D-Day Lessons Learned

"D-Day" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
When the gate of the amphibious craft doth fall
Go over the sides not through the opening at all
Where dost thou think they have been training
Their guns all this time in all this waiting?

Toilet paper is but a target white and plain
Hold it not over thy head lest bullets rain
Upon thee. For thus thou wilt be slain
And never wipe thy arse again.

Through the concussion of the din
And muffled horror of thy war within
Captain thou must take command
Should it fall to thee upon the sand.

If shot in thy head let thy helmet take it
Leave it there--do not forsake it!
Take it off and friend thou wilt not make it
Back to see thy home again.

--Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD
  Former USAF Flight Surgeon

Poet’s Notes:  The D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan is required viewing in officer training school.  It is considered by the military to be the most realistic depiction of the horrors faced by an invading force ever made.  It may be viewed here (WARNING--the content is graphically violent and not for the faint of heart)

I watched it for the first time in an auditorium filled with newly minted airmen who were, as was I, sporting freshly shaven heads, still not comfortable in our uniforms.  I held back the urge to vomit as I watched the depiction of another group of men sporting freshly shaven heads, many still not comfortable in their uniforms, charging headlong into a nightmare, the only cover their overwhelming numbers--each other.  

I did my best to absorb the lessons I needed to learn from the film.  Four of those lessons are described in my poem, which I dedicate to my fallen brothers and sisters in arms on this Memorial Day.  May their memory be a blessing.

Friday, May 25, 2018

"Her Element" by Kaitlyn Vaughn

Her Element
Kaitlyn Vaughn
"Swing" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon

She drapes herself in a curtain of shame
Drinking constantly ‘til the pain recedes.
Succumbing to a black sleep; all the same
Willing the torment to somehow reprieve.
Tempted by many suitors; she feels lov’d.
Fearing morning light; her life is a mess
She wishes to reach some peace, like a dove.
To the sun’s rays, she is forced to confess
At nighttime she is in her element.
Gliding amongst the pressed bodies; dancing.
Sometimes she wonders where her old self went
Chatting with future lovers; romancing.
Longing to be saved, her life she grips tight
She always holds on for the long nights.

Poet’s Notes:  Offbeat sonnets are my favorite types of poetry to write aside from lengthy narrative ones. This particular sonnet is a play on Sia’s “Chandelier”. I’ve always admired her song because it’s bold and has a disheartening beauty about it. The dancer in her music video also rocks. The song portrays a woman who lives an exciting life at night, but when she gets home she can’t stand herself or reality. It’s as if parties and dating are the only things that can save people such as she, because they can’t seem to stand alone. I’ve seen many people of this generation struggle with this same issue, and it’s saddening.

Editor’s Note:  A song inspired by a song,, Kaitlyn brings ekphrasis to a whole new level.