Friday, March 30, 2018

A Poem for Passover by the Editor

Fast of the Firstborn
Shmuel ben Moshe HaLevi

Difficulty concentrating 
(and of course) 

These are the symptoms of the brief 
deliberate shunning of nourishment
I endure each year at this time.

Yes, but a reminder 
I still live.

Much less unpleasant 
than what happened 
to the firstborn males of the Egyptians 
all those millennia past 
on that night 
my great-many-times-over-grandfather 
was spared the cold sword of 
The Angel of Death.

The blood of the lamb 
streaked across the lintel 
of my ancestor’s slave shack 
informed Death to pass over 
its frightened occupants 
cowering and clutching at their ears 
to drown out the screams of horror 
emanating from the abodes of the Egyptians. 

From that moment on 
every firstborn male 
in every generation 
would belong to God 
and must be redeemed 
with blood or sacrifice 
every anniversary 
of that awful event. 

Tonight I will spill out a little of my wine 
in memory of those who were slaughtered 
enemies though they may have been
and invite all who are hungry
to join me in celebration of the Passover.

After a day without food
the bitter herbs will taste sweet.


Tomorrow, March 31, at midnight CST, voting for the 2018 Readers Choice Award Contest will close.  Don’t miss your chance!  In case you are new to Songs of Eretz or tuning in late, information about the contest may be found here

As of today, "Autismville" by Melinda Coppola has a commanding lead, and Coppola's "7 a. m." is solidly in second place.  Tied for a distant third are "Deceptive Cadence" by Carol Kner and "The Great Escape" by Yoni Hammer-Kossoy.  "When I Am Old" by Tim Amsden is in fifth place, while "Passing On" by Carol Kner and "The Poet Says This Is How You Should See" by Melinda Coppola are in sixth and seventh (last) place respectively.

Vote for your favorite poem by sending an email to

"Morgan le Fay Haunts Evergreen Park" by Sylvia Cavanaugh

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Morgan le Fay Haunts Evergreen Park” by Sylvia Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh has an M.S. in Urban Planning from the University of Wisconsin, teaches high school African and Asian cultural studies, and advises break-dancers and poets. She and her students are actively involved in the Sheboygan chapter of 100,000 Poets for Change.

Cavanaugh’s poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies.  She is a contributing editor for Verse-Virtual: An Online Community Journal of Poetry.  Finishing Lines Press published her chapbook, “Staring Through My Eyes,” and Kelsay Books will publish her second chapbook, “Angular Embrace,” in April. You can find more of Sylvia’s poetry at  Cavanaugh originally hails from Pennsylvania.

Morgan le Fay Haunts Evergreen Park
Sylvia Cavanaugh

"Oblivious" Ink and Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Streaks of pale sand
salt the memory
nested in horizons 
of dark organic soil

12,000 years and counting
these sloping swells might be old dunes
or fossilized waves
swollen to the crest

they used to say she dwelt
to the west
across the ocean

could our glacier
have been her crystal
carved palace

German immigrants 
with 1848 ideals
may have sensed this
from their own
nearly forgotten folklore 
even before they stepped foot
in Sheboygan

today Georgia and I pretend
to read omens 
in the winding word
of an unnamed stream
fallen sticks create eddies
we seek to be edified as rushing
water spills secrets
into the hollow behind stones
we listen closely
but can’t yet decipher 

the sweetwater sea 
has long since retreated
from this upland park
I need to find a wild apple tree
it may be all that’s left 
of sorcery

Poet’s Notes:  It seems that sometimes there is not enough magic. Although our ancestors lived and breathed it, we are left somewhat adrift in the modern world of technology. I feel as though encounters with nature may be the closest we can come to magic these days if we remain open to its many spells.

Editor’s Note:  This poem has many good moments.  I particularly like the concept of the Wisconsin Glacier as the palace of an evil queen.  The charming side narrative of the speaker and her friend or child or niece Georgia is, well, charming.  The idea that our world once contained magic and that now the magic is gone (and perhaps replaced by technology as implied here) creates a sad longing in the reader.  The pun on "eddies" is nicely done, too. 

Artist's Note: I recently had the opportunity to try an Oculus Rift, and the experience was magical. However, we should all do our best not to forget the magic of nature.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

"Condolences Post Mortem" by Howard Stein

Condolences Post Mortem 
Howard Stein  
"Extinguish" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon

Dad died at 94, after a fall, 
A broken pelvis, and a short illness.
Job's advisors streamed by
The grieving family--
"He looks so good in the open casket";
"He lived to a ripe old age";
"Be grateful you had him so long";
"He lived a full life right to the end";
"He's in a better place now";
"He's no longer suffering."
Such well-intentioned reassurances
Did not reassure us--
Though they might have reassured
The ones who were speaking.
I was a screen for their platitudes.
We were not greedy with Dad's life;
It's just that there is never enough time.
Dying is still living, alive,
Here in this place.
Death is the slamming of a heavy door
In the face. Then you hear
The lock close behind the door.
There is no undoing that cavernous crash.
I found myself comforting Job's comforters
That their words were adequate to the task.
I could not bring myself to tell them
They had only made the void more terrible.

Poet's Notes:  This poem is an amalgam of personal experiences and of several decades of experiences with physicians, patients, and families as I worked as a medical educator in university healthcare settings. The poem is about how friends, co-workers, fellow members of houses of worship and other settings often speak with family members of a recently deceased person.

For instance, at a funeral home visitation, at the funeral, or at the cemetery, people with the best of intentions will offer up-beat clichés in an effort to lessen the depth of grief for the family--if not also for themselves. Instead of "standing in the other person's shoes," they will inadvertently impose their awkwardness and denial on the family. The result for the survivors is often feeling worse rather than comforted. As I wrote the poem, I thought of the biblical book of Job and of parallels between my own experiences and Job's.

Editor’s Note:  How awful and difficult must it be for Howard and his loved ones to accept the death of Howard’s father no matter his age, after a fall that presumably might have been prevented.  Pointless, ignoble, ironic, and depressing are words that come to mind.  A bitter loss.  Such a bitter loss.

Howard’s poem captures a universal sentiment about how people sometimes cope with death, and I published it for that reason.  Howard appears silent on the offering of solutions to the problems of presenting the bereaved with platitudes.  However, I read his silence on that subject as the between-the-lines answer--silence, a handshake, a hug, just being there is what is wanted. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"Âme en Peine à Paris" by Heidi Seaborn

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Âme en Peine à Paris” by Heidi Seaborn.  Seaborn started writing poetry in 2016 after three decades as a marketing executive. Since then, her work has appeared in over forty journals and anthologies, among them Nimrod, Penn Review, and American Journal of Poetry. She is a graduate of Stanford University and serves on the editorial staff of The Adroit Journal.  She lives in Seattle.  Find out more about her at

Âme en Peine à Paris
Heidi Seaborn                        
            ~November 2015

Paris written down my naked arms,
"Drapeau Français" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
its shimmering seam of truth and lies.
Ghosts sip espresso in café bars.

In the Seine, peonies float, stars
of pink petals reflect the clotted sky,
shadows written down my naked arms.

Wooden boats, a sepia pond far
from the boy with lashed, dusk eyes.
Ghosts sip espresso in café bars,

suck les huîtres off the shell, carve
steak from bone with silver knives,
Paris is written down my naked arms.

In caverns beneath speeding cars,
red dress swirls away Paris’ demise
to a ghost sipping espresso in café bars.

Paris’ shimmering seam: river of stars,
succor, sucre for Ars
poetica written down my naked arms,
I sip espresso with her ghosts in café bars.

Poet’s Notes:  This villanelle was written as a love letter to Paris—a city that I know and love so well—post the terrorist attacks. The poem speaks to the vibrancy and constancy of a city that endures and that all who pass through carry the imprint of Paris with them. 

Editor’s Note:  This is a haunting villanelle and beautiful elegy for that tragic day in Paris.  My poem that was inspired by the same events may be found here 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"What Is Owed To Guests Unwanted" by James Frederick William Rowe

What Is Owed To Guests Unwanted
James Frederick William Rowe

The unwelcome guest
Has come unbidden to my door
Disrupting the tranquility of my repose
The felicity of my days
But though a stranger
Though an intruder
It is mine to offer hospitality
To welcome to my table
To warm by my hearth
To make a place for the traveler
Who has journeyed so far

My complaints shall not avail me
Neither my tears, nor my sighs
Not the gnashing of teeth
Nor a moan of displeasure
Shall change what has been allotted to me
All of these are but noises
And as thunder makes no more fearful
The forks of lightning across the boiled skies
The fury of my protests
The intensity of my indignation
Are but loud, empty sounds

I shall rob from the trial its power
I shall steal from it its pain
What it brings I shall endure
Over what I cannot change I shall accept
Concede to all it can correctly cause
But to what it cannot claim
I shall not give as charity
So set you down, o! catastrophe
I've made a place, and here I've waited
You will not find me surprised
I have long been prepared

Poet’s Notes:  This poem is basically Stoic philosophy put to verse. Though I can't say I have managed to live as philosophically as the Stoics are known to have, the ideal of Apatheia, or freedom from the distress of the passions, is a noble goal to guide one's conduct. To deal with one's trouble without complaint magnifying the loss would make us all happier, for we certainly heap more hardship upon ourselves by our conduct. 

The unwelcome guest is some personal calamity that has upset the order of the narrator's life--something bad enough that others might lament, but which he will accept because he can do nothing about it other than accept it.  Whatever happened has been done; it is now part of his life. What matters now is how one reacts to the hardship. Do you cry and whine? Or do you accept what you cannot change and give nothing more to empower it to wreck your life further? The narrator chooses to embrace the pain but to offer it nothing more and so starve the trouble of the suffering that only our consent gives to our woes.

The structure of this poem is three stanzas of eleven verses apiece. There was nothing especially noteworthy in choosing this—it was simply what looked good when I was writing it. I had no problem writing this poem.  I wrote it almost entirely down on one trip on the subway. The theme came to me readily, and the words poured out without effort. 

Editor’s Note:  There is wisdom here--not really new wisdom--but wisdom that bears repeating and that is worth publishing.  I took the "unwanted guest" as a metaphor for just about any unpleasantness, from a woman getting her monthly period (often referred to as an "unwanted guest") to being assigned an unpleasant task at work or an unpleasant customer to serve.  Stephen Covey called choosing one's response to such circumstances "pro-activity," and being pro-active is his first and most important "habit" of highly successful people.  Animals react.  Enlightened humans choose their responses. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

"The Snow Globe" by Aparna Sanyal

The Snow Globe
Aparna Sanyal     

Beauty hides in Pain. 
A shy bride, she looks around 
"Glimmer" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
corners, peeks at you.
Laughs, then skitters away wearing
A skirt that trails ribbon tears 
Dead-drumstick legs lope away--
clouds of carnations in her hands,
ruffled and tinged 
with the colours of seeping 
and weeping. 
Pain is her snow globe, soon she will stand
upright in it, tilt her head up to a sun
she can never see, 
and command snow. 
And it will snow-- 
expectations, hopes 
and memories and fears will drizzle down; 
so much glitter in one globe. 
Beauty will stand stock-still but hidden. 
Sectioned from view in this flurry unleashed by Pain.
Wait for the flakes to settle, she will be 
there, sieved from granular water. 
Still there, still shining, still smiling
the Beauty in this Pain.  

Poet's Notes: This poem was written at a time when I was so low, sunk in the depths of clinical depression. Some mornings I would wake up so sad and yet sated in a strange way--grateful to have the chance to view the world through the strange, stark kaleidoscope of pain. In that heightened state, I truly see things with fresh, bright eyes that sieve beauty through pain. 

Editor’s Note:  Beauty can be cruel, terrible, horrifying even, and certainly painful--Aparna has captured this truth with the painful beauty of her words.  The snow globe conceit is brilliant--beauty in a cage and the pain of seeing it or having put it there.  

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Readers Choice Award Update

Today marks the beginning of the final week of the Readers Choice Award Contest.  You may vote for your favorite poem until midnight CST on March 31.  In case you are new to Songs of Eretz or tuning in late, information about the contest may be found here

As of today, "Autismville" by Melinda Coppola has a commanding lead, and Coppola's "7 a. m." is solidly in second place.  Tied for a distant third are "Deceptive Cadence" by Carol Kner and "The Great Escape" by Yoni Hammer-Kossoy.  "When I Am Old" by Tim Amsden has moved into fifth place, while "Passing On" by Carol Kner and "The Poet Says This Is How You Should See" by Melinda Coppola are in sixth and seventh (last) place respectively.

Vote for your favorite poem by sending an email to

Friday, March 23, 2018

"I Grow Content" by Lauren McBride

I Grow Content
Lauren McBride

I hold aloft bare branches - 
"Seasons" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
black lace against blue sky
beneath a warming sun.
Invigorated, I grow fuzzy
and break out in pale green.
People notice and smile,
and speak of spring.

Steadily I fill out,
balancing limbs laden 
with breeze-catching leaves
hiding my naked form.
People come to rest beneath.
I rustle and wave 
in bright sunshine

before my lush crown                                                
changes color and grows thin
with each gust of wind.
People come to see
and take pictures 
or gather my lost leaves.

In chilly air, my balding 
branches turn white
and grow heavy with snow.
I feel stiff and cold 
down to my roots.
Few come to visit.

I stand silent, waiting
until a warm wind blows,
bringing youth and vigor 
back to my veins. My boughs 
leaf out green again.
Both taller and wider this year,
many can rest in my shade. 
I grow content.

Poet's Notes:  This poem gives voice to a tree that enjoys sharing its gifts with people. I used "grow" in the title and last line for its double meaning, and employed an age-related extended metaphor for the changing seasons. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

"Harold's Samaritan" by Mary Soon Lee

Harold's Samaritan
Mary Soon Lee
"Stranger" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Maybe you saw him on the bus
reading the latest Harry Bosch novel
and said, "That's a great book!"
and he looked up at you
before his awkwardness
caught up with him
and burst out "I love it."

And though you didn't ask his name
or suggest a cup of coffee,
that gesture hoisted him
out of his muddied descent into gloom.

So that, later that day,
when he read the signs
on the laundromat notice board,
he scrabbled in his pockets for a pen
to jot down the phone number
of the monthly book club,
the book club he'll thank
for changing his life.

He won't remember you,
you won't remember him.

Poet's Notes:  This is a poem about an invented character of mine, Harold, who features in a number of poems about an imaginary book club. Prior to joining the book club, Harold is a lonely, gloomy man. The book club brings him friendship. The poem is also about how our interactions with strangers can have unseen ramifications, small acts of kindness rippling outward. One of the poems about the book club was previously published in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“Your Repose” by Melinda Coppola

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Your Repose” by Melinda Coppola.  Coppola has been writing in some form for nearly five decades.  Her work has been published in several magazines, books, and periodicals including I Come from the World, Harpur Palate, Kaleidoscope, The Autism Perspective, Spirit First, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Welcome Home, and Celebrations. An artist, yoga teacher, and mother to an amazing daughter with special needs, she enjoys infusing the work of her heart with her voice as a poet.

Your Repose
Melinda Coppola

"Escape" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
The dream stage, when the eyes dance 
beneath closed lids,
that which we know as REM,
is also named paradoxical sleep,
because the body rests while the mind
is quite awake.

I wonder if your soul 
checks herself in mirrors
as you slumber, if she
scrolls Facebook, idly clicking Likes 
with her ethereal fingers, 
as if these tiny dreamland acts,
things your days do not contain,
could change a lifetime’s course.

You, who walk the waking world
following all the rules you know,
making up some you don’t,
doing everything in order,
trying to make sense of the chaos,

You who count duplicates;
numbers on license plates, 
yellow cars in a lot,
who checks and rechecks
the solid fences of her world:
I will have a treat, 
You’re a girl,
You will have girl hair when we leave,
Two sides, cheek bink,
Mommy will you fix it

I want to think you are free in sleep,
different, unconstrained,
that anxiety and compulsion,
autism and obsessions
can’t follow you 
when you fly to that misty realm.

I want to think 
you can have this respite every night,
relief from all the voices, and fears,
the tensions,  demands,
that there is no standard 
of normal in dreamland,
or, if there is, you define it,
you abide
quite comfortably there.

Poets Notes:  I often wish I could be inside my developmentally disabled daughter’s brain. The mystery of her inner landscape intrigues me as much as the mystical realm of sleep and dreams. This poem was conceived from my loving curiosity about the nighttime journeys of her mind and soul.

Editor’s Note:  The gradual turn that begins in the third stanza is nicely done, perfectly setting up the reader for the narrative of the autistic girl in her dream world.  The heartfelt wish at the close of the poem takes my breath away.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

“MRI” by Sara Backer

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “MRI” by Sara Backer.  Backer is the author of two chapbooks, “Bicycle Lotus”, which won the Turtle Island Poetry Award, and “Scavenger Hunt” coming soon from Dancing Girl Press. She's currently pursuing an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her online writing is posted on her website,

Sara Backer

I am the log the river shakes downstream.
The helmsman turns on pulsing disco
and mechanical rowers chant pins and needles,

pins and needles. I’m 100% sure those are the words
until they become friends in need and friends in need and
into the chute I’m sent.

The periscope mirror above my face
to ease claustrophobia doesn’t fool my mind.
I sense the lethal weight of magnets

closing round my brain. I churn with the noise
that will transform secrets of my dark tissue
into silent psychedelic imagery.

I become lumber run through the mill,
hammered, sawed, planed, and drilled,
bolted and drilled again, vibration after vibration

in a chilled room with a useless sheet
tossed over my legs—
a preview of my own autopsy?

A wet prick of dye announces Act II.
An intercom voice asks are you all right?
I say yes despite numb fingers, dizziness

of holding still, breathing minutes away through—pins
and needles, friends in need and—this construction project
of me somewhere between alive and dead.

Poet’s Notes:  Perhaps because I lived in Japan for three years, I'm always interested in the dynamic of opposites in Eastern poetry. A brain MRI is a loud and tactile hour-long ordeal for the patient that results in a silent image that doctors can see and understand in seconds--and find beauty in it. I hoped to show the way our brains try to fill in for us when our senses are deprived or when we are deprived of information. 

Editor’s Note:  Backer has nicely poetically captured the experience many have during an MRI.  The poetic conceit works well, and the stanza about the sheet is especially powerful. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

“Le suicide” by Ashley Valente

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Le suicide” by Ashley Valente in her publishing debut.  Valente has honed her craft through years of study at the University of La Verne.  She specializes in short stories and poems and is a classic film buff.

Le suicide
Ashley Valente

Fine stone cold turkey
The cut of a searing hot blade

Surrendering identity
Le fin de vie

on the wrist
where there est non vermillion mouth 

Depression emotion
Fear madness

to call you mad

N’est pas? 

in your 
own villa 

Self hatred 

it smells strongly of money
metallic, like blood 

Marked violence

drips into your eyes
blind to everything but 

Le désir à 

where her stomach is 
hard and willing 
for you to swim lower

Life stolen
Pour quoi? L’argent? 
Le mensonge de soi
Is the worst
Rope of all 
Ça va? Non. 
No modern man 

Lives well inside

Poet's Notes:  The 1967 film Diaboliquement Votre inspired “Le suicide”. An amnesiac, played by international sex symbol Alain Delon (pictured), is being systematically brainwashed by his supposed wife and best friend, who are both urging him toward suicide. The left oriented stanzas touch on sex as an addiction, the right oriented stanza on monetary greed, before the two sides converge in the final stanza. In addition, the left oriented stanzas may be read together as a stand-alone poem. 

Editor’s Note:  I particularly appreciate the thirteenth stanza, where the erotic and death begin to combine and then come together beautifully in the final stanza.  The first line works on many levels--visceral, as metaphor for drug addiction, as metaphor for stimulated flesh--a strong beginning to a haunting piece.