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.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"The Dead Tree" by Howard Stein

The Dead Tree     

. . . stands sentinel
"Carcass" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
in most yards,
in most fields,
monument to death
in the din of life.
Surrounded by change,
the dead tree is changeless –
save for a telltale
bolt of lightning
that severs an arm
or splits the trunk
down the middle.
Generations pass;
the dead tree stays.
It does not speak,
but it passes judgment
on the living
who dare not
cut it down.

--Howard Stein

Poet's Notes:  I have lived for forty years in Oklahoma City and have spent much time teaching in rural Oklahoma. A commonplace feature of yards and fields is a dead tree--one that has stood for decades long after it has ceased producing leaves. I have spoken with many families about these trees and became fascinated with the stories about them. Clearly, for many people, the dead tree is a symbol and not simply the result of not bothering to cut it down. I do not know how widespread this practice is beyond Oklahoma. The spectral dead trees and their stories have haunted me and inspired this poem. 

Editor’s Note:  What an interesting back-story to this Balcomesque poem.  In my experience, dead trees do change from the activity of woodpeckers, weather, fungi, and rot, eventually being reduced to humus.  The idea of a changeless dead tree, an ominous sentinel, being counter to my personal experience, makes this poem fascinating and thought-provoking.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Extra" by Aparna Sanyal

Aparna Sanyal 

Sieving for words through grain
I find mostly chaff; 
an ungainly mix of
grit and sawdust and leavings.
"Peacock" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
These words that explore the geography 
of my mouth, my insides;
they roil and bubble, boil over,
curdle, subside to whey. 
They stick to the edges of my tongue
and the top of my palette-- 
They are the aftertaste of 
a too-sweet pill, 
the rind-sour ringing tingle
at the edges of my molars, 
the particles 
of dross left behind in 
a too-fat meal of lard 
and extras.
convinced of their grisly, unspooling beauty,
these words are resplendent,
peacock strutting, 
They dance untethered in 
salivate rain, and rut through the furrowed fields of 
my taste buds, to reach the tip 
of my tongue, that is convinced it drops pearls. 
They crave the non-linear dazzle 
of my thought train 
as it hurtles by, it's circuitry rigged, 
to decipher casuistry 
and chicanery and all things complex.
These words are 
extra slick, extra pungent
extra nubbly, extra-vagant
Extra extra extra, just about 
These words are slain
in a trice.
Defenseless, they dissipate,
leave my side in swarms, in droves--
Their pogrom, the simplicity of

Poet's Notes:  Sometimes I argue with my husband for hours, relentlessly pursuing a point using reams of words. My husband's simple, linear logic, spare words, and pragmatism, almost always defeat my convoluted logic. 

Editor’s Note:  I had to read this one several times before I could appreciate its layers of complexity.  There is a meta aspect or ars poetica that finally manifests.  The narrative, ostensibly about vulgar or unnecessarily frilly words, changes at the turn--at "yet" about half-way along the piece.  By the end, the poem is about how the speaker would like to resist the temptation of using empty words.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"Eternity" by James F.W. Rowe

"Cycle" Watercolor & Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
James F.W. Rowe

Ponder your eternal state
Knowing that what once thinks
Shall never cease to be
Think also of your sufferings
And your joys
Remembering that all which is
Has been
Again and again
And shall be once more
Where then is heaven?
Where then is hell?
In every moment
     In every moment

You have already endured

Poet’s Notes:  This poem is something of a philosophical exposition on the nature of eternity, drawing upon similar themes that are touched upon in Nietzsche. It also expands upon the oddest thing I am willing to believe as part of my metaphysical commitments to an eternal, infinite universe--that everything has existed, or will exist, has already occurred an infinite number of times before, and will again. Given that I also affirm the eternity of the soul—that is, its pre- and post-existence, ala Plato in the Phaedo—we have thus experienced all things before and will experience them again without end. 

The consequence is that, in a sense, both heaven and hell are contained in every moment. Our eternal bliss and our eternal suffering are both experienced simultaneously, given that all such experiences are contained in this endless repetition of the possibilities of existence. We are living right now in both heaven and hell.

The poem is a fairly straightforward expression of the above themes, with the slightly Cartesian "knowing that what once thinks / shall never cease to be". The notional reference to both joy and suffering and their eternal experience blends with the idea that heaven and hell are to be found in every moment. The last verse, set off from the rest in its own stanza, is a reminder that everything has already been endured. Whether for good or for ill, you have already survived it. This poem was made in a single burst of inspiration and later slightly adapted to refine the message.

Monday, May 21, 2018

"Where Drought Once Loomed" by Lauren McBride

"Break in the Plain" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Where Drought Once Loomed

Grey clouds gathering gloom - lightning flashing.
Sky lashing down rain, then BOOM.
Crops are spared a dusty doom.

--Lauren McBride

Poet's Notes: I learned about englyn penfyr poetry from Steve and wanted to choose a topic that wasn't limiting (like weather, which became a thunderstorm) and use words that had many rhymes (sky, crash, boom) to try to fit meaning into lines of specific syllable count with primary and secondary rhyme schemes. The hardest part for me was to break from traditional rhyme schemes that kept coming to mind at first.

Editor's Note:  An englyn penfyr of mine and a link to information about this fun but challenging form may be found here

Saturday, May 19, 2018

FC Lee Has 5 Poems Published In Other Venues

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that Frequent Contributor Mary Soon Lee has had five poems recently published in other venues.

"Irene" appeared in Uppagus #28

"The Holy Firmament of Venus" appeared in Star*Line #41.2, which also has five poems by fellow Frequent Contributor Lauren McBride.

"Time Cats" appeared in Eye to the Telescope #28

"On Reading 'The Journey to the West'" appeared in the Oakland Review, Volume 43, Spring 2018.

Friday, May 18, 2018

"Blind Date" by John C. Mannone

Blind Date
John C. Mannone
             Baltimore 1967

At a mixer in an all-girls college up the road
from where I went, I met a beautiful coed:

                 short sassy blond
                 hair, brown eyes,
                 athletic, feminine.

We danced to a live band most the night under stars
glinting off the faceted mirror ball above the dance floor.
"Blip" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon

That gold colored fixture spun a little faster than a slow
dance, its sexy red lights changing to green then blue,
bathed our faces too.

                 When I kissed her
                  goodnight, I knew
                  I’d want to taste those
                  supple lips again.
                  She invited me
                  to another date.

Funny thing, though, she wanted me to do her
a favor and take her lonely friend to a junior prom.

I wasn’t used to blind dates, especially dress-up
ones, but reluctantly agreed. She was a pretty girl,

                 a quiet blond, large
                 hazel eyes, blush rose
                 cheeks; feminine

in her full-figured gown; nice smile. I suppose
she was as nervous as I. We danced to the band,

talked about our futures. She wanted to be a nurse,
I, a doctor. And of course, we talked about the weather.

                 When I kissed her
                  goodnight, I knew
                  she was too innocent.
                  She invited me in
                  to her car for a ride
                  to the lake or park.

I kissed her again, told her to make out
the details of her dreams until they’re reality.

And I went home to work on mine. I never
saw either one of those two girls again.

Poet's Notes: Relationships are like a dance, sometimes elegant and smooth, sometimes wild and jerky. The structure has long flowing melodic lines as if in a waltz, punctuated by short enjambed lines to a different more jazzy rhythm to echo this.

I had a nostalgic moment thinking about my college days (Loyola College, Baltimore). Much of this “coming-of-age” poem is true, but I took some liberties.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Hungry" by Doris Ferleger

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Hungry” by Doris Ferleger, the winner of the 2018 Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest.  Her biography may be found here

Doris Ferleger

You can love someone, then come to a day when you're forced to think "it's him or me" think "me" and kill him. —Marie Howe

"Heart" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
The FED EX guy has taken away the unwieldy, unopened, almost
unliftable box, containing the 55” TV that would have been our lifeline 

to the “us” you kept longing for me to embrace, lifeline to your love 
of humanity in all its suffering and singing. I’ve kept my world small.

It’s my secret how full my mind is without a word from the outside.
I drink ginger tea from a floral cup. Pull the blanket, fleecy white, 

back in place upon waking, squeeze the creamy bleach into the sink, 
let it sit for hours, put my body in plank position—recall how each of us 

felt we were walking the plank. I eat an overripe banana sliced 
into sour cream, recall how my father used to down sour cream 

by the tablespoonful then place the spoon to my mouth saying, 
taste, taste, then smack his lips and sigh, so lucky to be alive. 

How you proffered the pinkest slice of filet from your plate, 
your hunger for my eyes, the comely shape of your shiny head, 

you reminded me so much of my father whom I loved beyond measure. 
Right now I am wearing my size 11 bling-covered black sandals 

last worn the day I first came to your house, that is, the first day we met, 
that is, the same day I invited myself to stay and we, newly young, fully-

clothed, pressed our passions into your deep couch, your body thick 
and ravenous, my body famished too. Our mouths wide open. Last we spoke, 

you were breaking up with me, reminding me of the time you first slept 
at my house and I left the next morning for a shiva service, 

a relative you didn’t know, dead at sixty, you said you felt bereft, left 
in my rambling house, all alone, perhaps you wandered in and out 

of the rooms imagining the years you were not in my life, 
and who can say how much pain can settle into the body. 

That day, it’s true I left our night to enter the day 
of mourning without you. And for you, that was an everlasting 
sign of my failure to embrace you in my mind. 
I dreamt last night you asked me to marry you

and my dead husband told me he was moving to Montgomery
as he was no longer attached to the house. And I’m mad-mad-mad, 

in the dream, blame him for my love of home, blame my-love-
of-home as the reason you left me. I will dine alone tonight 

on mango and coconut salmon at DaDa’s cafĂ©, sit in a rattan chair 
on the porch, recall when I drew on the blackboard table top inside, 

pink and yellow chalk flowers, hearts, your name, called you 
amidst the noise. Your breath after breath lifts me. Your vines, 

unruly, your fruit, sweet… I put the voices of my beloveds,
the dead and the living, into my mouth so I can finish 

the conversations we never had.

Poet's Notes:  This hungry, angry, heartbrokenness—this love lost, this regret, this "what if," this disbelief — are the subjects of “Hungry.” The drive of the poem comes from the line. The line lengths come from the drive of the speaker to speak, but also from a Terrence Hayes prompt that asks the poet to answer twelve unrelated questions. The answers become the poem. Some of the seemingly mundane questions were, "What is a food you used to love as a child?" "What are you wearing right now?" "What is a quote by a poet whose work you admire?" "Quote a line from one of your own poems." Such simple questions allowed this complex poem to emerge. 

Editor’s Note:  Ah, the one(s) that got away!  What a riveting narrative of loss and regret, of a life lived to the fullest yet empty all the same.  Ferleger creates just the right mood of joyful melancholy here--a push-pull that tears at the emotions of the reader.