Friday, June 29, 2018

"Rules for Vacuuming" by Mary Soon Lee

Rules for Vacuuming
Mary Soon Lee

Before beginning,
put the hamster in its cage.

If you inadvertently vacuum a pet,
turn off the vacuum cleaner
before commencing salvage operations.

Wearing a hat while vacuuming: one point.
Wearing a suit: two points.
Wearing a suit of armor: five points.

If you are the only one
in the residence who ever vacuums,
you may proceed whether or not
other occupants are asleep.

Reading a book: one point.
Reading the newspaper: three points.
Knitting: seven points.
Stilt walking: twenty-five points.

Suctioning up toys: one penalty point,
unless their owner was told to tidy up,
in which case, two points per toy.

Do not vacuum the houseplants.
Do not eat anything
ingested by the vacuum cleaner.
Do not use for plumbing repairs.
Do not insert in toilet.

Before emptying contents into trash,
verify that the hamster is still in its cage.

Poet's Notes:  I write comparatively little humorous poetry but occasionally I have fun being silly. This particular poem was written in response to the January 15th prompt in the book The Daily Poet by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano, which invites readers to write rules for an activity that doesn't yet have them. Alas, although I am the person in my household who does the vacuuming, I have yet to do so in a suit of armor.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Seduction of an Iris" by Gene Hodge

"Iris" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Seduction of an Iris
Gene Hodge

Her petals, heavy with morning dew,
shimmer like lip gloss
in the April sunlight.
Mesmerized . . .
I kneel— like a knight before his queen—
lean forward and gently smell her flower.
Perfumed fragrances bewitch me 
and I drift into her private chamber—
seduced and made prisoner to ecstasy.

Poet’s Notes:  I am a lover of the majestic iris.  This is my tribute to her beauty.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

"Drifters" by Alessio Zanelli

Alessio Zanelli

It's been so long a time
since we cast off, put to sea, headed for the unknown.
Intrepid, forgetful of whom we were,
greedy for estrangement and oblivion—
as if we could secure more freedom

the further we pulled away from dry land.
"Voyage" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon

Now that countless years of elements and sunshine,
storms and dead calm,
forever adrift at the mercy of waves,
have quelled our zeal,
and we still haven't found what we're looking for,
or we thought in the event we would come across—
the horizon seems to recede, stretch away,
spawning mirages one after the other,
puzzling our eyes and fooling our minds,
unveiling beyond such immutable, perfect line
nothing else but another one,
then one again, and so on.
To confront it all—
just our imperfect will and skill,
our fallacy and caducity.

Though sorrowful to admit,
it would be good, at last,
to leave the open sea,
allow ourselves to find a tranquil route,
have the vessel take us back to port.
So let the sails be unfurled,
follow favorable winds,
gather all that's left of us.
And let there be no uncertainty,
no regret, no delay—
still underway is the journey,

always in ambush the fiercest of gales.

Poet’s Notes: Seafaring metaphors of life fascinate me--which is pretty funny, because I am no seaman at all.

Editor's Note:  As I read this, I was reminded of the inspiring opening theme to Star Trek:  Enterprise

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

"The Tenth Jew" by Howard Stein

The Tenth Jew
"Congregation" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Howard Stein     

I know the Hebrew words;
I know the old gestures;
I know some of the chants;
I know how to read;
I know how to pray.

But I don’t know whether
I believe it any more.
Not that I have firm doubts,
Not that I have good reasons
Science would approve of.
I have a place of ache
Where once blessed assurance dwelled.

I don’t know why I go
To Schul any more,
Unless it’s to be sure
There is a tenth adult Jew
So that others can pray
A complete service.
Maybe to be obligated
To them is reason enough
To continue to go.

Poet’s Notes:  This poem is inspired by an event and amplified by imagination. Many years ago, I attended a Saturday evening service at my synagogue. It was the weekly service in which we bid farewell to the Sabbath until her return the following Friday evening. The service was also a transition from the sacred day of rest and prayer to the ordinary six days of work.

One Saturday night, I quietly entered the small sanctuary and was welcomed as a hero. It was not that I was new. I had been coming weekly for a long time, but people expressed deep gratitude that I had come that night. I felt gratitude in turn for the gracious welcome but also was somewhat puzzled.  What was all the fuss about, I wondered?  As I took my seat, someone explained what should have been obvious to me--until I arrived, there had only been present nine adult Jews, and I was the tenth. That is, I had completed the necessary minimum of adult Jews required to conduct the full service. I will never forget that night.

Editor's Note:  A minimum of ten Jewish men (and yes, they must be men, which is to say males thirteen years old or older) constitutes a ritual Jewish quorum or minyan.  Certain prayers can only be recited if a minyan is present.  Also, a public reading of the Torah requires a minyan.  On that “note,” I invite you to enjoy “Minyan Man” by the Maccabeats of Yeshiva University

Monday, June 25, 2018

"The Girl on the Street" by Aparna Sanyal

The Girl on the Street
Aparna Sanyal 

Sewing spit silknesses of herself
--uncomfortable, muddied Likenesses, 
"Pittance" Watercolor & Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
reflections stain the mirrors on which they fall--
Soot black, but blinding 
equilibrium finding--
this girl is a supernova of bits and bobs.

Shimmying trails of trashcans
adorning ankles, wire wristbands,
satin torn--stitched bubbled skirt--
hem blood-soaked, unevenly hurt.
Trailing lice and mice 
and surprise-- 
this girl is a galaxy of eyes,
turned her way, then conscious, away. 

Steeped teabag--skin, tough 
--a landscape of grime, she looks rolled in oats and curry- 
coated like cracker-dust coats the shy cake in a hurry. 
Melting and melded by sun rays, brambly rain,
yelling thunder, wind gust tornadoes of gutter hair and pain.
--This girl is every season, every reason
every monsoon, every treason
wrought by nature insane. 

She stuffs her ire in a sandbag heavy, leaden;
brings it to car windows where it balloon-lightens, leavens. 
POPS! outside windshield and window panes--
her reality splatters like so many larvae pupate 
Dreams squirm, struggle, can’t surface-- 
too tight cocoons bind them airless, nervous, 
over car hood spreads the junket of her life's remains.
This girl cleans the hood-mess for a few pennies less. 
The glossy metal is now without stain. 

See her, this girl--
she is exceptional with pain.
She is goaded to normality 
by my eye lens of rationality. 
See this girl without tint, with a power hose of truth 
then go home and put on your blackest suit.
Come with me, we are bereaved--it is insanity
--see this girl, infinity arrayed, she is your and my humanity.

Poet's Notes: This poem is about all those street children in every corner of the world who stand at car windows looking in from the outside, who live in shanties by the road and watch other children go to school as they head to work in a sweatshop. India is those children, those unwanted girls, whom we Indians are largely conditioned to ignore. 

Editor’s Note:  The descriptive language and metaphors in this poem are fresh and new--haunting.  The piece works well taken as a straight narrative poem but becomes more powerful when one considers the subject of the poem as a grand metaphor for turning a blind eye to the poor and destitute.  "This girl is a galaxy of eyes, / turned her way, the conscious, away"--what a brilliant way of expressing the poetic conceit.  Aparna uses rhyme to her advantage too, helping to drive home her message.

Friday, June 22, 2018

"The Moon – To Each a Place" by James Frederick William Rowe

The Moon – To Each a Place
James Frederick William Rowe

By night you are a queen
"Keeper of the Night" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
In splendour amidst the spangled skies
Your subjects studded in worshipful array
Around the warm glow of the halo
Which encircles the pearlescent majesty
Of the face you show the world

Yet in the day you are alone
The shining glory of your vespertine visage
Now rendered pale and veiled by the misty blue
Of the sky which hides your courtiers
Against the king who brokers no rivals
Even from the supplicating stars

But perhaps your daylight diminution
The indignity of your muted manifestation
Is for a purpose so endured
That the Sun and we may be reminded
That the glare of his light may only obscure
Not unseat the many multitudes of heaven

Is this why you are wont to cover the Sun
To lay the coldness of your stone
Upon the heat of his fires?
Then in so eclipsing him in your kiss
And quenching his flames at the height of his hours
We can gaze at all his glory hides?

The Sun is one, the Stars are many
And you, Lady Luna, an inveterate pagan
Remind us of the divine plurality
No wonder Lucifer affords you
Hesperine hails, Eosphorine adieus
Rebellious even as he heralds the dawn

Yet you too are victim of a pride
Made false in the reflection of the light
That is not your own
And we are called to occult you in our shadow
Casting you back to the darkness
Which is yours but for the Sun

Your light is a borrowed glow, a stolen warmth
Yet be not ashamed that we know, dear Moon
For there is Day and there is Night
The One and the All
And only a fool worships but one
To the exclusion of the other

To the Moon: a place of honour
To the Sun: a place of glory
To the stars: a place of worship
To us: a place of understanding
So should it be, so shall it be
All as the spheres ordain

Poet’s Notes:  This piece is basically about the Moon's place in a sky that reflects a divine ordering of things. Whereas the Sun is a strict monotheist, blotting out all other rival claimants to his majesty, the Moon is the queen amidst her court of stars "an inveterate pagan". When she eclipses the Sun, she reminds him, whom she loves (and by whom she gains her light), that there are others in heaven—that the One must not be known to the exclusion of the All. Nevertheless, we too have to check her pride, when we eclipse her and show her for what she is: the reflection of the Sun's light. 

There tends to be in religious and philosophical systems a certain overemphasis on one side of the equation. Either people fixate on the unity of things or the plurality of things. I call these perspectives the "fallacy of the parts" and the "fallacy of the whole". Whereas the One is indeed One, it is also Many, and when the Many are Many, it is also One—to put undue emphasis on either the singularity of existence under God or the multitude of existent things is to deny a fundamental element of reality. To get even more technical and esoteric: I deny that the monotheistic and pantheistic conceptions of existence are superior to the panentheistic, which embraces both. 

I try to make this philosophical point in the poem as elegantly as I can by first triumphing the Moon's cause, and then denying her the honour she might try to usurp for herself. I also draw upon the well established use of stars—as found in Blake, Milton, and of course, the Book of Revelation—in the role of angels or (demi-)gods, and make reference to the Lucifer narrative in a literal sense of Venus as the morning/evening stars, as reflected in my: "No wonder Lucifer affords you / Hesperine hails, Eosphorine adieus / Rebellious even as he heralds the dawn". 

The poem concludes with the proper place for all things, "all as the spheres ordain"—or as laid out by the allegory of the heavens, as it were.  It is arranged in eight stanzas of six verses a piece. It was composed initially on the subway but substantially revised at home.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

"pleasant distractions" by Lauren McBride

"Paths" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
pleasant distractions 
unplanned paths 
my walk takes longer

--Lauren McBride

Poet's Notes: I love walking around outdoors but rarely go in a straight line. The reason for the walk doesn't matter, be it a trip to the mailbox, my garden, or a nature center. What matters to me is noticing what each season has to offer and taking the time to enjoy it. 

This poem follows a form new to me, the Lune, invented by poet Robert Kelly. Also known as the American Haiku, a Lune consists of 13 syllables arranged in a 5-3-5 pattern. The typically short third line causes the right text margin to curve in like a crescent moon. Unlike traditional haiku, there is no requirement for a seasonal word or cutting word. In addition, metaphor, meter, and rhyme are all allowed.

Editor’s Note:  My thanks to Lauren for introducing the Lune form to me and for providing this nice example of it for Songs of Eretz!  I enjoy the way the curve of the lune echoes the theme of the poem in this one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"Tohu va-vohu" by John C. Mannone

תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ
Tohu va-vohu 
 John C. Mannone
                   After Genesis 1:2

"Abyss" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
My imperfections help make me

perfect. Like a face in a cracked mirror,
each broken piece shows the whole
smile despite the shattered fragments
of self-image catching in my throat.

But if I thought I were perfect, I would
have the greatest imperfection—blindness
to my own mottled spots on the skin
of my soul, even as I stare.

In the beginning, Earth was created
perfect, but because of the Lord
of Flies, it became a rotting place
formless and void. It was not good.

My heart used to be amorphous,
without purpose. It too was not good.
But when I let you into my world,
you filled all my hollow spaces

with the clear balm of grace, hope
no longer fractured, nor your light
refracted, my mirror, broken. I am
whole again, not aimless, empty.

Poet’s Notes: The title is taken from the Hebrew in the Book of Genesis, which means formless and void, in reference to the planet Earth, before it teamed with life. Other language in this poem also points to the language in Genesis. Despite our imperfections, however they arise, there is hope of love and purpose for humankind in our relationship with our mates and in a spiritual context, too.

Editor’s Note:  In the final two stanzas, John leaves “you” and “your” in lowercase.  These pronouns could still mean “God” but could also mean another special someone.  The ambiguity is deliberate.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

"Underneath" by Sierra July


All her life

"Underneath" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
She'd been afraid
Of 'Under'

Under her bed

Her greatest fear
Was what lies
Under her skin

--Sierra July

Poet's Notes: This piece came from the thought that people are afraid of things that are hidden or things we don't understand or trust (things with hidden meanings), but I considered that tangible things, in sight or not, are less frightening than shrouded thoughts and feelings. In the end, I wrote this with a bit of a horror tone but wanted it to be something that made readers stop and consider rather than strike fear.

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