Monday, March 18, 2019

MARCH/APRIL 2019 "FANTASY & FAIRYTALE" ISSUE


March/April 2019 "Fantasy/Fairytale" Theme Issue
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Cover Art "Gull of the Forest" | Ink & Watercolor on Paper
Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are the work of our Art Editor or taken from "royalty-free" open internet sources.

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Table of Contents
A Letter from the Editor
An Apology from the Editor-in-Chief
Poetry
Carol Stevens Kner
   "How to Write a Fairy Tale"
Vivian Finley Nida
   "Dear Goldilocks"
Charles A. Swanson
   "Who Doesn't like an Ogre?"
   "Back-Squawk"
Al-don Schraeder
   "Speck of Red" 
Sylvia Cavanaugh
   "Skipping Stone"  
Sandy Longley
   "The Big Bad Wolf Explains" 
Karla Linn Merrifield
   "To the Kingdom Within"
Terri Lynn Cummings
   "Little Bird"
Al-don Schraeder
   "Ode to a Grecian Egg"
Charles A. Swanson
   "Granny's Legend of the Thistle"
Al-don Schraeder
   "The Anti-Phoenix"
Russell Hemmell
   "The Silent Witness"
James Frederick William Rowe
   "Empyrean"
Anne E. Johnson
 "Sacrifice as Triumph"
Steven Wittenberg Gordon
   "Soul Devourers"
Oliver Smith
   "Castle, Rook, and Raven"
Jennifer Crow
   "[the cruelty of the exquisite]"
Charles A. Swanson
   "Interface"
Alessio Zanelli
   "The Thread Seeker" 
R.S. Mason
   "Elegy for a Sunken City"
Wade J. McMahon
   "The Wraith's Tale"
James Frederick William Rowe
   "Like Panther Proud"
Poetry Review
The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body by Alberto Álvaro Ríos
   Reviewed by Vivian Finley Nida
Frequent Contributor News
Forthcoming

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A Letter from the Editor

It has been claimed that the fairytale is older than the written word, that the stories may in fact stretch before the dawn of civilization. I have no doubt that this is true: mankind delights in telling tales, whether to express an instructive lesson, to draw upon instinctual and archetypical fears, to impart some religious message, or just to entertain. Moreover, we have always recognized that this world has numinous and magical elements that are too deeply felt, if dimly seen, to be discounted, and so our imagination and our insight have long been allied to our inspiration, longer indeed than we have thought to write these stories down or even knew how to do so.

This issue then represents a continuation of an ages-old tradition, where we modern-day poets, as the bards and rhapsodes once did, give voice to our own stories or rework the old. The splendid results fill the following issue with poems that run a beautiful gamut from themes most closely aligned to the traditional fairytale, others which represent a more subdued (but no less mystical) image of a magically inspired world, and finally to the flights of fantasy of creative mythology. The structure of this issue traces this journey with the poems so arranged as to meander through these themes on that path so described through poetry offered by a number of guests and frequent contributors.

Do please enjoy all these stories, these tales, these images of what might truly be, what once was, or what may have been in this fantasy and fairytale issue.

James Frederick William Rowe
Associate Editor


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An Apology from the Editor-in-Chief
The Editors of Songs of Eretz take pride in our quick response times to submissions--usually only a few days.  In fact, our guidelines ask poets to query us if more than fourteen calendar days have gone by without receiving a response to a submission.  We also take pride in providing personal, individualized feedback on every poem submitted for our consideration whether accepted or rejected, from a few kind words to a mini-critique--a practice almost unheard of these days.

Unfortunately, in our transition from providing a daily to a monthly e-zine and from having one editor to having four, we have recently discovered that some of our personal responses--up to perhaps a hundred--were not delivered to the poets.  We have identified the systemic error that caused this to happen and have rectified the matter.  The problem was a failure in delivery.  In no instance was confidential information misdirected or misused.

So, if you sent us a poem between December 1, 2018, and March 3, 2019, and did not receive a response to your submission, please query Editor@SongsOfEretz.com if you would like to be provided with an editorial opinion of your poetry.  We humbly apologize to those affected and hope that you will continue to consider Songs of Eretz Poetry Review for your work.

Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD
Editor-in-Chief

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Poetry

How to Write a Fairy Tale
Carol Stevens Kner

If happily ever after is the plan,
you’ve got to have a handsome prince. He’s brave
and keen on baroque flourishes
but, truth to tell, his conversation’s dim.
"Knight" | Watercolor on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
(The princess will not mind that he is bland.)

Of course there is a princess. But the King,
who borrows accident from every wind,
has locked her in a jeweled room
with a false mirror and a thousand books,
a lizard and a moth with silver wings.

And don’t forget the witch, her Cyclops eye,
her snarl. She dwells deep in the woods beneath
a thorny hedge, and squats and broods
on formulas for pestilential spells.
Regrets, acrid and raw, gnaw at her life.

Be sure to add a seven-headed snake,
a hairy little troll who needs a course
in anger management, and coins
that clink within a mole-gray chamois draw-                                                          
string purse. It’s tricky, but you’ve got to make

the plot meander through a distant mist-
bound kingdom a long, long time ago
when everything familiar now
had not yet been designed, and in their trials,
the wicked and dishonest always lost.

Remember, too, that though a lie is told
and only you, the troll, and I grasp at 
the truth, the snake will not survive,
the witch will eat herself away, the prince
will win the princess—hopelessly beguiled.

And he’ll not wither to a saturnine
old man, nor will she fade and wrinkle, stoop,
despair (and sometimes nag), until the tale
is long since ended, and the few who choose
to tell it begin, “Once upon a time. . . ”

Poet's Notes: I wrote this poem several years ago when my granddaughter, who is now twelve years old, was still quite young and I was in the habit of reading fairytales to her. I also volunteer at a public grammar school in New York City to work with kids who need extra help. Some of them haven't had a background of fairytales at home, so I've introduced them to the old standards. It occurred to me during this process that there are certain recurring motifs in fairytales that could be woven into a poem.

Editor’s Note:  I love the rhythm and rhyme scheme here and the bit of ars poetica for fairytales.  The final stanza ends the piece well--coming full circle.  SWG

Editor's Note:  I thought it highly fitting to begin this issue with a poem that quite literally details the essential steps of so many fairytales, but does so not especially in an ironic or mocking manner, but in honor of the medium. The fairytale as a genre might be littered with well-worn tracks, but as in real life, the roads with the highest traffic tend to be the best paths to take.  JFWR

About the Poet:  Carol Stevens Kner served for many years as managing editor and staff writer at PRINT Magazine. At the age of sixty, she left that publication to pursue her interest in writing poems. Her work has appeared in Western Humanities Review, The Paris Review, Heliotrope, North American Review, and other journals. Several of her poems have been set to music by American composer Christopher Berg and performed in concert in New York City. Toadlily Press published her chapbook “Exposure” in 2010. 

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Dear Goldilocks
Vivian Finley Nida

Dear Goldilocks

"Baby Bear" | Ink on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
We thought our cottage secure
hidden in backwoods
out of harm’s way
so left the door open

We went for a last walk
before savoring Mama’s special
hibernation porridge, famous for inducing
deep sleep, delicious winter dreams

Upon return, discovering part of Mama’s and Papa’s
porridge gone, my bowl empty, stomachs knotted
Hearts tripped over broken chair
Legs trembled climbing stairs, almost toppled

finding you, face pale as moon, flaxen curls
tousled on pillow, eyes closed, sound asleep
We worried we could not wake you
Hibernation porridge stifles metabolism

When your eyes opened like morning glories
we relaxed, but your bow-shaped mouth
shot primal screams
They pierced like arrows

We recoiled, watched you
bolt downstairs, out the door
through the woods, still shrieking
We did not eat the porridge

Danger pushed us down a wild path
I trampled fear, then trudged regret
until we reached Lamar ValleyYellowstone
Peace flows like the river in this lush valley

Elk, wolves, bison, pronghorn antelope
graze with grizzlies and us black bears
who savor trout, shrubs, shoots, huckleberries
blue as your eyes, deep enough for drowning

Here, most of my black bear friends are black
A few are brown, and one black bear is blond
Her coat, like your hair swirls honey in the breeze
Inquisitive, like you, she asked why we moved

After spilling the grim tale, I felt compelled to write
In another time, place, if not taught to fear each other
we might have coexisted, admired differences, been friends
Regardless of what you might think, we never wished you harm

Respectfully
Baby Bear

Poet’s Notes: In 1958, my family traveled to Yellowstone. I kept my first journal on the trip and recorded that we saw forty bears in two days. The first night, we ate dinner at the main lodge by Old Faithful, then walked to our cabin but had to wait to go inside because a bear was searching the trash can outside the door. Since 1880, bears had been eating garbage behind park hotels, so that was not unusual. 

The next morning we banged pans to frighten away another bear going through the trash. That afternoon, we pulled the car onto the road’s shoulder at a picnic area to watch bears eating trash and food left by people for them. Suddenly, our car zoomed away on the pavement. A bear was running toward it. The car was not quite fast enough. The bear left claw marks behind the passenger back door. 

To avoid problems and return bears to a diet of natural foods, in 1970, all garbage cans were bear-proof and open-pit garbage dumps were removed. As a result, bears ranged farther away from people. Today, Lamar Valley, called America’s Serengeti, is a popular place to view bears and other wildlife.

Editor’s Note: The move of the bear family to Yellowstone strikes me as the most important, and sad, part of this poem. The regret expressed in the concluding portion of the poem rings especially sorrowful because of the fact that Yellowstone itself is sort of an escape from Goldilocks writ large--a refuge from encroaching humanity, not in one girl, but in the many millions that have taken up the space formerly belonging to the animals. I hardly bemoan the fact that mankind needs space to live, but there is a recognition of the sorrow entailed in the natural world ever shrinking, which this poem nicely captures.  JFWR

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Who Doesn't Like an Ogre?
Charles A. Swanson

Warts are fun. That must be why
I keep playing with one on my thumb.
To be brown and toady relieves
"Ogre's Pet" | Ink on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
a lot of pressure. And to have teeth
like a horse—even better yet teeth
like a horse that’s been kicked
by another horse in the mouth,
teeth so bad that your ogre dentist,
standing on his five-foot ladder,
giant pliers the size of a pipe wrench
in his hand, swears a time or two,
says, There’s no hope for you, boy.
If you’re an ogre, you just grin,
with one tooth hanging sideways,
and say, Well, golly, you know,
my mama’s teeth look just like mine.
I guess I’m blessed.

And it’s so much fun to have
a goose, and not to worry
how she hammer-pecks me
dead center in the forehead. She’s not
going to do any damage,
not with your head hard as iron
and shaped like an anvil, too.
You can go up to that crabby thing,
her lustrous white feathers
shining in the cattails, right while
she’s sitting on her nest, and steal
those giant-sized golden eggs.
It won’t matter how she beats you
with her wings. You can just chuckle,
stroke her back with your warty paw,
and bumble sweet nothings
in your voice box that sounds
like an avalanche of shale cascading.
Not many could do it, walk off with those eggs.
It takes an ogre to tolerate a goose.

Poet’s Notes: This poem sprang from the idea in the last line, that a goose is such a hateful creature that an equally irascible creature would be needed to work with her. I guess that says something about me, for I fed and tended to a flock of white geese for several years. I didn’t grow to love them and I was not unhappy when the last one was gone. The geese and I constantly struggled for dominance. They could not be taught and they knew no fear. 

However, the image of geese in the air, V-shaped in flight formation, or geese silhouetted against the evening sky as they pull up blades of grass in an emerald green pasture, speaks to the romantic sensibilities. Surely, the snow-white goose on the nest in the reeds by blue water is a charming sight. My advice to you, however, is, "Don’t challenge a goose unless you’ve eaten your Wheaties."


Back-Squawk
Charles A. Swanson

If that big goofy oaf, that Ogre,
laid an egg, I’d steal it. I wouldn’t
"Ogre's Livestock" | Ink on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
sit on it, for I wouldn’t want
another—one of him’s enough. But
I want him to know how it feels.
I’ve tried beating him in the face,
flying at him with my crowbar
neck full-flexed, beak like a spear point
right at the spot between his eyes.
You’d think he’d stumble back,
shake that balding head, but it’s
harder than knotty wood. I couldn’t
even raise a whelp. He just bumbled,
fum, fum, fum, fum, almost like a song,
like he was thinking something
but couldn’t quite think it through.
What a wooden head!

Every day, another egg. My gander
likes to brag, how he’s one royal bird.
He says I couldn’t lay down gold
if it weren’t for him—his DNA.
He says if we ever hatched one out
we'd have a golden child. Ha!
That would be the day! I’ve tried
sassing, both that egomaniac mate
of mine, and that dunderhead
of a lumbering churl. I can hiss
and spat with the best of them.
Talk about white noise! I can put
a ham radio’s whistles and garbles
to shame. I can screech with such
a grating cackle that anyone else
is made mute. But not that lout, that dolt,
that halfwit, that Cretin, that Neanderthal,
that Ogre! He just says, Well, Matildy,
ain’t you such a sweet little thing
to sing me a pretty egg-laying song.

Poet’s Notes: Every conversation is two-sided. And not only are there words that are spoken, but there are words that are thought. For all the crackle of a heated altercation, the confessions of a soliloquy can be even more charged with electricity. The goose has to have her say, for she is not a creature prone to silences.

When I was raising geese, I often experienced their gabble that sounded like a room full of anger. If my wife called to me from the house to ask me a question, and I stood near the geese’s pen, they answered for me. They heard her voice and they started squawking. I could not shout above their clamor. After a while, I began to think of their racket as white noise, like the rattle of a radio between stations, or the effect of a television when the programming is ended--the screen looks like dirty snow, and an indecipherable current of static fills the air.

Editor’s Note:  These poems are twinned for a reason, and I thought it cruel to separate them and so kept them together--the only time a poet gets two such poems placed one after the other in this issue. I don't have many dealings with geese but I have been told they are notoriously irascible, and the ogres I know are precisely as lunkheaded and thick-skinned as Swanson describes. Delightful and humorous in the best of ways. JFWR


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Speck of Red
Al-don Schraeder

"Red Hood" | Watercolor on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
You, speck of red, I see you skipping quick
through a fir tree copse where I tucked in a corpse
in a sleep time story, in a thicket;

'twas a wee lil pig in a wad of sticks,
a wattle interwoven over culled pork.
You, speck of red, I see you skipping quick

atop this gristly scene still warm as a wick
etched in the charred scent of my memoirs,
in a sleep time story, in a thicket.

You, wrapped in your hood, you hardly notice as you pick
your path amidst the dewdrops drooling on the thorns.

You, speck of red, I see you skipping quick:
heels scritch-scratching upon my dish, the pricks
of waxen holly on your wrists will not desist my fork
in a sleep time story, in a thicket

I shall curb you up like a sup of bacon-flavored aspic
cowled in a jellied spread of thy own gore - and gorge.
You, speck of red, I see you skipping quick
in a sleep time story, in a thicket.

Poet’s Notes: I’ve been prowling over this villanelle for many years trying to pick out just the right diction to convey a salivating hunger--the sort that comes from the remembrance of a fine feast and the anticipation of an even finer one soon to come.  Of course, we know that things don’t really work out for the Big Bad Wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood”. The ending is always the same, but there is still always this moment at the beginning when the wolf enters and the audience gets a touch of a feeling--a speck of horror--that he might just get his prey.

Editor’s Note:  A nice twist on "Little Red Ridinghood" and a well-constructed villanelle.  The poet's use of consonance and assonance is simply delicious.  SWG   

Editor's Note:  The rhyme here sings in a lip-smacking tone perfectly suited to the theme of ravenous, predatory hunger.  JFWR

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Skipping Stone
Sylvia Cavanaugh

She would dance to the blue lake and toss bread crumbs to ducks and geese before weaving white feathers and flowers into her russet locks. She followed a wild stream into the mountains and climbed crags and boulders, collected berries and mushrooms for the cook, and splashed in the laughing water as it cascaded over its stony bed. Her father was a benevolent wizard-king and one of her sisters was a tall golden-haired scribe who worked with the rarest pigments. Her other sister, raven-haired, played a silver flute as she sat on the stone wall of the well, which echoed in pure harmony.

A prince from a kingdom of poets stayed at the castle for seven months and fell madly in love with one of the king’s daughters. Sitting in the gazebo as the sun sank orange-ochre over the lake, the king laid out a nugget of pure gold, a glittering blue diamond, and a flat brown pebble. Which is the daughter you wish to wed? The prince picked up the flat pebble and with the flick of his wrist, skipped it seven times over the lake. In the place where it sank a pure white swan arose, bathed in amber light. She glided forward and stepped ashore—the russet-haired princess had likewise chosen him.

"Ripples" | Watercolor on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon

Editor's Note: The challenge of prose poetry is to capture the poetic in a prose format. This poem overcomes this inherent difficulty through an economic and tight use of imagery that paints a classic fairytale picture beautifully. I also love the harmony of the equally sized stanzas. JFWR

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The Big, Bad Wolf Explains
Sandy Longley

I was hungry.

Cake, wine — not appealing: no hooves, no flesh,
no thrill of the chase. The little girl, on the other hand,
smelled luscious, like sun-ripened raspberries,
"Misunderstood" | Watercolor & Ink on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
her cheeks apricots, hair the color of hay.

But let it be known, I was conflicted. Even
grandma in her nightgown, it gave me pause —
her vulnerability, her venerability, the white cap.

A wolf is a wolf, nothing half or “were” about us,
that is how we identify; the other is the stuff of
fiction, like the huffing and puffing, scheming
(not so little) pigs and cauldrons of wolf fricassee. 

But in the cottage, leaving me to suffer, to die,
my belly slit open by that woodcutter, then
filled with stones, stones with their own stories 
to tell ...that night remembered, haunts my dreams.

From this other place I watch my pack —
what big, yellow eyes they have, what 
big, beautiful teeth, grooming one another, 
snow won't melt on fur so lush and thick,
listening for a herd of elk or deer, 

telling tales of those two, motherless
infant princes adrift on the Tiber River,
a she-wolf suckling them into Roman alphas,
a woodpecker offering figs and berries.

They were hungry.

I long to be among my siblings, crouched and 
silent in the underbrush, pheromones scenting 
the ground for miles, mountains lit by twilight, 
then howling in a single, lupine voice at the moon:
full, crescent, waning. Oooh, the wildness!

Poet’s Notes:  We know so little about the inner lives of most animals. It is rewarding to imagine some of their thoughts and fears, to give them a voice and dignity, especially for a magnificent creature like the wolf that continues to be misunderstood and that struggles for survival.

Editor's Note:  The narrative here is easy to follow and an interesting story told from the wolf's perspective.  From Little Red to Romulus and Remus, the poet adds an historical perspective as well.  SWG

Editor's Note: Combining the tale of red riding hood with that of Romulus and Remus was brilliant: how in one tale the wolf is quite literally the Big Bad, whereas in another the wolf mothers the founding king of Rome. I never connected these tales mentally until now, and now I marvel at the fear and reverence contained in these distinctive tales, and how beautifully those themes are wed here in this poem.  JFWR 

About the Poet:  Sandy Longley is a college English Professor in New York. Finishing Line Press recently published her chapbook, “Navigating the Waters”.


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To the Kingdom Within
Karla Linn Merrifield

When they ask me how
was my journey this winter,
I will tell them
I met an elf
in a hemlock forest
one half-mile off the beaten path
in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains.

I will tell them the truth
about Georgianus leprechauns shuffling
through the white pine needles,
whispering back to the rapids,
of spring on the Toccoa River
and peeking up over at me
from a granitic outcropping,
winking just as you’d expect.

He was dressed in pale lichen green
with oak-leaf epaulets,
had wings, mind you, of ferns,
and wore a bright orange mushroom cap.
He did not tip his hat for me;
he beckoned with a finger
from within his foggy grove
just over the Fannin County line.

And before he said a word to me,
he hooted to the owls
and a parliament of them
who-who’d in return in consultation:
Let her in.

Yes, I will tell them
in all honesty,
he did.

Poet’s Notes: This poem is an old but treasured one, dating to 2005. I just don't dabble in magic/fairytales often. The poem was inspired by a friend to celebrate a budding friendship, one between two poets who became each other's muses. That magical relationship deepened over the years until his death in 2014. So I have to thank Songs of Eretz for the opportunity to remember poet Beau Cutts, the only leprechaun I ever met.

Editor's Note: 
I have not a single doubt of the veracity of this poem. The magical can intrude in ways that require only the right perspective to reveal. JFWR

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"Dance of the God" | Ink on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon

  Little Bird
  Terri Lynn Cummings

  Fledgling left his nest for a romp
  befriended fairies and birds

  Too young to predict consequences
  Too old to wing back unchallenged

  Mother barred against hurt
  laid a new baby in the bed

  Plenty of surrogates: birds to fly with
  mothers to hover, stars to guide

  Now a Pan, unable to pipe his age
  Shadow of adulthood a sticky conformity

  Remorse 
  villain of all

  Sleep opens a window
  Pan enters, lures you to a land of never




Poet’s Notes: In 1911, J. M. Barrie wrote, “All children, except one, grow up.” I had wanted to be that child, never grow old, never have to go to school.

In his 1902 novel, The Little White BirdBarrie began the story of Peter Pan. Based on Barrie’s relationship with Llewelyn Davies’ five little boys, Barrie gave Peter an old soul’s name, Pan, a clever conceit. In ancient Greece, Pan, a god of the wild, companion of nymphs, played a pan flute (referenced in stanza five).

My childhood winged away as quick and casual as a blink. Though I rue the loss of innocence, I am made whole in the night.

Editor’s Note: The great god Pan never died in the hearts of dreaming children and inspired poets. Amusingly, though, I always took to Captain Hook myself--pride in a shared name has absolutely nothing to do with it, surely!  JFWR

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Ode to a Grecian Egg
Al-don Schraeder

To Egony, a youth of Athens amidst the yolk of Myth, the pitch of yore:
you scratched out your flight in a fowl’s fight to be at least forgot.
Here’s toast to you and your uncracked stories gone rotten and unborn.

The empty urn depicts what churned the Fates have deigned to adorn:  
the clay of You proved brittle; it could not be hewn into a pretty pot
to Egony, a youth of Athens amidst the yolk of myth, the pitch of yore.

Though you dared to vaunt to the Cow-eyed Queen, applied for all her chores;
no Heracles, you could not succeed, for you couldn’t cut the Augean sod.
Here’s toast to you and your uncracked stories gone rotten and unborn.

As Orpheus you picked up the lute yet attuned it under Pluto’s chord;
Discordia offered you a gold foiled fruit: “to the Unfairest of Luck’s lot:
to Egony, a youth of Athens amidst the yolk of myth, the pitch of yore.”

To invoke your name is much the same as to poke a lame man’s leg: what for?
No shelves are strained; historicists refrain from sorting a dot.
Here’s toast to you and your uncracked stories gone rotten and unborn.

We might trace thumbs on the Nemean Lion, feast eyes on the Erymanthian Boar,
but because of you we will notice glazed illusive beneath it all: jack squat.
To Egony, a youth of Athens amidst the yolk of Myth, the pitch of yore:
here’s toast to you and your uncracked stories gone rotten and unborn.



Poet’s Notes:  “Breakfast is truth, truth breakfast,” – that is all.

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the many puns in this clever villanelle.  SWG

Editor’s Note:  The unsung now have a song. JFWR

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Granny's Legend of the Thistle
Charles A. Swanson

Come here, my wee one, and sit awhile.
I’ll calm your fears.
No tiny elf or wicked fairy blight
will cause you tears.

You see on my wall that thistle plaque?
The happy purple blooms?
Aye, those are your guards through summer nights
as you sleep in your room.

Now look outside where the hillsides roll
and see the bonny thistles.
They march like soldiers across the slopes,
with every thorn, a missile

waiting to fight a fairy’s approach.
See the tiny coats
pierced like handkerchiefs on each strong stalk?
The white flags float

in the air to say surrender. They’ve tried
those wicked fairy things,
to reach your bedside, but your faithful friends
the thistles, sing

them close, and they catch. Hear the wind?
Those are fairies’ screams,
their moans, because they can’t see your face asleep,
so dream, my boy, sweet dreams.



Poet’s Notes: Our grandson often asks his grandmother for ghost stories. She is constantly on the lookout for books about haunted places and ghostly appearances or unexplained hauntings. Almost every week, on the way to Sunday school, he asks for a ghost story. (The irony of that scene makes me chuckle.) I decided I had to try my hand at a fantasy story, too—something about fears and fairy creatures. Of course, when Grandma tells a story, she always needs some way to make the spooky scene less scary.

Editor’s Note:  My grandmother was also a great storyteller, so I can well appreciate a grandson's desire to hear some stories. The thistle protecting the child from the fairies is a delightful idea for a defense, given their penchant for mischief and the need to protect against it. The fairies I know, of course, are far more respectable and benevolent folk and I need not a thistle army to guard me but I can well appreciate dealing with the riff-raff of the Fae in such a manner.  JFWR


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Anti-Phoenix
Al-don Schraeder

The Aerborx is wretched and wonderful; the Aerborx
is gangly and gallant, is composed of twee branches
ever growing, always shift shaping in un-prophecy-able forks  

branched upwards and downwise and into one another as ouroboros  
although its overall physiography is dissimilar to a rattlesnake that scourge of the ranches.
The Aerborx is wretched and wonderful; the Aerborx

is more formed, gestalt-speakingly, in its never-can-be-fully-featured comport
like a bird without feather or bone beak but rather with flaky bark all adorned on its haunches
ever growing, always shape shifting in un-prophecy-able forks.

It is, in short, in the tree taxon of cryptid akin to the Ents who once slew the orcs
over in Isengard. It derivatively derives sustenance via deprivation from what it imagines.
The Aerborx is wretched and wonderful, the Aerborx

cannot fly or it has never been thought to have flown as it weighs over seven thousand horses.
It’s a big ‘ole - well - it’s a plant, as I said - although it does have wings. What are the chances?
Ever growing, always shift shaping in un-prophecy-able forks.

The Aerborx does not die. It feebly yet forever survives. Its tattered wings of leafy-cork
are always dry, frequently set fire; still its demise - though its pain does not subside - stanches.
The Aerborx is wretched and wonderful; the Aerborx
ever growing, always shape shifting in un-prophecy-able forks.

"Phoenix" | Watercolor on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon

Poet’s Notes: The Phoenix is a powerful symbol of rejuvenation and hope. I used to think of the sun as a Phoenix rising anew every morning from the ashes of the night, providing me another stab at an ill-defined quest to “do things better.” However, a complete reset in life is never really possible. We remember too much and we hurt too easily. One day isn’t a new start--it’s a continuation. It’s from this thought that the Aerborx grew: a pathetic but proud creature who will never recover that feeling of “newness” but is always a different kind of old. I’m not sure if it’s hopeful or not.

Editor’s Note:  Such imagination and creativity!  I think the LOTR references are spot-on. SWG

Editor’s Note: The twisted words are exactly as the un-prophecy-able forks so often referenced. The language is a bramble made beautiful.  JFWR

About the Poet:  Al-don Schraeder resides in GreensboroNorth Carolina. Aside from poetry, he writes and performs sketch comedy with his troupe “Unstoppable Failure”.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Silent Witness
Russell Hemmell

When my white-boned skeleton hand
shrank and wrenched the fabric of reality
in that shiro wooden castle I’d been imprisoned
"Pagoda" | Watercolor on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
over aeons of time,
sparse objects dripped down,
one at a time
in a rain of matter and tears.

They rolled over in concentric circles
occupying Lagrangian points
in the void of my misshapen body
across this hexagon-delimited
Hall of the Last Judgment,
which is seldom final
and never just.
They’re with me now. Talking.

The mirror refuses to give back
the images it devoured
since the Zenkunen War’s times,
pretending they were ritual offerings and not tokens to return.
It has not grown sick
of all the hatred it drank,
only thirstier and callous.

The tatami still maintains
warmth, sweat, and delicate marks
of the lovers’ bodies
their whispers and moans
as much as their watery eyes
in unfading stains of pain
and memories like prayer beads on the blankets.

But it is the blade the hardest to look at.
She lies down in a corner,
solitary but not abandoned,
courted by the glowing ghosts of dead warriors.
With half of her body buried into a silver scabbard,
her sheen reflects the blood spilt and left unavenged
in a silence that’s deafening even now.

Editor’s Note: I thought a bit of Japanese flavor would do well to add to this fantasy-themed issue and I fell in love with the extremely interesting imagery as expressed in the verses: "occupying Lagrangian points / in the void of my misshapen body / across this hexagon-delimited / hall of Last Judgment".  JFWR

About the Poet: Russell Hemmell is a French-Italian transplant in Scotland, passionate about astrophysics, history, and speculative fiction. His recent poetry appears in Argot Magazine, The Grievous Angel, Star*Line, and others. Find them online at their blog earthianhivemind.net and on Twitter @SPBianchini.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Heaven & Hell" | Watercolor on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
  Empyrean
  James Frederick William Rowe

  I found there was no Heaven
  And unhappy in my discovery
  I gouged from out the nothing
  A seat for my brilliance
  Amidst the flames of my creation
  But the same flames could not long be endured
  By the lesser spirits which fled
  To the darkness my light could   not reach
  And when I queried why they would take refuge
  In the abyss I thought as Hell
  All answered the same:
  "We can only be
   Where you are not"

Poet’s Notes: I wrote this poem on the subway in a single sitting. I do not recall the exact genesis of my idea, but it concerns the somewhat playful notion of a spirit that makes a Heaven when it doesn't exist, but all the lesser spirits flee on account of the pain of the flames of his creation. When they hide in the abyss which the creator thinks of as Hell, they tell him that they can only be where he is not, with the idea being that in the face of the infinite, the finite is as if it doesn't exist. In other words, God can overshadow us.

I count this playful because the creator basically becomes God because he is mad there is none, and in so doing, he makes a Heaven that no one wants to be in at all. There's something like a bit of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell in this, where the perspective of the angel of Hell is misery, and the perspective of the devil of Heaven is the same. I am also reminded of the idea that I once heard that Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are all the same place, with the flames feeling different depending on the soul, thus the title "Empyrean".

The poem is rather simple aesthetically. I did not do much to change it around when I transcribed it from my notebook to the computer save for a word or two.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sacrifice as Triumph
Anne E. Johnson

Thick violet ribbons formed of violent dust
Storm-swirled above the sea and raised a squall.
The Kel folk, who lived on the western shore,
Sang songs to please the gods of rain and wind.
With ancient hymns
They prayed for calm.

“O, deities who made the golden sun
That lets our harvest yield abundant food,
Who taught us to be grateful for their gifts —
We ask you to protect the Kel ones now.
Let not the storm
Destroy us, gods.”

And yet the murderous storm did not abate.
“The great gods are still angry,” said the priest.
“We must give them a sacrifice. A girl.”
Most innocent wide-eyed Sella did they choose.
She showed no fear.
She had a plan.

“I shall not die by mortal’s sword,” she said.
“The gods should kill me on the mountaintop.”
The priest declared it was the holy way.
Six townsmen bore her to the mountain’s peak
And lashed her down
Against red rock.

Sella lay alone and watched the sky.
A glint of white light pierced the purple storm.
The gods descended, silver spears in hand.
Brave Sella pushed her courage up and cried:
“To see my gods
Is worth my death.”

Flattered, all the gods set down their spears.
“As human, you are better than the rest.
Why did your people offer us your death?”
“Because those cowards fear the end of life
More than they love
You mighty gods.”

The deities blessed Sella with a kiss.
They made the village bow beneath her rule.
A lesser person would have sought revenge,
But Sella had a kind and patient heart.
The gods, impressed,
Sent no more storms.

"Altar" | Watercolor on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
Poet’s Notes: "Sacrifice as Triumph" is a feminist twist on the ancient trope of offering virgin sacrifice to appease angry gods. My heroine, Sella, realizes who has the greater power (the gods, not the male mortals) and figures out how to sweet-talk and bargain with the immortals so they will lift her into their circle of protection. The would-be victim becomes the savior of her society by dint of her own cleverness and courage. Yet she also proves herself worthy of this special treatment: she does not abuse her new power.

Using a formal metrical structure seemed appropriate as a nod to the tradition of poetic epics dating back to Homer. I considered dactylic hexameter for a closer connection to Homer, but iambs work much more naturally in English.

Editor’s Note: Human sacrifice is a theme I have often reflected upon in my own work.   I do love the triumphant bravery of the sacrificial victim here. There is always the taint of cowardice about sacrifice--the insanity that fear provokes and the mob mentality it inspires.  JFWR

About the Poet: Anne E. Johnson is a Brooklyn-based writer of fiction, poetry, and music journalism. Her work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including The Future Fire, FrostFire Worlds, and Young Explorer's Adventure Guide. When she's not writing, she can often be found playing tin whistle and fiddle around the New York Irish music scene.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Soul Devourers
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

“It is said the gamchicothim hate all of Creation
But they especially detest the race of Man--
          And the children of Man most of all--
For within the soul of each innocent child
Burns the light of Kadashem,
And it is this light that they would consume
            And extinguish
                      Forever.  
The seat of their life force is a
            Bleak,
                    Bottomless,
                                      Void,
Forever empty of warmth and light,
And ever do they seek to fill this void,
Driven by a voracious appetite
          Beyond hunger,
                     Beyond the most exquisite pain.
                               They are the devourers of souls.”

“But didn’t Kenton
            Rid all of Eretz
                      Of every gamchicoth long ago, mother?”
                      Her little boy asked,
                                    Pulling the covers closer,
                                            His eyes widening
                                                         And breath quickening 
As he watched the shadows created by the flame
Of the single candle
          Dance
                   Upon 
                             Her face.

“Oh, Lord Kenton called them out, little one,
And with his mighty sword he fought them hard and long 
Within the dark forest that now bears his name,
And it is said that he hunted down 
            One
                      By
                               One
Those gamchicothim that were able to resist
His challenge.”

“B...but he got them all,
          Didn’t he mother?  
He looked for them
And found them
And then he slew them--
            Every
                     Last
                             One?”

“Most believe that to be so, little warrior.  
But it is also said that those soul devourers
That resisted Lord Kenton’s compulsion
To leave their dark places of hiding
And fight him in the light
Were among the cruellest and cunning of their kind,
And that some may have eluded him...”

The little boy felt something 
          Warm and wet
                       Trickle
                              Down
                                      His
                                                Legs. 

Poet's Notes:  I wrote a high fantasy novel, The Last Paladin, and based the demonology, religion, and magic in it on Hebrew lore.  I thought it was about time somebody did.  "Kadashem" in line 5 refers to the Hebrew God.  I named my fantasy world "Eretz," the Hebrew word for "earth."  The stories based in this fantasy world I called "Songs of Eretz."  This was years before I founded Songs of Eretz Poetry Review.

In Jewish mysticism, the gamchicothim (singular = gamchicoth) are demons that seek to devour all of Creation, especially that which is good and kind and loving.  The events in the poem, here being told as a bedtime story (a poor choice for one given the reaction of the little boy), are already the stuff of legend in the novel.  The hero, the Paladin Kenton, is long dead, but perhaps all of the gamchicothim are not...

 Sadly, the original Songs of Eretz, all 480 pages of it, languishes away unpublished despite an heroic marketing effort.  Sadder still, while I do not claim that anti-Semitism is the only reason my novel did not sell, it is a factor.  Feedback received from one source included the comment, "A Jewish protagonist named 'Gondomir'?  Not believable!"  I am sure that anti-Semite would have found something else to dislike even if I named my protagonist "Shlomo".  Perhaps the world is just not ready for Hebrew high fantasy...

Editor's Notes: I have to say that I am saddened to hear that Steve has had difficulty with his vision of Hebrew high fantasy seeing the light of day. I, for one, always like to see new worlds and cultures expressed in fantastical manners, especially if they are as compelling and interesting as this poem makes them seem they are in the broader story. Then again, I always enjoyed the tale of Samson more than any other in the Bible. JFWR

Artist's Note:  As tempted as I was to provide an illustration for this one, I decided that I would allow the reader's imagination to conjure the most terrifying image instead.  JAG

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Castle, Rook, and Raven
Oliver Smith

Arthur, the Red Dragon King foretold,
played Owain the Raven Lord
at battle board in the Gran’ Tower
on the eve of Badon.
Knight met knight and bishop pawn

upon the checks of jet and gold;
pieces carved of precious stones:
back and forth they charged.
Arthur moved his rook to knight besiege
"Rook" | Watercolor & Ink on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
and the Gran’ Tower strangely strayed:

the trees beyond all faded
and the sun shifted in the sky,
so where before it had looked
upon a wild unruly wood,
it stood upon a sparse and ragged moor.

Owain’s knight took pawn
and from out the window came a shout
as a bloody warrior in black fled by;
on his shield and on his helm the ravens flew
while Arthurs men gave hue and cry.

Owain said most urgently,
“We must halt the game and make a peace;
already Mordred marches from the east.”
The King sipped his wine and reached
across and a bishop took Owain’s knight.

“Your move,” he said.
A clattering of hooves outside betrayed
the villain’s head paraded past upon a spike.
At once the trumpet sounded
and the war-drum beat.

In a vision Owain saw his enemies
running along by Avon:
a thousand Saxon warriors
chewing on the ramson roots
and smelling much of onions.

Owain said, “we must delay our game
and make peace among our men.
You must send out your lords
and knights and squires.”
Arthur sipped his wine and enquired

“Will you not move Owain?”
Owain’s Queen with night black wings
moved upon Bishop and King
and the sky turned dark with carrion birds
from night’s black tomb that fell

upon the gathered hoards
to pick their eyes and steal their bones
as Saxons troops with Mordred
marched from the Dead Lands
upon Badon hill arrayed

and ready now for war;
Huscarls in phalanx, plans all laid.
“Away, Owain,” said the King,
“We must halt the game.”
“Your move, oh King,” said Owain.

Distant Caer Ludd trembled
beneath the raven wings;
the walls of the kingdom fell
and Arthur rocked in fury
and took each piece from the board

and crushed it down to dust
and brought an end to all the games:
before him all the Saxons fell
but behind him Camelot’s golden towers
decayed and bloomed with rust.

Poet’s Notes:  In chess, the term "castle" is synonymous with "rook", and the "rook" is also a bird resident in the British Isles which is a taxonomically a member of the Raven family: so a castle is a rook is a raven.

The strangely liminal space of Arthurian mythology has been mapped and remapped onto the British landscape, from Tintagel in Cornwall to King Arthur's seat in Edinburgh; from Dinas Emrys in Wales (where the infamous meeting between Vortigern and a young wizard named Merlin took place) to King Arthur's Cave in deepest darkest Gloucestershire.

The action of "Castle, Rook, and Raven" is projected on to the Neolithic monuments of South West England. The ‘Dead Lands’ in the poem are the Lands of the Dead: the ritual landscape of Salisbury Plain including Stonehenge and the course of the Bristol Avon: a slow river that meanders across the chalk-lands of Wiltshire. Once marshes and wetlands bordered its serpentine loops and the embalmed bodies of warriors sat in boats guarding the riverward approach to the great mortuary landscape of the Britons: the gateway to Stonehenge and Woodhenge and a thousand bone-stuffed barrow mounds. In Le Morte d'Arthur, the site of the King's final battle is located at nearby Salisbury; and one of the many suggested sites for Mons Badonicus lies just over the county border at Badbury Rings hill fort in Dorset.

The language of the poem is given an archaic feel mainly though syntactical inversion, and the poem employs a loose meter and rhyme, relying more on half-rhyme and localized assonance and consonance for a sprung rhythm. The tendency for short lines lengths of approximately seven syllables or a loose trimeter also imparts a faster flow to the action and moves the mood of the poem towards dark irony rather than the more Heroic feel of pentameter.

The narrative is based on "The Dream of Rhonabwy from the Mabinogion"; in the original story, the Knight Owain plays a game of chess against King Arthur while the Saxons prepare to fight the Battle of Badon. Three times during the game, Owain's men inform him that Arthur's squires have been slaughtering his ravens, but when Owain protests, Arthur simply responds, "Your move." When Owain's ravens retaliate against the squires, Arthur tells Owen to call them off. Owain answers ‘your move’ and does not stop them, so Arthur destroys the chessmen to end the game.

Chess actually appeared in Europe much later than the post-Roman period of the mythical Arthur; though the possibly similar board-game of Gwyddbwyll was played at the time, the details of how it was played and with what pieces are lost - so the poem refers to the game as Battle Board and uses the (anachronistic) names of modern chessmen for the game pieces.

The Saxons in alliance with Mordred are described as Huscarls, who were members of the Saxon king's household: this signifies an elite troop of knights rather than the Saxon levy – the Fyrd. The Ramson they chew on is wild garlic which grows abundantly alongside bluebells in the ancient woodlands in the United Kingdom.

The original story is quite enigmatic in its meaning, and Arthur's motives remain obscure. In "Castle, Rook, and Raven", the moves of the chess game are in magical synchrony with the physical action, and, as a consequence, Arthur is entranced by the game until Owain’s creatures turn on his army. Through this synchrony, his angry crushing of the chessmen also results in the destruction of his kingdom and the end of the golden age of Logres.

Editor’s Note: And what issue of fantasy would be complete without the presence of the greatest of all legends, King Arthur? The drama of the broad is beautifully reflected in the ensuing drama of Arthur's imminent last battle, and the poetic language speaks to the tension in so strange a scene as this game that takes place at so desperate an hour.  I'd also like to say I find a strange satisfaction in that finally someone other than I writes extremely lengthy poet's notes!  JFWR

About the Poet: Oliver Smith is a visual artist and writer from CheltenhamUnited Kingdom. He is currently researching for his Ph.D. thesis on Cognitive Approaches to Cut-up Method in Creative Writing. He has worked as a bookseller, cartographic researcher, local government officer, and lecturer and currently runs creative writing workshops based on various surrealist and aleatory methods. 

Oliver’s poetry has been published in Spectral Realms, Illumen, Eye to the Telescope, Star*line, Rivet, Mirror Dance, Dreams & Nightmares (forthcoming), and Strange Horizons (forthcoming).  His prose has been included in anthologies from, among others, Flame Tree Publishing and Ex- Occidente Press who also published a collection of his short stories, Stars Beneath the Ships. His stories and poems generally involve the weird, fantastic, and speculative: in his collection Basilisk Soup & Other Stories (Createspace, 2016) there’s a mermaid in the bath, pickled brains plotting in the pantry, and a green man who has lost his head and isn't going to take it lying down.  Oliver’s website can be found at https://oliversimonsmithwriter.wordpress.com/

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
[the cruelty of the exquisite]
Jennifer Crow

leaf and flower sculpted
in lapidary light, currents
shaping stone, birds
flinging themselves at the sky
and crying hope
for this morning of the world

[yet]

something crouches
in the undergrowth, teeth
sharpened on bone and gristle
and tongue ready
to lap up blood

[wait]

before you touch
me, ask yourself
what price you would pay
to memorize my flesh
and whether you know
how pain bends
the soul, for I am no small thing
Waiting in the undergrowth

[I am]

full of hunger
and fierce awareness
my breath one with the wind
my mind one with the fear
nestling in your chest

[come]

let us test fate
with our conjoined
exhalations, and
some scavenger
from the shadows
will finish the feast
you weep, but I
have already

[forgotten]

Poet’s Notes: One of my favorite elements of fairytales--and faery realms--is the blending of beauty and menace. There's a price to be paid for the extraordinary, and in some cases, the cost might be too high.

Editor’s Note: Menace is exactly the appropriate word to describe such a fearful poem. Through not being mentioned in detail, the hidden beast appears even more monstrous in its ambiguity, in its darkened amorphousness, allowing the reader's struggle to depict what it knows to fear. I also love the use of bracketed text here. JFWR

About the Poet: Shy and nocturnal, Jennifer Crow has rarely been photographed in the wild, but it’s rumored that she lives near a waterfall in western New York. You can find her poetry on several websites, including Asimov's Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, and Mythic Delirium. She’s always happy to connect with readers on her Facebook author page or on Twitter @writerjencrow.

Artist's Note:  As with "Soul Devourers" (see above), as tempted as I was to provide an illustration for this one, I decided that I would allow the reader's imagination to conjure the most terrifying image instead.  JAG


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interface      
Charles Swanson

A place where worlds exchange a bit of each,
"Foam" | Watercolor on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
a borderland. Perhaps liquid seeps
across a fixed line in the sand. The creep
of tendrils makes green a sterile beach.
A barge from one world pulls up. It is a breach
of water whooshing up on shore. And grit squeaks
against seaboards. The protest sounds sweet
to the nymph, to the man waiting on the beach.
And land feet board the watercraft with steps
unsteady, bringing bits of woods-dirt, grass,
caked on shoes, hanging from shoelace eyelets.
Their lips meet in a sudden gush of wet.
He licks sea-salt with his tongue. Bubbles laugh
with her laugh. She laps his land-locked sweat.

Poet's Notes: This poem started as an exercise. I was teaching creative writing to high school students. I gave them the challenge of leafing through the dictionary, finding a word that spoke to them. (How can one be a poet unless words sing? What writer is not titillated by connotations?) I took my own challenge. I stopped on “interface.” In computer jargon, the word sounds cold and technical—"A device or program for connecting two items of hardware or software so that they can be operated jointly or communicate with each other” (oxforddictionaries.com). But I saw the parts of the compound word, “inter” and “face.” “Inter” sounds like “enter.” To enter a face. A dentist could do that. A morsel of food could do that. A bug, unexpectedly, could do that. But to me, the word was brimming with romance, with sexual tension. Why not a man and a woman? Why not a bit of fantasy, a bit of magic, a bit of the dream world? Isn’t true love beyond the everyday and mundane?

Editor’s Note: I was most drawn in by the implied unity of the last lines, given that both the sea and sweat taste equally alike of salt. What greater interface is there than in this odd sympathy of substance? JFWR


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Thread Seeker
Alessio Zanelli

At the summit of the footpath,
where sky and earth annul each other,
he was waiting for the shade to also ascend.

"Thread" | Watercolor on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
Spiraling on high, attentive,
ancient sentinels went crying,
signaling his presence
to the unseeing and the unseen.

Crippled, hardly able to stand,
he slowly raised his eyes
toward the crest sheer overhead,
then whispered a few words—
the query he would never have made.

Amid the swoosh of pines,
all onlookers above fallen silent,
he seemed to hear the giant’s reply
echo down the looming walls
in uncadenced counter-question form—
what took you so long?

At such terse sentence,
incredulous, suddenly back in the pink,
he finally saw…

The thread.
It had always been there,
right in front of his face,
neither carved in stone nor afloat in the air,
just couched along the edge,
minutely tracing out the apparent line
between adjacent yet opposed domains.

He turned around, longing for home,
in the know, unencumbered again,
a chest after another unlocking inside.

No longer caring for the whereabouts of either end.

Editor's Note: 
There is always some danger in pulling threads, isn't there? JFWR

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Elegy for a Sunken City
R.S. Mason

The city seemed so empty
when you weren't here.
I promised I'd return, didn't I?
Didn't I promise I'd rescue you?
But I fought my way back
to our city,
our home,
"Lost City" | Ink & Watercolor on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
and there was nothing left but silence.

Of course I drowned it.
Of course I shattered the floodbanks--
they are,
after all,
my floodbanks, because this city
is mine,
and there is nothing here
worth saving
without you.
They said you'd left
so I did what I had to.
I let the ocean
reclaim her own.

Perhaps they'll remember me as a hero:
perhaps, as the waves crash through the marble streets,
they'll tell themselves stories
of how I sacrificed my city to save the world.
But I didn't. I sacrificed it because
I hoped I'd drown with it.

The waves are calm now,
the screams of my city finally silenced.
It's oddly peaceful,
here alone with the gulls
and my thoughts
in the dead city beneath the sea.
I hope you'll come back home.

Poet’s Notes: I love stories about broken kingdoms and dying empires, but so often the cataclysm is so impersonal. Here, it is a deliberate disaster, a loss so powerful it drowns a city. I was inspired in part by the mythical city of Ys, which was drowned by its princess for reasons which are unclear. I've always felt that an event so momentous and terrible as the drowning of a city should have motivations equal to the deed.

Editor’s Note:  I've had the distinct pleasure of knowing Mr. Mason for nearly fifteen years, so I knew in advance he would give me a poem filled with tragedy and loss when I invited him to try his hand at my issue. Romance is so often tied to destruction, but mostly it is restricted: personal and limited. Here the scope is made far greater, as a civilization itself sees its end to commemorate a loss too great to be grieved in any lesser manner, all while others misunderstand the motivations and speak of heroism where there was only loss and disappointment, and a hope dashed for a reunion whose struggle had guided his deeds, but which in the end came to nothing. This poem reminds me of something more profoundly true than most of us would be readily willing to admit: destruction itself can be a grand testament to love. And when all joy is lost, why not allow the waves to wash all away?  JFWR

Artist's Note: This poem made me think of this video, and thus ended up inspiring the piece https://youtu.be/ICxC5ekWnUc.  JAG

About the Poet: R.S. Mason lives in Seattle and is fascinated by the liminal nature of that city: the mountains and the sound, the city and the forest, the local and the global. It doesn't rain nearly as often as its reputation.

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A Wraith's Tale
Wade J. McMahan

I leaned against the nursery wall,
Quiet I stayed, unseen by all,
My lost past, forgotten somehow,
"Wraith" | Watercolor on Paper | Jason Artemus Gordon
Though none of that still matters now.
I bided there, she in her crib,
Both Artemis and Adam’s rib,
And when I shushed her baby cries,
She stopped and cooed into my eyes.
I thought…but no, it couldn’t be,
She truly saw the wraith that’s me.

Her tiny fingers tugged my heart,
I loved her from the very start.
In time she washed away my gloom,
Gaily dancing around the room.
I stood aside and watched her grow,
And smiled, nodded, and loved her so.
Dolls and playmates were all her joy,
A pink stuffed bear, a silly toy.
So young, so happy, so carefree,
Unaware of the wraith that’s me.

Seasons blew in, then swirled away,
While beauty flowered, day by day.
Now a teen her loveliness drew,
First boys, then later young men too.
I loved to see her happiness,
Though admit mine grew less and less.
No doubt, she soon would leave me here,
For another man, her future clear.
Change always comes, a certainty,
As well I know, the wraith that’s me.

And he came as I knew he would,
Though not the way I thought he should.
Parents gone, she was home alone,
She greeted him with a loving tone.
I couldn’t stay and left them then,
A mistake, and I knew it when,
I heard her screaming in the night,
And found a most unequal fight.
She shook, her terror plain to see,
As helpless as the wraith that's me.

He laughed aloud and slapped her face.
I rushed across the empty space,
My bloodlust rose, wished in my rage,
To reach beyond my silent cage,
To grasp his throat, and squeeze and squeeze.
My god, I beg your pardon, please,
I fear I let my torment show,
Telling more than you wished to know.
I've said too much, I’ll let it be,
This worthless air, the wraith that's me.

He left her crying on the floor,
Laughed again when he slammed the door.
She couldn’t know when I knelt down,
A lovesick fool, her useless clown.
“My dearest love, please do not grieve,
I promise you, I’ll never leave.”
Sobbing, she cried, “Is someone there?”
I couldn’t hope, I didn’t dare,
T’was an impossibility,
That she had heard the wraith that’s me.

Years sped by and her parents passed,
Just she and I alone at last.
She never chose to move away,
The planet spun, her hair turned gray.
Then came the day I heard her call,
She stood, swayed, and began to fall.
That’s when the girl I loved so well,
Upon the tolling of a bell,
She stepped into eternity,
To stand beside the wraith that’s me.

If I trembled, you’ll understand,
When first she spoke and took my hand.
“I’m sure somewhere I've seen your face,
Long ago, a forgotten place.
It seems as though I always knew,
That you were here, and you were you.
You're why I stayed here unafraid,
You see, I heard your promise made,
To never leave where love could be.
Perhaps you'll kiss the wraith that's me?”

Poet’s Notes: I wrote “A Wraith’s Tale” a few years ago for no particular reason other than the idea of it began tickling the back of my mind. Afterward, I moved on to other writing projects, but this year finally chose to knock the dust off it. Needless to say, I couldn’t be happier that I chose to submit this little tale to Songs of Eretz Poetry Review.

A dear friend and lovely fantasy writer read “Wraith” immediately after I wrote it and encouraged me to locate a publisher for it. Regrettably, she passed away a few months ago, but it’s almost as though I feel her presence beside me now, smiling and nodding as I type this.

Editor’s Note: Sometimes those who love are invisible to the beloved but not unfelt. Here we have such a touching story of a ghost's life-long love that finds its beginning only in death. The rhyme and refrain brilliantly support the narrative. JFWR

About the Poet: Wade J. McMahan believes that engaging all the senses is essential to good storytelling, but more so, that unique voices are sure to bring a story and its characters to life. Whether they contain lyrical, offbeat, or the authentic voices found within his native American South, Wade strives to ensure his stories aren’t merely read, but also heard. Waves in the Wind, his breakout novel, was published by Untreed Reads Publishing, who also published his short story collection, The Complete Richard Dick Mysteries, and other works. Additional short stories have appeared in The Ampersand Review, The Wordsmith Journal, Page & Spine, and other similar places.

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Like Panther Proud
James Frederick William Rowe

Gather ye 'round the blazing fire bright                 
And hear of glory won with cunning keen       
When my band and I in the moonless night          
Skulked amidst the enemy's camp unseen    
        
During daylight hours my men had scout                     
The position where the soldiers would rest      
Assured then of a devastating rout                  
We set to slay the flower of their best             

Like panther proud through deepest shadows shed
By light of splendent moon through wooded gloom
We stalked till we stood amidst the villains' bed
Steeled and set to wreak their fiery doom

Firebrands plucked from dying ember red             
Of the campfires left by vanquished guard         
Set fire to the tents which closed their bed           
That the flames assistance would retard                    

The enemy flew from the stinging flame                
In whose heat howling agony did dwell                  
They were driven to us like fleeing game
We took such joy in sending them to hell!

The slaughter was gory and most pronounced            
The men like trees were marked and down were cut       
Until the dire presence was announced                 
Of the sword that struck through Oweyr's gut                                     

Behold! the Veiran captain bold and dread         
Who to the shouting of his men did fly                 
With singing blade he took good Lachlan's head           
Then flourishing the same, sought me to vie                          

Our battle was amidst burning flames fought                 
Striving man to man, sword against sword                     
Such that a mighty battle was then wrought                    
And like rival lions clashing we roared!                     

Steel against steel thunderously clamoured             
The licking inferno on all sides 'round!
With sword and shield, fist and foot we hammered
Seeking any advantage to be found

In might and mettle we were alike matched
Burnt and bloody, but neither granting ground
Till a swing too wide—an opening snatched!
As I rammed my shield to force his rebound

But he came once again in a great lunge             
My step too quick: I swung myself aside
The hungry fire swallowed his head-long plunge
So that he was immolated alive
                                 
Their valourous captain slain, chaos reigned          
The entire camp was to the flames fed                 
And when deserted, we briefly remained                 
To cry aloud, "Cacke ever free or dead!"         

With our brave dead upon our shoulders stacked
We left having dealt this grievous blow
Without fear, and confident in the fact
The mighty Veiran host had been laid low

But now I hear word that Veiran ambition
Is not to be squashed by such a defeat
They have launched a second expedition
Swearing they will die afore they retreat

Warriors! Will your homes be despoiled?
Children killed, women raped without a sigh?
Or will the invader's plans be foiled
By a thousand swords agleam in the rye?

Aye, who amongst you will band with me now?
Having heard this tale of guile bought glory
Pledging to the rapacious Veiran cow
So that yours might be a greater story?

Poet’s Notes: I wrote "Like Panther Proud" nearly seven years ago, during the earliest part of my (published) poetic efforts and before any of my poems ever reached a printed page. I have worked on it ever since, refining it every so often when I felt some portion of it lacking or wanting. The initial rewrite saw a metrical scheme imposed on what had been a rhyme without meter (I could not tolerate the lack of meter anymore). Later still, I kept refining, changing verses here, verses there. Finally, I felt the duel with the Veiran captain was too perfunctory, and added stanzas and altered others. The result was what I believe to be the best version of this poem, with a message of resistance against the invader buttressed with another stanza supporting the reason the tale is told (in terms of the frame device of the poem being actually told to an audience): recruitment for the fight to come.

Now, who are these people, the Cackes and Veirans? Simply, the countries and peoples so mentioned are part of my main fantasy world I have worked on for the last twenty-some years, and which a number of my stories and poems take place within. These include the stories "The Worship of the Lord of the Estuary" and "The Wages of Heroism" (also taking place in Cacke), "Spatha Stercae" (featuring the Veirans in an heroic light), and "The Price of Mockery in Dallium", as well as the poems "King over the Abyss" (featured here in Songs of Eretz http://www.songsoferetz.com/2014/12/poem-of-day-king-over-abyss-by-james.html), "The Dirge of Riders to Certain Death" (also featured in Songs of Eretz http://www.songsoferetz.com/2015/06/the-dirge-of-riders-to-certain-death-by.html), "Spy not on Witches", and "The Slaves of Cortagne".

So, these people are in some senses part of a broader world I have long developed, and I think that enhances this poem by placing it in a context which, even if the reader is unaware, helped me craft the narrative. I have always found that the work I've put into my fantasy world allows me to draw significant inspiration from the outlines of the world's history. 

But that's enough of general discussions. In respect to those features of my world that directly relate to this poem: the Cackes represent a people inspired by the Celts, which I have named the Glaiths. Like the Celts, these people have suffered the cruel fate of imperial expansion; unlike them, the Glaithic peoples had previously been the preeminent civilization of their portion of the world rather than barbarians. That the tale depicts guerilla warfare, therefore, represents the desperation which the Cackes had been placed, as this tale takes place well into the collapse of that civilization, where the ascendant Veirans are soon to take the mantle of world power. This invasion will not end happily, but for the time being victory and "glory won by cunning keen" has secured the day.

Fire plays an important role throughout the poem, with repeated references sprinkled throughout. The tale itself is told around a fire, upon which it is imagined the audience has circled to hear the speaker; and of course, fire is the main weapon the Cackes employ against the Veirans. The importance of fire only diminishes when the battle itself is won and is thereafter not mentioned again.

Besides that, the title of the piece is taken from the third stanza, where the warriors "like panther proud through deepest shadow shed" approach the camp with murderous stealth. Now, of course, there are no panthers in any of the historical Celtic lands, to which I reply: good thing this is a fantasy world! Although as a point of fact, there were once various "panthers" in Europe, including the lion which died out in historical times and the leopard in the ice age, and of course there remain large lynxes, and cryptozoological accounts of British big cats. So even though I don't think I have to justify panthers in a fantastic setting, I do have a reasonable basis for it.

Lastly, the poem itself is hopeful of further victories, and nothing in the poem itself gives any sense that the Cackes would soon lose. In this, it recalls the Irish folk song Follow me up to Carlow, which likewise depicts a great victorious battle as if it would bode for future success. But just as the Irish would suffer a grievous and devastating loss in the Second Desmond Rebellion, which eventually led to the Tudor and later Cromwellian conquests, the Cackes here have no hope: shortly thereafter, they would come under the yoke of the Veirans. This is especially apropos as the Cackes most closely resemble the Irish in my fantasy world.  Neither fictional nor real Celts ever get much of a happy ending, but they do get moments of glory.

Aesthetically, the poem consists of sixteen quatrains in iambic pentameter following the rhyme scheme of ABAB. I chose such a suitably heroic style of verse to match the narrative.

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Poetry Review

The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body by Alberto Ríos
   Reviewed by Vivian Finley Nida

Alberto Álvaro Ríos has written ten books of poetry, three short story collections, and a memoir. He served as Arizona's first state poet laureate from 2013 to 2015, was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2014, and was named the new director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University in 2017.  

The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body is a National Book Award finalist.  Those judges noted, “With humor, compassion, and intelligence, Rios’s poems overlay a child’s observation and imagination onto our society of daily inequity, poverty, and violence.” In these poems, Ríos transports readers to Nogales, Arizona, a small town between Mexico and the United States where the poet spent his childhood in the 1950s.

Ríos explains how two cultures blend.  One such blending comes on September 16, Mexico’s Independence Day, when the town holds a street party. On that day, “Out of wires and scrap, someone would assemble/The head of a bull.”  Firecrackers tied behind it remind Ríos, age ten, of a centipede.  He compares it to a town character’s smile:  “There was the centipede, and its legs I could see:/They were those dark lines between his teeth.”  

Then there is the Fourth of July--Independence Day in America, but in Mexico, saint’s day of people named Refugio (his grandmother, great-grandmother, and mother-in-law).  Do fireworks light the night for America’s Fourth of July or Mexico’s?  Ríos writes, “It was a matter of opinion in my family.” 

Ríos introduces family and shares the legend of his grandmother as a young woman learning to ride a horse.  As she sits atop the horse, Uncle Carlos, “whose soul had the edge of a knife,” places a child in her arms, and then slaps the horse’s back leg.  The horse flies, as does his grandmother’s long hair, which catches in tree branches.  The horse races on, leaves her hanging by her hair, still holding the child.  To be free, her hair has to be cut.  She wears it short thereafter, “But it was long like a river in her sleep.” 

Ríos also introduces various town characters.  “The Birdman” is a trapper and prospector who comes down from the mountains for a month each fall.  Wearing a bushy ponytail, he is, “A beaver at the top, /A split river at the blue jeans of his legs.” Another to meet is “Kid Hielero”, whose name is derived from the icehouse where he worked. As he is dying from cancer, he craves watermelon though it is winter.  “The nurses said the women in the kitchen said/ It’s from another time.” They are prepared.  They freeze some every summer. This hunger is more common than one might imagine.  Kid Hielero watches the World Series, eats the watermelon, and when he dies, leaves a daughter.  She marries Ríos, who writes, “You remember it sometimes…/ Every time you eat watermelon.”

For entertainment, one hundred local trombone players wander through the town each week, “All of them playing the same song – /Not the same way….” In addition, the Flying Men of Papantla, faith-jumpers, Tarascan Indians from Mexico, travel to the town to perform.  Some play flutes while others tie their ankles to ropes and jump from the top of a fifty-foot pole.  “People clasped their hands together/In prayer, but as much in desperation./ With so many crowded in, it just sounded like applause.”

In the last verse, Ríos reveals that the smallest muscle in the human body is found in the ear.  It stabilizes the amplification of sound.  If too loud, we turn away, cover our ears, but if the sound is not jarring, we turn to it, as we turn to Ríos, exceptional poet, storyteller, and historian.  In the words of the National Book Award judges, “Alberto Ríos is a poet of reverie and magical perception, and of the threshold between this world and the world just beyond.”

Postscript: On April 3, 2019, Ríos will be at the Oklahoma City University for morning and evening poetry readings, free and open to the public.  For more information, go to www.okcufilmlit.org.



Are you the author or editor of a poetry collection, a poetry magazine, or other long poetic work?  If you would like to see a review of your work published in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, please see our "Review Guidelines" section for details http://www.songsoferetz.com/p/review-guidelines.html.

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Frequent Contributor News

Assistant Editor Terri Lynn Cummings and FC Vivian Finley Nida both serve on the Oklahoma City University committee that is bringing poet Chris Abani to Oklahoma City in April.  Terri will be hosting the open mic preceding Mr. Abani’s reading on April 3.

FC Richard Fenwick is taking a Leave of Absence from his FC role in order to take care of some family health issues.  We at Songs of Eretz hope that these issues are resolved happily and soon and look forward to eventually welcoming him back.  In the interim, Former Charter FC John Reinhart has graciously agreed to cover for him.  John was an FC from January 1, 2016, to December 13, 2017.

Former FC Mary Soon Lee had three poems published: "In the Caverns of the Moon" appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2019; "Coming of Age 2150" appeared in DreamForge, Issue #1, February 2019; "Eighth Day" appeared in Uppagus #33, February 2019 https://uppagus.com/poems/soon-lee-eighth/.

FC John C. Mannone is pleased to announce that the American College of Physicians published one of his poems, "Florence," in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a portion of which is available for free viewing at https://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/2727247/florence.

Former FC Lauren McBride has had her poem, "New Earth's many moons," published in Dreams & Nightmares, Issue 111 http://dreamsandnightmaresmagazine.blogspot.com/p/submission-guidelines-i-print-primarily.html.  Her poem, "HUMAN: Native of Earth in the Sol System" was published online in Silver Blade, Issue 41, edited by FC John C. Mannone    https://www.silverblade.net/2019/03/human-native-of-earth-in-the-sol-system/.

FC Alessio Zanelli has had three poems recently released in the 2019 print edition of Contemporary Literary Review India http://literaryjournal.in/index.php/clri/index.  Another poem of his, “Stray Town”, was published in the Spring 2019 issue of San Pedro River Review https://www.bluehorsepress.com/.


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Lana the Poetry Dog
Forthcoming
Our April/May issue, due to be published in mid-April, will have a "Spring" theme.  While submissions for that issue are now closed, submissions for our May/June "Japanese Form" issue, due to be published in mid-May, are open.  So send in your haiku, tanka, haibun, senryu, taiga, dodoitsu, gogyohka, katauta, mondo, somonka, and sedoka for consideration.  A good reference for some of the more obscure forms may be found here https://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/10-japanese-poetic-forms.  Editor-in-Chief Steven Wittenberg Gordon will be the lead editor for both of these issues. 







The original paintings and drawings (and prints of them) created by our Art Editor Jason Artemus Gordon and used for the illustrations in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review are available for purchase with and without copies of the poems that inspired them.  Please visit our "Artwork Store" page for details http://www.songsoferetz.com/p/art.html.


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