Monday, September 2, 2019


September 2019 "Prose Poem" Issue
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Cover Art "Cock o' the Rock" [Digital Photograph | SWGordon]
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
Guest Poet Harlan J. Alford
"She Was My Country Song"

Terri Lynn Cummings
"Ulster Woman"

Steven Wittenberg Gordon
"The Return"

John C. Mannone
"A Family of Trees" 

Howard Stein
"Landscape and Dreamscape, Ghost Ranch, NM" 

Charles A. Swanson
"The Boy Loves Ghost Stories"

Returning Guest Poet Tyson West
"The Trail of Teeth"

Alessio Zanelli
"The Blackbird's Song" 

Poetry Review
Luminosity by Miriam Sagan
Reviewed by Karla Linn Merrifield

Frequent Contributor News

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A Letter from the Editor
There was a time not that long ago when I was of the opinion that prose poems should not be considered to be poetry.  I recognized (and usually did not publish) prosaic poetry and enjoyed reading poetic prose but found it difficult to call a composition not presented in verses a "poem."  Then I decided to give prose poems a chance.  I read a bunch of them and composed a few of them myself.  I am glad I did. 

A well-written prose poem combines the best of what prose and poetry have to offer-- the best of what is generally (but not exclusively) associated with each form.  Associated with prose is the relative rigidity of the rules of grammar, syntax, and punctuation, as well as concepts such as narrative, character, plot, and setting.  Poetry brings its poetic tropes such as personification, imagery, wordplay, aural qualities (susurration, assonance, consonance, alliteration), symbols, and most especially metaphor to the party.  The result can be a moving, gorgeous work of art.  Book critics seem to agree, sometimes describing particularly beautifully written prose as "pure poetry."

The above notwithstanding, that which separates poetic prose from prose poetry is not easy to define.  For me, the distinction is made by the heart or the gut rather than by the brain.  To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (who was, ironically, ruling on what defines obscenity at the time), I know it when I read it.  In this issue, you will find eight prose poems, including one of my own, that read like prose but ring like poetry.  Enjoy!

Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD

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She Was My Country Song
Harlan J. Alford

She was my country song. She made me a man and said nothing when I left her. 

Every day we saw each other in the room. She was the best one in there. Eight hours of grueling rehearsal, barre, pointe, pliés deep into the scorching earth, rope burn toe turns and flights inside the moon. I’d see her slip away at lunch to go sneak a smoke. All of us would beat our bodies for hours, lifting, pushing, pulling, jamming our feet and hitting each mark. We’d listen and count to the same damn piece of music over and over and the yelling and the yelling and the clapping and the clapping and the “not right, start again”. The plea to have us pull our dumb beating hearts out of the cavities of our asses and leave them in the room. And I guess I couldn’t do that if we made eye contact. My heart went right to her. 

We would say nothing to each other when we left the studio. We’d get in the car and drive out, 610, to 10, to county road 6 all the way to the reservoir. No one would be there except maybe an old Mexican man fishing. The short cut grass was flat for miles and miles. She’d take off her shoes, and we’d sit on the roof of my truck and watch the sun go down. She had the beauty of a fawn chasing a butterfly, of soft light hitting a drop of water on a spider web, of the crack of the break on the pool table in the bar toward which all turn their heads. She was all the money and all the bank robbers at the same time, the drink at the end of the day that washed it all away, all the safety and all the surprise of a superpower. 

She would slap my chest when I made a silly joke, pull my face to hers to make sure I knew I was hers. She let me know she would kill me if I didn’t love her, she’d growl even, and then she’d laugh. So loud she’d look around and smile from embarrassment and bury her head in my neck. She kissed like the sun was going down for the last time. In one breath on my neck I remembered how we met on an airplane going across the world, everyone around us went to sleep, but we drank wine and whispered for thirteen hours. She told me she couldn’t be with me because of the company, but I called her over and kissed her in the middle of the street and said she was all I ever wanted. We secretly escaped a hurricane when it came through, stretching our weary yet invincible muscles on every back road from Brazos Bend to Austin. Each weekend we would drive two states away to her hometown and see our futures on the back porch, our children in the yard playing in the sprinkler. 

She was my girl all in a moment as quick as lightning and as big as Texas. She was my country song. She made me a man and said nothing when I left her. 

Editor’s Note:  The concluding line (mirroring the introduction) greatly enhances the poignancy of the love affair the poem concerns. JFWR

About the Poet:  Harlan grew up in a small town in Ohio, went to school in Florida, worked for a dance company in Texas and then eventually landed in Brooklyn, New York. For many years, he was involved in a great amount of theater while being a manager for Gotham Writers’ Workshop. He moved on to run a company that tutors children through games and storytelling and enjoys writing poetry and children’s stories.

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Ulster Woman
Terri Lynn Cummings

Easy to breathe salted air. Northern Ireland’s emerald meadows, whimsically shaped, puzzle high hills, veiled valleys. Hawthorne’s snowy blooms, Gorse’s gold, crown each border’s band. Sheep waddle, bob heads, black and white faces in perfect harmony. 

Easy to breathe wheaten air. Oklahoma stretches iron red arms, embraces a sea of Great Plains and the small-framed woman who calls two countries home. 

Mother wanders the house long past midnight. Slippers clack cold and echo through my open door. What does she seek as she peruses cabinets? Belleek vase, frilled, ivory china thin as paper, tiny photographs tethered to silver ovals, black and white poses in perfect solemnity.

My reflections merge in the Irish Sea and Lake Thunderbird. I know my desire, yet I crave the weight of Mother’s, that ribbon of green curled in the palm of her heart.

Sometimes, moon alters night imperceptibly, swaps destinies like shoes in the silver of silence. Mother lingers on a spider’s strand of cancer, more lifeless than alive. Her soles long for the island of childhood and the wave’s blue surrender.

Poet’s Notes: Recently, I returned from Northern Ireland where I visited my mother’s family. It was the first time in my life to make that trip without Mother. Nostalgic. Magical. Bitter sweet. For the umpteenth time, I wondered why she never wanted to move back. Yet, I knew the answer. Mother had the capacity to love homeland and heartland. 

Editor’s Note:  What a beautiful poem!  It has just the right balance of poetic and prosaic elements.  The surprise ending is heartrending, made more so by Terri’s thoughtful notes.  SWG

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"Scrappy Apple" | Digital Photograph | SWGordon
The Return
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

Winter was still clinging to Kansas when I left for Maine late in March, but spring was in full force when I returned six weeks later to attend my daughter’s high school graduation.  The predatory pear tree that I brought home eight years ago as a sapling in my faithful Ford was now as tall as my house and wide and leafy enough to provide privacy from the house next door and ample perches for the birds that graced the feeding station on my deck.  The scrappy apple tree that I planted last year with aspirations for it similar to the predatory pear survived the winter and was in full leaf.    The dog that I left behind was shaggier but in good shape and greeted me as though I was never gone.  The same was true for my son--particularly that he was shaggier. 

My daughter appeared poised and pretty and perfect.  High school had been a struggle for her just as it had been for me, but whereas I was forced to be an overachiever and spend my teenaged years friendless and alone, I allowed my daughter to have a life filled with meaningful learning and wonderful relationships, a decision I made for my children when I was a child and about which I have no regrets. I had to smile and thank my past self as my daughter gave her mother and me warms hugs at the close of the ceremony and then quickly waved us off to join the embrace of her many friends.

Art Editor's Note:  The illustration is a digital photo taken by the poet of the deck and backyard of his home in Kansas where the poet used to (and I currently) reside.  The apple tree may be seen in lower left.  JAG 

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A Family of Trees
John C. Mannone

The first tree said, “I am a descendant of the mighty locust who held the promise, a chest where the covenant was laid—when opened, like a trough full of sun-spilt hay, it bore the blessed hope for all who would treasure it. I cradle the infant. His cries echo in my chambers and I am reborn.”

The second tree said, “I’m from a long line of cypress who brought Noah through troubled waters to rest upon a mountain top, and baby Moses through a river full of crocodiles. Now I carry the man who could walk on water, but sits on my stern instead. His tears have sealed my planks.”

The third tree said, “I am a descendant of the tree of Lebanon, an everlasting evergreen, who once stood tall in the middle of the garden. I heard him cry out in anguish. They have nailed him to me, his blood mixing with mine, but I do not die. I am the tree of life.”

Poet’s Notes: “A Family of Trees” was inspired by “The Story of Three Trees” (author unknown) and popularized by its retelling by Angela Elwell Hunt as “The Tale of Three Trees.” 

Editor’s Note:  John employs personification brilliantly here. SWG

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Landscape and Dreamscape, Ghost Ranch, NM
Howard Stein

High desert, northern New Mexico – where you can touch metaphors, and they return as visible landscape; where massive sandstone mesas and shining cliffs hint that space is parable for time, and time is medium for space; where over 200 million years of fossil history chant hymns and tell stories of life long ago; where aged cottonwood and ponderosa pine dwell happily among the long-dead but still firmly planted skeletons of mesquite and juniper; where remnants of an ancient inland sea sing graceful bel cantoto the text of today’s scorching summer sun and bone-dry stream beds.

What sort of landscape is this – where you can touch metaphors in buttes; where everything firm is allusion; where figures of speech usher forth from the yellow flowers of the hardy Chamisa; where boundless sky that encloses the badlands, opens lungs for deep breathing, and eyes for deep seeing?

Am I seeing? Am I dreaming? Must I choose? If mesas and pinnacles are vast painted canvases on my soul, are my words Ekphrastic script on a Mobius strip, where high desert and its indwelling presence undulate seamlessly on a single surface; where at one moment a deep gorge is geology and geography, in the next moment pigment and brush, then back again; where doxology incarnates time as it assumes the form of Bach fugue and Magnificat – Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.*

In these badlands, call and response resonate, amplify each other, become each other – poem as world, world as poem, at once impossible and manifest, landscape and dreamscape continuous, on this Mobius strip of life.  

*“As it was in the beginning, and (is) now, and forever shall be, world without end. Amen.” (from Gloria Patri

Poet's Notes:   For over twenty-five years, I have attended the annual fall retreat of the High Plains Society of Applied Anthropology at the Ghost Ranch Conference and Retreat Center in northern New Mexico. Its 21,000 acres of high desert badlands, and over 200 million years of history, won my heart from the outset. 

My journeys have long since become pilgrimages to a sacred (as well as secular) site. I have written several dozen poems over the years about Ghost Ranch, my experience of sense of place while I am there, and my relationship with Ghost Ranch.

The present poem, "Landscapes and Dreamscapes,” attempts to portray the transitional realm (in the sense of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott) between Ghost Ranch as an outer reality and as an inner world within me. Since Ghost Ranch – its presence to me, and my own sense of presence while I am in its midst – is inexhaustible, I am certain that this will not be my last poem about Ghost Ranch as a numinous Presence!

Editor’s Note:  What an haunting and beautiful poem!  I can hear and feel the desert wind in the susurrations of the first paragraph.  The poetry blossoms from the prose and fills the reader with the thrill of the speaker.  This is the most moving prose poem I have read in a month of reading them for Songs of Eretz.

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The Little Boy Loves Ghost Stories
Charles A. Swanson
“Shawling out of the ground”—Dylan Thomas

Shawling lithely out of the ground, I say, that could be a ghost.  Ghosts won’t hurt, the wee one says.  Says in childhood faith.  Faith, no, I say, and hug him tight.  Tight, I’ve got to hold him tight, but he’ll wiggle free, free from my old shawl I’m cuddling him with.  Without a doubt, he’ll struggle and laugh and get away.  Away out into that big old world where there are ghosts enough.  Enough for him to see some haunted eyes on faces, enough for him to carry ghosts inside his little heart.  Heart and hurt, they sound too much the same.  Same old story, you hold a baby tight and love him to death.  Death, old Death in her trailing garments of earth and dew-damps, in her cold cheek and hugging limbs will ever bring the hurt, will ever come a-shawling.

Poet’s Notes:  Marc Harshman, Poet Laureate of West Virginia, introduced me to the form called a loop poem.  In this prose poem version, I started with a quote as an epigraph and let the quote take me into the world where fantasy and reality bash heads.  The light-hearted and kind responses of the grandmother skim on the surface of her hard experiences with the unforgiving world.

I struggle with the prose poem form and look for its raison d'être.  I want semantics and syntactics to mesh, form with function.  Nevertheless, every now and then a subject—or in this case a form within a form—appears to me that seems to work with the prose poem form.  The loop pattern, which reminds me of the rhetorical device anaphora, seems to embed the poetic within the prosaic.  It reminds me of speech patterns, almost a type of word association, and it seems to work for both exterior monolog as well as interior monolog. 

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The Trail of Teeth
Tyson West

I wonder how many of his teeth lie deep in the kitchen middens of Kaunas province where his bones once lengthened. All his baby teeth, I suppose. Yet I suspect most of his adult teeth lay buried in the rocky Massachusetts till of the acre next to the railroad track where he and Anna’s enormous garden fed their sons. Born the same year as, but in a different empire than Hitler, August leaked through Nicholas the Second’s sieve-like realm to Ellis Island. By the time my consciousness venerated this odd old man as my grandfather, he had exactly one tooth left. His lower left twelve-year molar stood like the Statue of Liberty above the pool of nicotine brown saliva. The elfin peasant puffed Edgeworth slices in his briar pipe and gazed at my amazement watching him. Now older than when I knew him – titanium screws in my jaw – I know with certainty his unlost molar sleeps with him in the casket deep in New England soil. Father’s incisors unsort themselves beneath a California military cemetery lawn as green and natural as Disney Land.  My last teeth will pass through fire to be scattered in a lonely basalt-cliffed lake on the Columbia Plateau, save of course, for my upper wisdom teeth deftly extracted by the instructor at the NYU dental school. I carry them among safe deposit box coins hoping one day to have cufflinks made like Meyer Wolfsheim of The Great Gatsby. They remain detritus of dreams my ashes will not spin to children who will sort through such curiosities – meaning nothing to them or less.

Poet’s Notes: Recently, I had a tooth extracted when an old root canal failed. My father also passed away this June at the age of ninety-seven, and that got me thinking about my grandfather who was younger than I am now when I saw him back in the 1950’s and marveled at the one tooth he had left.  I also remembered a paper I wrote in the 8th grade about the advantages of fluoridation. I had learned that teeth decay while one is alive but following death, teeth can linger far longer than rotting bones and flesh. I then recalled that in some Northwest Native American traditions the Milky Way is a path along which souls travel after death.  It then occurred to me that as we human tribes travel, we leave behind us a trail of teeth. 

Editor’s Note:  I am fascinated by the tooth fixation and how history is marked through the disposable (and yet also oddly indispensable) parts of ourselves.  Plus, I also have one titanium screw in my jaw, so I feel particular kinship here.   JFWR

Editor’s Note:  Anthropologists will tell you that teeth are perhaps the most immortal parts of us, some surviving millions of years. The Fitzgerald reference is brilliantly added and serves to enhance this riveting narrative.  SWG

About the Poet:  Tyson West has published speculative fiction and poetry in free verse, form verse, and haiku, distilled from his mystical relationship with noxious weeds and magpies in Eastern Washington.  He has no plans to quit his day job in real estate.  His poetry collection Home-Canned Forbidden Fruit is available from Gribble Press.

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                The Blackbird’s Song
                        Alessio Zanelli

                   Different to what? Is maybe a particle different to any other
                   one?  I  don’t  wake up  in  the  morning to  weather the day,
                   speculate   about  the  weather,  ponder  the   imponderable,
                   wait   for   the   evening.  The   blackbird   sings  at  sunset,
                   whatever  it looks like  or we see in it, however long or short
                   the  way  we’ve   come to  watch  it.  Listening  is  nice,  but
                   honest  only  if  we’ve accomplished  the  day,  honored  its
                   plain  inexorability.  Hence,  once again,  by  either  rain  or
                   sunshine,  I am  to  put my runners on, take any little country
                   road,  head outward, away from  what is known.  No matter
                   where.   Not in search of what is  different,  rather, trying to
                   make a difference.  As  small as  it may  be, but true.  Before
                   dark.  Then  I’ll  listen  to  the blackbird's song.  Aware that
                   nothing is different for nothing is ever defined. The path we
                   go  implies endless  losing and  finding, never allows to peek
                   around   the   next   bend,  embodies  continuous   defining.

Editor’s Note:  This one starts a bit abstract and prosaic but ends well with a waxing of poetry, a longing for freedom and adventure, nicely stitched together by the haunting blackbird. 

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Poetry Review

Luminosity by Miriam Sagan
Reviewed by Karla Linn Merrifield

Miriam Sagan’s newest poetry book, Luminosity (Duck Lake Books, 2019, 80 pages), is an eye-opening poetic experience that will leave you wanting more from the poet’s distinctive modern Renaissance mind.  Most of us can remember the dramatic 2017 total solar eclipse, but I suspect none of us rendered the great celestial event into such wise, lyrical poetry as may be found in Luminosity. In “Woman, Sleeping I-20,” Sagan writes, “we are going to drive to Nebraska/ to see the total darkness” and we realize that by contemplating total darkness, we may also comprehend what it is to be bathed in total light, whether from the sun emerging from eclipse, or the moon—a recurring metaphor for light in darkness—or from Ceres and Orion’s belt in the night sky.

From the opening page, every poem brings its luminous reward. In the lead poem, “Book of Darkness,” we are told, “…light must close the cover/ on darkness.” Many are such quiet declarations we can ponder. In “A Funeral in Pawnee,” Sagan invites us to consider “the loneliness of beauty.”  She also asks questions we need to answer for ourselves. Again from “A Funeral in Pawnee,” she asks, “what did I expect/ to be betrayed?/ and what supplies/ did I prepare/ from this betrayal?” Which betrayal? What supplies?! I’m still mulling over the concepts she addresses.

Luminosity delivers many moments of pure delight. One simply must smile when reading in “every poem,” “every poem/ should have some fireflies”.

The book also touches us with bittersweet flashes. In “Dunkin’ Donuts,” we read, 
                                                         Each of us 
                                                         carries a map of the day,
                                                         sometimes creased 
                                                         in sorrow
                                                         or stained
What does your map of this day look like? Where lie the creases and stains?

Prepare to be uplifted and transported in revelatory light--and shadow--from without as well as within “your different selves.”  Miriam Sagan’s Luminosity invites you to contemplate not only the “loneliness/ of beauty,” but also “the architecture/ of suffering,” knowing, however, that “Buddha nature is everywhere” and that truth will always arise from “a fog bank/ of lies.” Luminosity is wildly, boldly illuminating.

Editor’s Note:  Luminosity is available in trade paperback for about $16.00 and as an e-book for about $4.00 from most major booksellers.

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Frequent Contributor News
FC Sylvia Cavanaugh performed a series of moon-themed poems as a featured poet for the Under One Moon Festival in Milwaukee. She also won the Joseph Gahagan Poetry contest sponsored by Milwaukee Irish Fest.

Editor-in-Chief Steven Wittenberg Gordon is pleased to announce that his poetic prose fantasy/horror short story "Metamorphoses" was published in the August 2019 issue of Tales from the Moonlit Path

Former FC Mary Soon Lee had several poems published in other venues including Fantasy & Science Fiction July/August 2019, Amazing Stories Summer 2019, Star*Line #42.3 Summer 2019, Triangulation: Dark SkiesInsignia Volume 7, and Uppagus and

Former FC Lauren McBride is pleased to announce that she earned second place with her story, "Here, I am a Woman" in Drabble Harvest contest #14; her poem, "Pink, with Feathers" appeared in the July issue of Spaceports & Spidersilk available at; and that she had two poems included in this year's Dwarf Stars Anthology, which was edited by FC John C. Mannone who has at least one poem included, as do FC John Reinhart and former FC Mary Soon Lee.

FC Karla Linn Merrifield is looking forward to a busy autumn with three spotlight events. In September, Karla will talk about her experience in writing Psyche's Scroll(2018 by Poetry Box Select, reviewed in the January/February 2019 issue of Songs of Eretz Later in September she will read from her newest book, Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North(2019, Cirque Press) at a brown bag luncheon sponsored by The Nature Conservancy for donors. In October, prior to her snowbird departure to Florida, she will be the featured monthly reader for Just Poets of Greater Rochester.

FC Alessio Zanelli is pleased to announce that his poem "The Unknowing" has been included in Vol. 3, No. 2 of Verbal Art, an international poetry magazine published in New Delhi; his poem "Abandonment" was published on The Society of Classical Poets website; his poem "By The Dining Room's Door Window" appeared in the 2019 edition (both online and in print) of Red Earth Review; and his poem "The Mountain" was published in issue #348 of The Weekly Avocet

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Lana the Poetry Dog
The next edition of Songs of Eretz Poetry Review will be our "Hallowe'en/Horror" issue to be published toward the end of October 2019 as a lead up to the Eve of All Hallows.  Editor James "Edgar Allan" Roe has spent and is spending many hours in the dark recesses of his mind pouring over the submissions for this issue and will choose for publication only those twisted and tortured few that he deems to fit the theme best.  Submissions for this issue are closed.  Those brave enough to have submitted will learn their fates on or before September 30.

Our Assistant Editor Terri Lynn "Winter Is" Cummings will be taking the editorial lead for her first time for our "Autumn" themed issue due out in November 2019.  Submissions for this issue are open now and will close on September 30, 2019.  Fall is a beautiful season that immediately summons images of gorgeous colors, good times with family and friends, and the bounty of nature--but at the same time, feelings of loss, darkness, cold, and death lurk just below the surface.  Terri looks forward to reading and Songs of Eretz looks forward to publishing your best.

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

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