Saturday, October 26, 2019


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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
Ross Balcom
   "bird song"
"Lamprey Heights"

Sylvia Cavanaugh
   "The Great Pumpkin"

Terri Lynn Cummings

Jason Artemus Gordon
   "Summer Snow"

Steven Wittenberg Gordon
   "Certain Habits"

Gene Hodge

Guest Poet Clyde Kessler

Guest Poet Gerri Leen
   "All Mine"

John C. Mannone

Guest Poet Alexa Mergen

Karla Linn Merrifield
   "The Rippling Horror"

Vivian Finley Nida
   "Torture at Chillingham Castle"
"Trick or Treat"

FC Emeritus John Reinhart
   "behind the costume"

James Frederick William Rowe
   "Rhyme of the Starless"

Returning Guest Poet Elizabeth Spencer Spragins
   "The Princes in the Tower"
Howard Stein
   "Siege by Ice"

Charles A. Swanson
   "Bean Pot and Poker Stakes"
"Fire on the Spear"

Alessio Zanelli
"The Inn"
Poetry Review
Dribble n Drool by Mark Anderson
   Reviewed by John C. Mannone

Frequent Contributor News 

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A Letter from the Editor
There is something about horror that leaves an indelible mark, an impression that lingers.  Horror is a source of fascination. We have found methods to experience it in detached, remote ways, such as by visiting “haunted” houses, watching horror movies, by adopting alternate personae on Hallowe’en, or by doing what you are about to do now.  It is rather like a dangerous animal penned in a zoo--so long as it remains caged, we can gaze upon it and enjoy the experience; but should it be let loose, we would not want to remain spectators for long.  Yet, even when safely contained, it holds just enough danger to keep us on edge.

Happy Hallowe’en!

James Frederick William Rowe
Associate Editor

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bird song

Straw-necked Ibis | Digital Photograph | SWGordon
a stinking river
an old and dirty river

tell the dead ibis
that you love him

stretch his wings
to a smile

the churning void
the darkness

a grave for light
drowned in water

the river brown
with sewage, wisdom

of the ibis dead god
hold him love him

your "bird in the hand"

--Ross Balcom

Poet's Notes: The ibis is a beautiful bird. The Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth, had the head of an ibis. Are the gods dead? Are we next?

* * * * *

Lamprey Heights

take me back
to Lamprey Heights

to my room 
fully furnished

with sucking mouth
and rasping tongue

kill all the fishes
kill all the fishes

eat holes in them
my room fully vicious

Lamprey Heights
rising high

sky full of water
sky full of fishes

tower of death
screaming high

death to the fishes
kill all the fishes

eat holes in them
holes in the sky

holes in the water
holes in the sky

take me back 
to Lamprey Heights

take me back

--Ross Balcom

Poet's Notes: Lampreys are primitive, jawless fish that bore into the flesh of other fish species and suck their blood. This poem presents Lamprey Heights, a fusion of lamprey and residential high-rise. Coming to a sky near you.

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The Great Pumpkin
Sylvia Cavanaugh

Hey Linus 
and all you boy philosophers
I used to know
let us go to the pumpkin patch
as dark descends
there’s a sincere one 
I heard of just outside town
you can walk there from here
as dry leaves scuttle 
across the walk
we’ll dress as witches
grim reapers
or ghosts
and step carefully 
through the snake-like vines
that try to trip us up
and as barren branches
of the old oak tree
tap and scratch the weathered barn
we’ll sit among scattered orange orbs
gleaming softly under the moon
and having forgone the usual treats
I promise to believe
as you spin your tale of magic

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Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1914
Terri Lynn Cummings

Frank Lloyd Wright had placed his heart in fated bungalow,
a grand affair for Martha Borthwick and her babes.
South facing hills turned early green that spring.
The lovers nestled in unwedded bliss.

A grand affair for Martha Borthwick and her babes,
two spouses spurned for ‘someone else’.
The lovers nestled in unwedded bliss
while in the kitchen, Chef brewed rage.

Two spouses spurned for ‘someone else’,
illicit torches flamed too bright.
While in the kitchen, Chef brewed rage,
evil set a dining room display.

Illicit torches flamed too bright.
When Wright awoke, left town for work,
evil set a dining room display—
the rug drenched in gasoline.

When Wright awoke, left town for work,
Borthwick and children broke their fast.
The rug drenched in gasoline— 
fire suckled feet and limbs.

Borthwick and children broke their fast.
Doomed rescuers joined in the fray.
Fire suckled feet and limbs.
A head thrust through the window frame.

Doomed rescuers joined in the fray.
Screams blazed above the scorching roar.
A head thrust through the window frame.
Chef axed and hacked, again, again.

Screams blazed above the scorching roar
until all seven voices fell.
Chef axed and hacked, again, again.
Frank Lloyd Wright had placed his heart in fated bungalow.

Poet’s Notes:  A family member told me about the murders at Taliesin, a grand bungalow designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Shocked and intrigued, I researched the details and found several conflicting news reports. Yet the manner used to kill was the same.

“Taliesin” is Welsh for “shining brow”; also the name of a 6th century Welsh poet and bard later portrayed as a wizard and prophet, companion of King Arthur.  The pantoum form eases horror into this story, and then repeats it, again, again.

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Summer Snow
Jason Artemus Gordon

Blades of grass peek through
A thin blanket of
Summer snow
The wind carries the
Summer snow
Into the fields
Into the rivers
Onto my sweating brow
Intense heat
Comes from the sun
And the furnace
The heat does not bother the
Summer snow
The machines boom
Glass breaks
Producing more
Summer snow
Balers roll wheat
Laced with
Summer snow
Cows dine
Their bellies full of
Summer snow

Poet's Notes:  For me, there are few things more magical than looking outside to see the first dusting of snow for the season. This was the feeling that was evoked in me last summer while working at a glass factory. It was over 90 degrees, and I looked outside to see what appeared to be just like a first dusting of snow. After snapping back to reality I knew well what it really was--glass particles. 

Glass breaks all the time at the factory, and that results in this dangerous dust. That morning I also noticed that the next-door farm was baling hay. I know for a fact that there are definitely some glass particles in there. I even recently noticed some in my car, months after quitting the job. In small amounts it probably won't hurt anything, but I think it prudent to be at least a bit alarmed by this. 

I tend to be anti-regulatory when it comes to government, but after working at a place like that, I came to believe that some regulation is necessary and that current regulation may be inadequate when it comes to maintaining our ecosystems. Honestly, I'm not sure what the factory could do.  It would most likely be ruinously expensive to prevent this pollution. However I think this is a discussion that needs to be had.

Editor’s Note:  A rare poetry contribution by the Art Editor! I am impressed by how Jason uses "summer snow" to employ several advanced poetic devices, including oxymoron, metaphor, imagery, and refrain.  This poem is reminiscent of while not being derivative of the best of Ross Balcom's work--a poet I know Jason admires.  SWG

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Certain Habits
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

Caroline’s living room. 
Something wrong. 
My six-shooter drawn.
A deep voice
from the direction 
of one of the pair 
of high-backed chairs 
that faced the fireplace.

You won’t be needing that, detective. 
I’ve been expecting you.  
Have a seat by the fire with me.

I was cocky.

“Why don’t you stand up real slow 
with your hands in the air 
before I pump you full of lead.”

Suddenly flat on my back. 
The pale man over me.  
My right arm pinned at the wrist
by one of his feet. 
The other at my throat.

I have no quarrel with you, detective, 
but I will end your life right now 
if you give me further cause.  
Give me your word that you won’t persist 
in further futile efforts 
to apprehend me, 
and I will let you go.  
We may then have a seat by the fire 
and converse in a civilized manner.

The strong recoil of my gun.
My shooting arm freed. 
The pale man shaken. 
The foot at my throat weakened.  
My gun brought to bear.  
The pale man’s surprised expression.

“You want to have a conversation?  Fine!  
We can have a nice long chat.  
But if you move anything other than 
those pale, bloodless lips of yours, I’ll shoot.  
Now, what have you done with Caroline?”

Miss Chase is safe, detective.  
She left with me voluntarily 
and is under my protection.  
I returned here to her home 
and waited for you at her insistence.  
She has confessed that she once had 
certain feelings for you, 
and believes that she owes you 
an explanation for her recent erratic behavior.  
Oh, yes, and she wanted me to tell you 
that your services on her behalf 
will no longer be required.

“There’s no way Caroline 
went anywhere with you 
of her own free will.  
What have you done with her?”

I have not done anything with her, detective, 
except to convince her to accompany me 
on the journey of a lifetime, 
an offer to which she readily and enthusiastically agreed.  
Is that too much for you to believe, detective?

“Damn straight it’s too much.  
Caroline’s whole world is here in this town.  
She’d never leave her school children without a teacher 
or leave her ailing mother to the care of strangers.  
When she came to my office last week, 
she was genuinely afraid for her life.
A life she cherishes.
Her life here. 
She’d never run off with the likes of you.  
So, for the last time, 
what have you done with her?  
Answer me true, 
or I’ll fill you full of holes.”

“Please don’t, John,” said a female voice 
behind the door to an adjoining room.  
The door opened.

“Caroline!  Thank God!  
I have the situation under control.  
Your ordeal is over.  
Come here and get behind me.” 
Instead she 
moved between 
the pale man and me.

“Caroline! What are you doing?  
Get over here behind me!” 

How pale she!
Almost as pale as the pale man.  

“Oh, Caroline! 
What has he done to you?”

Nothing that she did not ask me to do. 
Caroline is one of my kind now, 
as you can plainly see.  
Accept it and move on, detective.  
In life, she admired you, 
perhaps even loved you, 
and it is in honor of her request 
that I am allowing you to live.  
But do not try my patience further.

My revolver emptied 
into my client.
The bullets through her 
pale face and neck 
into the upper chest 
of the pale man behind her. 
The force of the bullets 
a distraction. 
My gun spent. 
The Bowie knife from my boot sheath. 
Deep into Caroline’s heart.  
Her eyes. 
A faint glow of relief in them. 
Then darkness. 
Then ash.  

My momentum.
The pale man. 
My knife in his chest 
but well below the heart.   
On the floor now. 
Over and over. 
His heart nicked.
Alone on my back.
Covered with ash.
The dripping blood. 
The puncture wounds in my neck.
A fleetingly thought about
my Bowie knife 
ancient Roman style. 
Then darkness.
But not ash. 
My skin sickly pale and cold. 
My heart still. 

That was over four hundred years ago.  
Since then, I traded in my old six-shooter 
for a phaser pistol.  
But I still wear cowboy boots 
and keep my Bowie knife in one of them.  
Certain habits, 
like certain clients, 
are hard to forget, I guess.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Gene Hodge
Tootsie Roll Pops,
Tiny people holding open bags
Singing, “Trick or treat!”
Gummy Bears, Reese’s Cups
Plop, plop into their sacks.
A cheerful, “Thank you . . .”
Then rushing footsteps
Down the porch—
Laughing, dark figures
Chasing each other across the yard.

Through the darkness, across the street,
Beneath porch lights—
And smiling jack-o-lanterns—
They assault the neighborhood.

Moving from house to house
Like a shadow
Leaving behind a trail
Of dropped Dum Dum Suckers
And barking dogs.

Editor’s Note:  I find this poem charming and enjoy the picture of fun Halloweens it paints.  JFWR

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Clyde Kessler 

We met the ghost of a self-settler
in Parashiv. She was kissing starlight.
She was prying spongy fire-coals from 
her coat. Or she was petting a wounded fox 
in a mirror, combing out its bones.

She sang. The voice was guitar strings
burning. She grinned. Her face milked
lantern light from a winter hill, and forced
her throat loose like feathers drowning in fog.
She said her name pushed away against houses.
Then a motorbike stretched an invisible circle 
beyond her hands. “That was my son, even I
cannot see him,” she said.

Poet's Notes: “Samosely” is a Ukrainian term meaning “self-settlers” and refers to the people who have returned to live in or near the zones of exclusion from the Chernobyl accident despite the perils of exposure to radiation there. 

About the Poet:  Clyde Kessler lives in Radford, Virginia with his wife Kendall and their son. Several years ago, they added an art studio to their house and named it “Towhee Hill”. In 2017, Cedar Creek published his book of poems Fiddling At Midnight's Farmhouse, which Kendall illustrated.

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All Mine
Gerri Leen

You get used to the smell, the scent of burning...everything
Donkeys, camels, even people
Fabrics and foodstuffs, charred stone and metal
It all combines to smell like the feasts I was never invited to
The grand parties someone like me would never be part of
The rich here in Sodom, in neighboring Gomorrah
They don't—didn't—even see me

I am nothing
I am less than nothing

Begging scum, thieving garbage, I’ve been called both
Both are true, I suppose
But now, I take what I will
The rich are dead; their great houses lie blasted
As were the poorest hovels
I go from house to house
Finding treasures buried in the smoking rubble

I had nothing
Now I have it all

I remember that night, the night of the strangers
How the men came for them
I’d been those men’s toy before
They hadn't played gently, paid nothing for what they took
I lay bleeding for days
I've stayed away from gatherings after that
It’s sad to realize you’ll never feel safe again

Purity: the one thing I owned
They laughed as they took it

They couldn't take the strangers 
Lot, the newcomer, intervened
Where was he when they came for me?
He offered to give them his daughters
Clearly we women were of little use to him
The men refused the women, why settle for
What they could take later?

When the strangers might leave
They would taste them while they could

A foolish choice on their part
They should have taken Lot’s girls
I saw Lot and his family flee
Then the scream of something...powerful
Evil, good, I’m still not sure
But fire began to fall from the sky, brimstone crashing down
Burning everything it touched

There is a unique horror
To the screams of a person on fire

The strangers found me, huddled beneath a wagon
“You are the least of them,” one said
His words hurt; the truth often does
“This will all be yours,” the other said
He stretched out his arms, the city in his embrace
There was no kindness in his eyes
He did this not for me but against the others

The fire didn't burn me
The brimstone didn't touch me

And when it was over, when the sky was blue again
I heard the first stranger’s voice
“Take what you will.  It's all yours.”
Did he think I'd forgotten such a promise?
Fool.  I would never—oh there, more gold
My sack drags painfully on my shoulder
I've found so much to take

When I run out of treasures here
I will travel to our sister city
Hopefully the ashes of lovely Gomorrah
Will hold riches just as sweet

Poet's Notes:  Sodom and Gomorrah (and what comes after) is a horror story.  Seriously, read Genesis 19. Is it such a stretch to imagine a lowest-of-the-low being singled out this way? My muse definitely didn't think so. I felt a sense of futility in our survivor's victory as I was writing.  I hope she can give up looking for things that glitter and take what she has and secure a home where she'll finally be safe.  But the odds are probably not in her favor. 

About the Poet:  Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. You can find her poems in such places as: Eye to the Telescope, Star*Line, Dreams & Nightmares, Eternal Haunted Summer, and the upcoming Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Volume VI. She also writes prose of all kinds as Gerri Leen and romance as Kim Strattford. 

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John C. Mannone

When I hear the thunder
of that name, I shudder.
It is kin to the fear of tyrants,
lizards like Tyrannosaurus.

Fears are the monsters
that will devour you
if you don’t call them out—
take names, kick dragons.

I see their teeth, needles
that want to jab me, I feel
their fire, choke on smoke
as they snort at me.

But today, I am a dragon
slayer, my sword is more
powerful than their teeth.
My sword is the words

on a shield of faith:
I will see no evil,
I will hear no evil.
Nor touch the roaring fire

from their tongues.
Their darts of doubt are lies.
I only feel the prick
of their death.

Poet’s Notes:  “Trypanophobia” is a fear of needles.  It might be mistaken for “tyrannophobia”, which in my mind conjures up “Tyrannosaurus”.  These words merged in my mind, and a "needle monster" emerged as a dragon-like creature. 

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the puns and elaborate metaphors here, as well as the way the poem morphs into a fantasy piece of sorts.  For the record, “tyrannophobia” is a fear of dictatorship or tyrants.  SWG

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Alexa Mergen

In a Dunsmuir cabin I sat up in the cold pre-dawn
keeping company with 6 ghosts—

mother, father, a boy, 3 girls, the smallest with soot-smudged cheeks. 
Lamplight didn’t dispel them, nor my husband’s shushing.

I looked so long I still see them before me as I write. Light-
brown hair, pale skin except at nose and nape where sun rays 

scorched them as they had breathed and worked outside. 
Sack-cloth shirts and dresses receded into the white-washed walls. 

Sunflowers to noonday sun, their faces turned our way. 
I’ve seen others, of course, in a Modesto motel, a farmhouse kitchen. 

Keep silent, grandmother warned the summer I turned 13,
It’s a terrible thing to be doubted and worse to be believed. 

When California mountain dawn slipped brightly through cobweb-laced 
windows to quell filaments of fear, I stepped barefoot 

onto the shack’s mossed door slab, 
flat as a toppled tombstone.

Poet's Notes: In my teens and twenties I keenly felt the liminal world between the natural and supernatural. During a stay in a rented cabin in the woods, I woke up one night convinced that there were ghosts in the room. Newly married, my husband was both alarmed and loving. He stayed up all night with me while I described what I saw. Later, I recalled my grandmother's warning that the Scottish side of the family was fey. The poem began years later with a prompt from my friend Jeanine Stevens in a writing group she was leading. I don't remember the prompt but I do remember the relief at setting down the initial draft of the poem. 

About the Poet:  Alexa Mergen lives on a boat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. She grew up in Washington, D.C. and has also lived in cities and small towns in California, Michigan, Nevada, and West Virginia. Her most recent chapbook is “Winter Garden” (Meridian). 

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The Rippling Horror
Karla Linn Merrifield

One fire ant among billions of the invasive species 
breeding all across Florida wherever soil is disturbed—
think of all those settled, unsettled places—whether 
innocuous foot trail in the coastal understory at Anastasia 
or an insidious seaside condo nearby at Matanzas Pass. 
One descendant of those first imported in cuffs 
of linen trousers, in Panama hat seams, in crates 
of green bananas, sacks of mahogany coffee beans.
One of their profligate numbers today, while foraging for flesh,
dislodges a curl of crustose lichen that knocks a polished acorn
across my sandy path. I stop to watch it roll. The insect strikes.
One reddish ant stings my left little toe. Somehow his venom 
rises to the fingers of my left hand. Only then my body experiences 
this pain—I cry out—with this blood on the tracks of the page.
One Solenopsis invicta reminds me everything makes everything
happen, even this, even now.

Poet’s Notes:  Any creature with six or eight legs is a horror show to a human with a violent, potentially lethal allergy to insect bites and the venom they deliver.  A teaming horde of them is truly horrific.  Hence this poem tinged with primal fear.

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Torture at Chillingham Castle
Vivian Finley Nida
John Sage, an English soldier, hates all Scots
This torturer in fourteenth-century war
imprisons men and women, children, too
Shrieks echo from the thumbscrews, rack and more

He kills eight thousand over three long years
Chains rattle as men scratch days on the wall
They’re pushed, fall twenty feet into a pit
They starve or die from broken bones in fall

As final battle rages, Sage hurls all
but babes to bonfire built on castle ground
then moves the youngest to the highest floor 
where crackling flames, bloodcurdling screams resound

To stop revenge, Sage joins them with an ax
Blade wielding monster strikes the little ones 
They flail, can’t hide. Wails fly to meet fire’s ash
from Killing Room where blood like river runs

At war’s end, Sage makes love upon the rack
He accidentally kills her and must hang
The crowd cuts off protruding body parts
His ghost remains to haunt where evil sprang

Poet’s Notes:  Chillingham Castle has stood eight hundred years in Northumberland near Scotland’s border.  People claim it is one of the most haunted castles in England, home to the ghost of John Sage and others.  The castle is open for tours and night vigils.  Visitors may stay in apartments inside the castle if they dare.

* * * * *
Vivian Finley Nida

What language speaks the moon on Halloween
that drives moth’s dusty wings to scorch in flame
oblivious to Jack-o’-lantern fiend
whose evil, jagged smile enjoys the game
Chilled sheets of wind whip brittle leaves in tracks
Cruel witches cackle as they straddle brooms
Stray cats as dark as midnight arch their backs 
They hiss at stiff-armed mummies passing tombs
pale ghosts, fanged Dracula and Frankenstein
Maleficent, Cruella, Blackbeard, too
Like snarling, starving wolves, they all combine 
They howl demands and threaten to break through
They grab and tear with teeth, rip, chomp and cleave
fulfilling faithfully All Hallows’ Eve

Poet’s Notes:  The first Halloween I remember, I was too young for school.  October 31st fell on Friday night, and my family went to the high school football game instead of staying home to hand out candy.  When we returned, a twelve-inch streak of bright red lipstick marred the shingled exterior beside our front door.  Mother tried to remove it but could not.  We never discovered the culprit.  Perhaps that’s why the mark haunted me as I walked in the dark, trick-or-treating door to door, stomach knotted with fear of ghouls prowling on Halloween.

Editor’s Note:  The Shakespearean sonnet form is perfect for this kind of poem, harkening back to darker times when people really believed in the supernatural.  SWG

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
behind the costume
John Reinhart

we remember
the dead
as living

as if
they froze,
we remember.

the dead
the living

as shadow
they remember

as dead,

an imitation –
they challenge us
to remember
to live.

Editor’s Note:  One of the charter members of the FC ranks, John graciously came out of "retirement" at my request to cover for and eventually replace an FC who could not fulfill his commitment.  I had hoped that John might be enticed to stay on, but he has decided to return to his many other projects.  Alas, this will be his final appearance as a Frequent Contributor Emeritus. On behalf of Songs of Eretz, I would like to take this opportunity to thank John for helping us out of a jam and to wish him all the best in his poetic endeavors.  SWG

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Rhyme of the Starless
James Frederick William Rowe

Muscles and spines, muscles and spines
These are the ways by which it climbs
A thing of slime, a thing of teeth
A thing of all which lies beneath
It comes from darkness where it was bred
When Shadow from the Light had fled
In ancient days, in starless skies
It wormed its way from Sin's own thighs
And now it's here, it's come tonight
Prepared at last to claim its right
You'll cry, and sigh, and beg, and weep
When in your eye it burrows deep
But when it settles in your brain
That will stifle all fear and pain
You will no longer have a care 
For no longer shall "you" be "there"
In your place only "it" shall be
Just like when it was done to me
Yes, I too, am no longer here
So do not have a single fear
Just rest your head against my chest
And know that this is for the best
Your mother's here, all will be right
Come take my hand: Come squeeze it tight
And as my rhyme comes to an end
Your soul it shall begin to bend
Then you will come to serve its will
And Night again this world will fill

Poet’s Notes:  The opening verse of "Rhyme of the Starless" came to me first, and the poem fairly easily followed suit with only one or two difficult verses needing tweaking here and there. 

My goal by using a scheme of rhyming couplets of iambic tetrameter was to contrast the almost innocent music this imparts to the poem with the fearful content of the verses, which detail the nature, purpose, and actions of the Starless as it corrupts a child's soul to its will, all as the child's mother soothes the child, and indeed appears to sing to it about what is transpiring. 

The poem contains a fairly sustained reference to Milton and the Bible in general. In Paradise Lost, Satan rapes his daughter, Sin, and begets Death from out the union. In like manner, the Starless is the union of the Shadow, which I take to be the amalgamation of Satan and the primordial chaos, which had fled from the Light (God and Logos/Cosmos) when the Light had ordered the cosmos. In like manner, at the conclusion of the poem, there is the thought that Night (that is, Chaos) shall take over all creation, as the Starless works to undo order and subdue all to the formless abyss. 

The intrusion of such a malevolent force back into creation frightens me quite a great deal, as I think there is probably nothing scarier than for this world to fall back into nothingness, and for us to join that state of chaos as thralls to its nullifying power. Good thing God is the necessary object (thanks, Aquinas!).

Editor’s Note:  James’s existential musings about Milton and Aquinas aside, so many Old Household Tales, nursery rhymes, and traditional sayings combine the motherly and the monstrous as James expertly does here. Take “Rock-a-bye Baby” for example.  I mean, seriously, what is up with that?  How about, “Goodnight!  Sleep tight!  And don’t let the bedbugs bite!”  How is that supposed to be comforting to an innocent child?  James may have tapped into something more darkly insidious and pervasive than he realizes...  SWG

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The Princes in the Tower
Elizabeth Spencer Spragins

No torch dispels
The dark that dwells
In tower cells
Where hinges groan.

They are mere boys
Enthralled by toys,
But greed destroys
The blood and bone

That would be king,
Thus menacing
What lust would wring
From scepter, throne,

And jeweled crown.
In London town
A wraith in gown
Of white is known

To haunt the stair
Where royal heir
And brother share
A bed of stone

In damp and gloom.
Though lamps illume
This secret tomb
Where horrors hone

Collective fright,
The boundless might
That birthed this blight
We have foreknown.

~Tower of London, England

Poet's Notes:  This poem was inspired by a recent visit to the Tower of London. When our guide described the probable fate of the two princes, I could not get the story out of my mind. As he explained, two skeletons found beneath a staircase of the White Tower in 1674 were presumed to be the remains of
King Edward IV’s sons. When the king died in 1483, 12-year-old Edward (his heir) and 9-year-old Richard were housed in the Tower of London. Their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, took the throne as Richard III, and the boys vanished shortly thereafter.

About the Poet:  Elizabeth Spencer Spragins is a poet and writer who taught in North Carolina community colleges for more than a decade before returning to her home state of Virginia. Her tanka and bardic verse in the Celtic style have been published extensively in Europe, Asia, and North America. She is the author of With No Bridle for the Breeze: Ungrounded Verse (Shanti Arts Publishing) and The Language of Bones: American Journeys Through Bardic Verse (Kelsay Books). Updates are available on her website:

Editor’s Note:  This poem is a “Rhupunt”, a Welsh poetry form. An informative essay on this subject by the poet may be found here  SWG

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Siege by Ice
Howard Stein          

Freezing rain fell throughout the night,
Enveloped trees and power lines
The way venomous snakes coil themselves,
Ready to strike their unsuspecting prey.

Ice-laden branches,
No longer able to bear their weight,
Snapped, fell upon roofs of homes.
Whole trees, uprooted,
Smashed everything in their path.

Electric transformers exploded.
Entire neighborhoods went dark.
Inside our home,
We prepared ourselves
With candles and flashlights,
But could not sleep, waited instead
For the next alarming snap.

Daybreak and sunlight offered no relief.
Eyes confirmed what ears had guessed
During the ice storm’s rampage –
Our driveway had become
An impenetrable thicket
Of ice-laden tree limbs
That refracted light with blinding glare.

A night of freezing rain
Had become a night of terror –
Were we forever sealed
Into our own home,
Our refuge now a tomb? 

Poet's Notes:  I wrote this poem, at least in part, to put outside of me, on paper and a computer screen, a horrific experience that haunted me for many years before I finally wrote the poem. The event and my experience of it were an actual ice storm in central Oklahoma, where I have now lived for over forty years. I do not "remember" the ice storm as a past event that my wife and I mercifully survived. This ice storm is not safely "behind me."  Whenever the event intrudes into my mind, I feel that I am re-living it, that it somehow seizes me and takes me over for a while. I am "there," not "here."  "Then" becomes "now."  Writing the poem gave me at least a tincture of comfort.

The grim ending of the poem alludes to the final scene of Verdi's opera, Aida.   In it, the condemned General Rhadames is sealed by a giant rock into an Egyptian temple room to die, and with him his beloved Aida, who has snuck into the room to be and die with him.  So, my home as a tomb sealed by an ice storm "becomes" the tomb of General Rhadames and Aida.

Editor’s Note:  What Howard describes as happening to himself as a result of living through a horrific event are the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a sometimes devastating and debilitating mental illness that can affect survivors of trauma, such as victims of violent accidents, natural disasters (such as Howard’s ice storm), war, and rape.  Howard found a way to cope through poetry and seems to have adapted well, but many cases of PTSD do not have happy endings.  Suicide rates are high.  

I have personally witnessed the effects that PTSD had on my father, a Holocaust survivor, and continue to witness its ravages on a daily basis in my work providing medical care for veterans at a small Veterans Administration clinic in Maine.  If you or a loved one are suffering from PTSD, you are not alone, and help is available.  The following website may be of help  SWG

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Bean Pot and Poker Stakes
History Lessons, Some of Them Obscure
 Charles A. Swanson
The hunt for graves turns up stunning bones.
We went looking for John K. Mason, POW
at Point Lookout Prison Camp, Maryland.
Beneath a granite obelisk in a bronze list,
inscriptions organized neatly by letters,
there he was, not his physical bones, but
alphabetical ones.  In a massed grave on site,
yes, but which bones were his?  I read his name,
got a bone-deep chill, this bone of my bone. 

The weather was so hot, sweat dripped down.
Standing in waving flags, under a different statue,
I felt a heat chill as I looked at the bean pot,
hidden almost in a grotto.  This Confederate
testimony to thin soup and scours, the cauldron
donated by the Fenhagens, was a resurrection,
adding an iron voice to diary entries--I have found
our food to be a small cup of soup with a stray 
yankee bean in it here and there and a piece of fat
pickled pork.  Another voice, Right after eating it
you headed for the latrine like clockwork.

Over three thousand dead, the numbers
too easy to say.  Dig up a body, two or three,
place arm bones in one box, and leg bones 
in another.  The skulls go in a third, for by
these you get paid.  One skull to one man,
that’s a count.  Then drink a little or a lot,
because maybe this work calls for it.  You’re
moving bodies from one cemetery to another,
you’re living among the bones, and a little drunk
you play cards, and by the light of a candle
in your little shack, you put a skull on the table—
this is money, this is how you get paid,
and all these bones, all these empty-eyed skulls
are buried deep-down in a historical footnote.

Poet’s Notes:  The selection of details makes what we know of history.  During a visit my wife and I made last summer, Point Lookout Prison Camp, Maryland, fascinated me in many ways.  The attempt to preserve a measure of the past is challenged by the erosion of both Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.  Some of the prison sites and the cemeteries are submerged, and some materials, such as grave contents, have been moved to other locations.  Even more fascinating to me is how two sides of the same large story of the Confederate prisoners is being told, and how a kind of battle for the American mind and sympathies continues to be revealed or hidden based on what is recorded, placed in monument form, or buried, if preserved at all, in a footnote in a seldom-read text.  Something of the strange and weird happens in how we want our present-day culture and value system to be reflected by what our ancestors did or did not do in the past.  We oft times re-write the past or we criticize the forefathers for failing to see into their future, our present.

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Fire on the Spear
Charles A. Swanson
On a day not as wet and not as calm
as I thought, I burned a brush pile.
Suddenly, small flames like teeth
were eating the dried grass, taking
a jaw-wide bite out of the hay field.
Stomping and beating stop a fire,
but wind pushes it.  I ran, stomped,
whacked, and saw small brown tufts
of grass snuffed out, but only sections
of the widening arc.  I ran for shovel,
rake, broom, anything.  By the time
I got back, only minutes later, the fire 
had ripped across the field, lapping
the hay bales lining the road.  

How do bales burn, I wondered?
I imagined like torches, rag-ends
soaked in kerosene.  I saw the heat
of flambeaus, a burning hot and long.
When the fire jumped onto one, smoke
and small flames made me hopeful.
Perhaps I could thrash out the fire.
No, the fire moved from bale to bale,
bales set side by side, the rounded tops
like hills before jumping orange.
The hay was not burning hot, but
I could not put it out.  My mind
raced like fire, what to do, what to do?

I cranked the tractor, hoping to move
any unburned hay.  The last bale
I saved, wheeling it away. The next
bale already burned.  I speared it,
lifting with the hydraulic arms,
turning the tractor around.  The wind 
fanned the flames, the fire leaped, 
flared up, and what had been flickers
roared, eager to reach across the green
of the tractor hood, right toward my face.
The next bale I backed across the field
letting the blessed wind blow away.
Quick, quick, quick, back and drop,
rush forward and spear, carry mounds
of fire, mounds of fire to plop
smoldering on the blackened ground.

Smoke warned the neighborhood,
and friends arrived.  Excited talk,
questions, fire tenders, savage
beatings, and the fire surrounded.
My son-in-law and I tended the bales
into the night, tearing apart with shovel
and tractor the smoldering hay.
We wanted the tightly rolled bales
to burn completely.  As he tore
with shovel, and I ran at bales
to burst them apart, we found and lost
each other in the smoke and flames.
I looked, though mostly reassured,
and saw one bale burning with eyes,
nose, mouth scored in flames,
a jack-o-lantern laughing insanely.

Poet’s Notes:  This is one experience I did not need to immortalize in the shape of a poem.  That night of firefighting is scored on my memory—not only the red of flames, but also the barely contained panic.  When I hear, “I went at it like fighting fire,” I wonder if that speaker has fear in mind, or only hard work.

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Some say the soul subsists in four dimensions.

What has purpose can’t be annulled,
be it process, beast, man.
A process may be altered, stopped, reversed;
a beast may be killed;
any of that may befall a man.
But none of them, once they have existed,
even if only for a billionth of a second,
can be annulled as if they never had.

He was the three made into one:
ineluctable process, incoercible beast, inexorable man.
When they realized what he’d been born for,
they understood the whole shebang would collapse,
he would give no quarter,
their mammoth petty world would soon come to an end.
And so, since they couldn’t curb him,
they rushed to do away with him.

An open, finite curve of sorts at birth,
they’d already let him shape into a perfect circle though,
closed and infinite in itself.
And when at last they went for him,
he had developed into a sphere,
one impossible to grasp in its entirety,
so that what they wiped out was just its surface,
all they thought was there…

Completely vanished,
finally eluding both their mind and sight,
he’s then become a glome,
imageless and unimaginable.
What he is now
goes beyond their awareness,
what really happened
goes beyond their comprehension.

And yet they feel the end is nearing all the same.
From some inaccessible place
without their knowledge,
undetectable by their brain and senses,
he’s still pursuing his purpose.
The end will be attained.
He will fulfill his will.

--Alessio Zanelli

Poet’s Notes:  Here’s a longish (by my standards) piece about whose actual meaning I’m still not sure….  It certainly contains similes and metaphors, maybe a bit nebulous (like the main one, based on the concept of a four-dimensional sphere), and it can certainly be categorized as a “fantasy/horror” poem. Although I took inspiration from a few real individuals I ran across in the past, who were trying to combat the disdain and hatred they were the object of because of their somewhat “peculiar” but powerful nature, the protagonist is an imaginary elusive and invincible man. He eventually manages to prevail by rising above all and everything, passing from the physical one to a supernatural dimension of sorts, where nobody and nothing can detect or affect him anymore. However “fantastic” the poem may appear, it wants to deal with the concrete theme of social discrimination and exclusion, and to celebrate the rebellion of the single, his ultimate self-affirmation in spite of the hostility and cruelty of a vast majority.

Editor’s Note:  A “glome” in mathematics is “the representation of a 3-dimensional object in 4-dimensional space.”  For more information, seeĂ©-conjecture-cb4ca7014cc5.  The formats of the title and first line do not comform with the rest of the poem at the direction of the poet.  SWG

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The Inn
Alessio Zanelli

Where the evil flames of desire
burn higher, and higher, and higher.
                           —Ian Gillan

The host never says hi or bye,
never inquires the guests
but always knows their tastes.
They all eat greedily at will,
nobody spends any money
but everybody pays the check.
Only when the feast is over
they realize they're locked in,
regret having entered the inn,
start feeling the burn of flames.

Poet’s Notes: They say the Devil is a better host than Amphitryon himself as well as a better cook than the chefs' master chef...

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Poetry Review 
Dribble n Drool by Mark Anderson 
Reviewed by John C. Mannone

Dribble n Drool by Mark Anderson is a hybrid, chapbook-length work of twelve poems and nine prose pieces. It is minimally illustrated with black & white sketches and uses a script-like font. It’s a no-glitz, simple, but honest presentation--a kind of collage, that, as with life, is not smooth (in content or syntax), but punctuated with what appears to be unrelated events. Consistent with the human condition being flawed, so too is the narrative’s punctuation. The raw humanness is echoed in the structure of the work!

Don’t let the cutesy titles of the book, sections, or the pieces themselves fool you. Though the collection might at first glance appear to be a children’s book, the contents are not for children but for mature audiences. The author attempts to address some difficult topics on religion, politics and the socio-economic state of affairs, all while dealing with the broken heart.

Part 1 leads off with “The Least Likely,” one of several autobiographical pieces, to set the tone and provide context. It’s the author’s story—a glimpse of his childhood from age seven. It’s a rendering of a misfit whose bad behavior stems from anger issues. But when his social environment changes and a few kind people enter his life, he finds Jesus despite the oppressive religious environment his mother had created and the antithetical stance his father took on religion. This opens a new chapter in his life, a new outlook tempered with faith. 

The collection has a strong religious theme.  The language is PG13, and the religious sentiment seems to be at odds, but it is not—it’s reality; it’s honest.  “The Hippy Era,” one of the prose pieces, suggests that superficial religion has no authority. The poem “Truth Bleeds,” together with the associated commentary, has religious subtext, as many of the other pieces do: “[wisdom] surrendered her life/on the bloody tree.” But the Shelly-esque personifications are more than Christian symbolism—“church and religion can be as dangerous and addicting as the worst drugs” is reminiscent of John McQuarrie’s phenomenology, which claimed that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” Regardless, Anderson asserts that “God desires our hearts.”  The poem “Eclipse” waxes philosophical, replete with metaphorical equations: “shadows” equals “religion” equals “distortion of pure light”.

Part 2, “Perspectives from an elder; my father”, highlights family tensions. The narrator’s father seems to be an “Archie Bunker” type with perhaps a stronger work ethic, while his mother’s religious fanaticism alienated his father from God. However, the father’s heart softens when he is placed in a nursing home, which awakens in him a sensitivity to the suffering of others. 

There are quite a few poem titles that allude to the Bible.  The poem “Ecclesiastes” introduces a sunflower metaphor, which is central in the closing prose piece, as well as the cover art on the back of the book. Many poems could sprout from these words: “the sunflower gets nourishment from the sun and oak trees, even in wheelchairs, which in turn get it from the fertile soil.” The source of life is from the same one, the same creator. The sunflower is the son, and the oak tree in a wheelchair, the injured father.

Part 3 starts with the question “What is broken in humanity?” It posits that to act with humility is to live in harmony with all creation. This little book mimics the grand complexity of life and living. An example is given where a defective socio-economic system exploits people.  They are “working hard to stay poor.” There is irony and dilemma here. The poem “Privilege,” arguably a rant, echoes these socio-economic woes.

Part 4 addresses the merits of being alone vs. being in marriages destined to fail; lust; and broken hearts—with an admonition to protect your heart by not trusting anymore--[“why] don’t they make/condoms for the heart?” But Anderson goes on to posit that the walls we build to protect our hearts will crumble and fall when just a simple seed of love is allowed to get into a crack (with just a little dirt that’s there) and sprout.

Editor’s Note:  Dribble n Drool may be purchased in trade paperback for about $8.00 at  SWG

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Frequent Contributor News
FC Ross Balcom is pleased to announce that two of his poems, "Tomb without Walls" and "Lair of the Bat People", can be read in Spectral Realms #11 (Summer 2019), published by Hippocampus Press

Former FC Sierra July is pleased to announce that her story "Teatime" is in an anthology titled Lost and Found: Tales of Things Gone Missing, available on

Former FC Mary Soon Lee's poetry book Elemental Haiku, containing haiku for every element of the periodic table, has just been published by Ten Speed Press: The book is reviewed and Mary interviewed by The Sciku Project at In addition, Mary is pleased to announce that she had the following poems published: "Last Human in the Olympics" in the 70th anniversary issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September/October 2019; "How to Colonize Ganymede" online at; "How to Detect Solar Neutrinos" online at Silver Blade, "How to Dance with Dark Matter" online at Uppagus; "How to Lie About SN 2213-1745" in Mithila Review, Issue 11; and "Apology for Your Extinction" in Dreams & Nightmares 113, September 2019. Lastly, her poem "How to Betray Sagittarius A*," originally published in Strange Horizons, has been anthologized in the 2019 Dwarf Stars Anthology.

FC Karla Linn Merrifield recently read at the Genesee Reading Series, Rochester, New York, sharing selections from her new book, Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North, along with several newly published and hitherto unpublished poems. She also did a reading at The Nature Conservancy for a gathering of donors in support of the Conservancy’s endeavors in the Great Lakes.  In August and again in September her poems won the Wilda Morris Poetry Challenge and

FC Emeritus John Reinhart recently read a few poems in Portland, Maine and posted the video here

FC Charles A. Swanson has a poem, "Summer Corn," in the Featured Poems section of Speckled Trout Review

FC Alessio Zanelli is pleased to announce that HQ Poetry Magazine/The Haiku Quarterly (Wiltshire, England) published a poem and a haiku of his in issue #51-52  Also, New Coin, a leading literary magazine of South Africa, published a poem of his in its 2019 issue,

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Lana the Poetry Dog
We thought it would be most timely to publish this, our "Hallowe'en/Horror" themed issue, closer to the Eve of All Hallows, as a prelude to the night when, as some people believe, the veil between the Real and Spiritual worlds becomes its thinnest. That meant delaying publication until toward the end of October.  We will act analogously with our "Christmas/Chanukah/Yule" themed issue, which will be published about a week before Christmas.  Those decisions left our "Autumn" themed November issue in a bit of a quandary as to when to publish it.

In the end, we decided that we will publish our "Autumn" issue in mid-November this year.  Assistant Editor Terri "Winter is" Cummings will be the lead editor.  Calls for submissions for this issue are now closed.

We will be open for submissions for our "Christmas/Chanukah/Yule" issue, our final publication of the year, until the Eve of All Hallows.  Our Editor-in-Chief will take the lead for this issue and hopes those who submit will find ways to present new and fresh dimensions on this old and popular topic.

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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