Sunday, December 15, 2019

DECEMBER 2019 "WINTER HOLIDAY" ISSUE


  
December 2019 "Winter Holiday" Theme Issue
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Cover Art "Songs of Eretz Winter Holiday Logo" [Digital Art]
Rebecca Eowyn Gordon
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
Poetry
Sylvia Cavanaugh
"Atomic Ornaments"
Terri Lynn Cummings
"Holiday Missive"
Steven Wittenberg Gordon
"Hero of the Battle of Beth-zechariah"
Gene Hodge
"Christmas Love"
John C. Mannone
"Full of Grace"
Karla Linn Merrifield
"Beatitudes at Yule"
Guest Poet Wilda Morris
“The Innkeeper’s Regrets”
“Rosca de Reyes, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico”
Vivian Finley Nida
"Santa’s Travels"
Guest Poet Claire Smith
“Oski, or God of Wishes”
Howard Stein
"World Renewal in Winter"
Charles A. Swanson
"Aspiring Teenage Director at Christmas"
Returning Guest Poet Tyson West
“Gaslight Christmas Eve”
“Holiday Hide and Seek”
“Sober”
Poetry Review
A Book of Minutes by Cathy Smith Bowers
Reviewed by Charles A. Swanson
Frequent Contributor News
A Year in Review & A Year Forthcoming

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A Letter from the Editor
There are many winter holidays and traditions which have sprung from different cultures.  Christmas in particular is celebrated in various ways in different places.  Diverse though these holidays may be, at least in the northern hemisphere, they all have one common theme--that of bringing warmth and light into the cold and darkness as the days grow shorter, darker, and often colder as the winter solstice approaches.  

The yule log, the Chanukah menorah, and the Christmas tree are literal examples of bringing light.  More important than light is the warmth--that of the body, heart, and most importantly the spirit--that these holidays bring, not only on the days they are celebrated but on the days leading to them and, one hopes, on as many days thereafter as possible.

The poems herein are filled with light and warmth.  Some quite literally celebrate the warmth of tradition, family, and good cheer.  Others serve to remind us not to be distracted by the metaphorical darkness of consumerism, jealousy, and greed.  And a few pay tribute to the miracles that occurred when the forces of light triumphed over the forces of darkness in times long ago but not forgotten.

I invite you to move your chair closer to the fire and enjoy the poems offered here.  May they bring a little more light and warmth into your life this season.

Shalom,
Steve
Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD
Editor-in-Chief

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Poetry

Atomic Ornaments
Sylvia Cavanaugh

Such a cold season, dark
and hushed.
I’m decorating my tree
late Sunday afternoon
as twilight turns the sky to flame.

I love my mercury glass ornaments
from the 1950’s.
Especially the three
from Etsy called atomic 
with their tenuous silver sheen
and faded bands of pink 
green and gold.
An art deco dream fit for the Jetsons.

My balsam Christmas tree
was dragged
from a deep Germanic past
to proclaim
the return of the sun god.

Why do I love 
these fragile atomic ornaments
made to reflect Oppenheimer’s Trinity—
an old Hindu god
whispering from my winter’s evergreen...

Editor's Note:  I particularly enjoy the way Sylvia combines Christian and pagan elements here.  The inclusion of the lurking specter of nuclear war creates a haunting irony in a poem ostensibly about the season of "peace on earth."  The ornaments, symbolizing the glow of light and darkness simultaneously, are a metaphoric masterstroke.  SWG

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Holiday Missive
Terri Lynn Cummings

Wind roams the planet
repeats itself until we slow
fill the body with sky
raise, lower lungs 
with its breath of change
and a voice to name the unseen

Sparrow grips a branch
repeats itself until we slow 
fill the body with sky
raise, lower a hand—
simple acknowledgement
powerful as wings 

What carries us to this season
but the path from house to house—
a communion of bones and voices
invisible until recognized
like a river of sparrows
woven into wind, sky


Poet’s Notes:  A holiday letter or card shows friends they are important, not forgotten, as the wind carries one year to the next. The simple act of writing (and reading) is filled with power. 

Editor’s Note:  Terri captures the spirit of the season without the cliché images and metaphors.  I particularly like the "river of sparrows"--what an image!  SWG


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Hero of the Battle of Beth-zechariah
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

Fourth son of Mattathias!  Your name everlasting!
Eleazar, called Avaran, the Maccabee he was,
Chose for himself an impossible target
The largest war elephant of Antiochus
Thundering forward in a foaming frenzy 
Mad on fermented juice of mulberries
Topped by a tower whose soldiers hurled missiles
Surrounded by infantry armored and steady
Flanked by five hundred elite men on horseback
Invulnerable juggernaut, bone-crushing beast,
Lumbering, trumpeting, unstoppable force.

For the glory of God and the heart of his people
Avaran the Maccabee the mammoth he charged
Slashing his way through the oncoming soldiers
Who parted before him like wheat in the wind.
The monster would crush him but Avaran was dogged
Grimly persistent he dodged the great feet
Moving under the broad belly of the behemoth
His mighty spear stabbing up into its heart.
The felled elephant then fell on brave Avaran
A double decimation--reduced by one-fifth--
The Maccabees fought on as lights in the darkness.

ref:  1 Maccabees 6:43-53

Poet’s Notes: There are many awe-inspiring and miraculous stories surrounding Chanukah, but the story of the death of Avaran has always been the most memorable one to me from my childhood to the present day. But for the glorious and inspiring sacrifice of Avaran, the Syrian-Greeks might have overrun the Jewish freedom fighters at Beth-zechariah, and that likely would have been the end of the Jews--about 160 years before the birth of an historically significant member of the tribe named Jesus.  

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Christmas Love
Gene Hodge

Is sweeter than chocolate covered cherries,
     softer than Christmas music
     droning from the kitchen radio.
It is adorned with colored lights,
     warm as children tucked in bed,
more exciting than bells on reindeers . . .
and the sound of hoof steps on the roof.
Christmas love is
     tinseled morning starlight,
     a heavenly host of angels 
singing . . . “Hallelujah.”



Editor's Note: I enjoy the way Gene sees being in love and loving within the spirit of Christmas and how he transforms the symbols of the holiday into symbols of love. SWG


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Full of Grace
John C. Mannone

Even in winter
she walks to a place of prayer,
            pines of Nazareth crisping air
as she whispers fragrant psalms.
A stillness wraps her
like a prayer shawl trapping warmth
            in her heart.

A sparrow stops
its own song to listen to hers
            as she raises her eyes
toward heaven. Sun-softened
clouds drift down—a shear
angelic fog that sparkles as it intones
            the music of the soul.

Mary, Daughter of Aaron,
understands the words of grace
            like her own name, Channah,
and those that follow: sublime
that quell her fears. She kneels
at the hearing of the words
            sent from the Father,

she doesn’t hesitate,
Be it done unto me.

Delicate air stirs the Cedars of Lebanon
as if a breath of God. A dove
            of incandescent white
auras the virgin; song of prophecy
resonates with her spirit, her heart
merging with her Son’s. They beat
            together as one.

Poet’s Notes:  The poem was inspired by the incarnation scene in the film Full of Grace: The story of Mary the mother of Jesus (October 2015) http://fullofgracefilm.com/.  The reference to "Aaron" alludes to Mary's Levitical heritage.

Editor's Note:  I enjoy the way John captures the Judeo-Christian heritage of Jesus here, as well as the spirit of the season.  SWG

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Beatitudes at Yule
Karla Linn Merrifield

This year for Christmas
we’re giving up
a few things of the past:

wrapping paper, lawn mower 
and snow shovel, power tools
and car keys.

L. L. Bean polybags, Amazon’s 
cardboard envelopes, Viyella shirt box
do nicely as is, dear.

John Deere’s motored into the sunset
on a ragpicker’s truck; yard service
has taken over nicely, honey.

We call on Bob and Tom to wield
drill bits and table saws expertly
while we, babe, nicely sip iced tea on the lanai.

Life was good then.
Life is good now.
Life shall be good until….

                                    In memoriam Roger M. Weir


Poet’s Notes:  I loathe the holiday season--its commercialism, its faux cheer, the incessant smarmy music in public spaces and on the radio. It’s a tough time for atheists like me, a tough time for those of us alone in the world with no family as I am and as are many of my “elder orphan” friends. But this month’s call for poems afforded me the opportunity to remember my belated husband and the joy we shared over the years exchanging gifts, even toward the end of his life when dementia was consuming his brain. Thank you, Songs of Eretz, for this redemptive moment.

Editor's Note:  I enjoy the acerbic tone of this piece.  The ominous ending ellipsis comes out of nowhere and becomes the first of a one-two punch as the dedication is read.  SWG

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The Innkeeper’s Regrets
Wilda Morris

I was suspicious of those travelers from Nazareth—
all my life I’d been taught that no good
could come from there, and my inn
was full when those peasants knocked. Despite 
my disdain, I took pity on the weary young woman, 
heavy with child and her husband
with callused hands and tired feet.
The space I offered in the stable 
was surely better than giving birth
on a dusty road or beneath a tree.

I thought myself generous but now I blush 
at my paltry pity and how I thought peasants
are best hosted with braying donkeys,
best bedded down with oxen, 
that a peasant mother should be satisfied 
with straw-filled manger as a baby bed.

Now I ask my wife, Why didn’t you
take them hot barley soup
and fresh-baked bread? Why didn’t you
offer them our own bed? Even as I ask, 
I know I’m excusing myself, 
passing blame for my blunder. 
As I pray with penitence, 
I promise compassion instead of pity
for those who need my help.
I will look for the divine in every face,
even weary wayfarers from Nazareth.

Poet’s Notes: The Nativity stories in the scripture have inspired artists, storytellers, song writers, and poets for many centuries. In some cases, the innkeeper is looked down upon for not providing better facilities for Mary and Joseph. I tried to look at the situation through his eyes.

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Rosca de Reyes, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Wilda Morris

Under a white cloth, yeast does its work
on the flour, sugar and eggs, causes them to rise, 
conceal candied fruit and the petite plastic baby 
as the ancient story says Joseph hid the infant 
from the murderous hands of Herod. 
This ring of sweet bread, crowns the celebration 
of Three Kings Day, Dia de los Reyes,
The one who finds the babe in the risen loaf 
is blessed, and bidden to the task of hospitality, 
providing tamales for Candlemas.

Meanwhile, here in San Miguel de Allende, 
children tie their wishes to balloons, send them
aloft, destined to be delivered to the Los Reyes
who arrive at dusk, all on horseback, 
not Caspar’s camel or Balthazar’s elephant. 
The faces of the three monarch, beneath crowns
and turbans, show varied skin tones, dark 
to light, as varied as the faces of expectant children
gathered to cheer them, to sit on their laps
and whisper secret hopes. Smiling parents
stand by, hoping to overhear the children’s dreams
above the sounds of the band, the camera-bearing touristas,
the periodic peal of bells from La Parroquia,
and the long line of restless girls and boys
politely awaiting their turns.

Poet’s Notes: The annual San Miguel Poetry Week takes place the first week of January; so, when I participate, I’m in Mexico on Three Kings Day. The workshop director, Jennifer Clement, provides Rosca de Reyes (with multiple plastic babies) for the poets, and one year, I found one in my piece of bread. Since we would not be in San Miguel for Candlemas, we arranged a party for the poets before the end of the week.

About the Poet:  Wilda Morris is Workshop Chair of Poets and Patrons of Chicago and a past President of the Illinois State Poetry Society. Her poems have found homes in numerous anthologies, webzines, and print publications, including The Kerf, The Ocotillo Review, Pangolin Review, and Journal of Modern Poetry. She has won awards for formal and free verse and haiku. Her second poetry book, Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick, was published in 2019. Her poetry blog at wildamorris.blogspot.com features a monthly poetry contest.

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Santa’s Travels
Vivian Finley Nida

Late Christmas, Santa parks his empty sleigh
and through the year, he lets his reindeer rest
while round the world he sees what children play
and uses local transport on his quest
With people, hens, and roosters on the go
he stands in Chicken Bus in Panama 
He drives Alaskan dog sled over snow
Canal boat’s speed in Bangkok drops his jaw
In Vietnam, the trike accelerates
in traffic as he sits in front and smiles
On Shanghai’s Maglev Train he levitates
and in eight minutes covers nineteen miles
He slows on elephant at Taj Mahal
Then “Ho, Ho, Ho,” it’s “Merry Christmas, all”

Poet’s Notes: This idea stemmed from the various ways Santa arrives for parades—in a fire truck, from a helicopter, and in my hometown, winter headquarters for several circuses, on an elephant.

Editor’s Note:  This is an impeccable Shakespearean sonnet.  I enjoy the way it captures the spirit of Christmas across several cultures.  SWG

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Oski, Or God of Wishes
Claire Smith

Christmas Eve, Odin roams
The Wonder-Land Retail Park,
in a black-windowed limousine:
wintry drizzle, orange lights, night skies.

He thinks of his Wild Hunt – leader
of warriors galloping on an eight-legged
horse conjuring Yule-tide storms.

He is bringer of gifts – rewards gold and honour,
eternal feasting for loyalty. Death for betrayals.
Lightning blazes the Norse God’s presence.

He reclines, glorious, on luxury leather seats,
flicks through jingle-bell songs
on alien-radio stations.

Water streams down shop windows,
dolled-up for Christmas: meteor shower
tinsel, plastic constellations, bauble-moons
wound round trees growing behind the glass.

He remembers forests lining fjords
of his homeland: fresh pine sap, needles
shimmer with snow-flakes, scaled cones.

He wonders at illegible Runes
of this other place printed like blood on
white banners, sprawled across glass:

MORE THAN 50% OFF!
WINTER SALE NOW ON!
BLACK FRIDAY COMING SOON!

Does this alien race
share his foreboding:
foretell bad harvests, death, war?

Poet's Notes:  I wanted to write about Odin and his Wild Hunt combined with looking at Christmas and its build-up in the twenty-first century. How might Odin experience our different December celebrations if we brought him into the present day? What would he think?

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the way Claire marries pagan images and themes with modern ones, the former coming across as more wholesome.  SWG

About the Poet:  Claire Smith's work has appeared in the journals Timeless Tales, Riddled with Arrows, and Spectral Realms, and in anthologies including The Night Cafe and Untimely Frost. She holds an MA in English from the Open University and lives in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom.      

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World Renewal in Winter
Howard Stein      
  
Winter makes its way
Toward us
As the sun sinks
Lower and lower,
Stays away
Longer and longer,
Could descend so deep
As to disappear forever –

          Will our sun abandon us
          To eternal night?
          Will we perish
          With vanishing light?

Let us, then, exalt
In festive jubilation –
Bright candles, Menorahs,
Yule logs, wood fireplaces,
Strings of electric lights
Woven around indoor Christmas trees,
And outlining the roof outside –
Everywhere redemptive light.

With fire and revelry
We emulate the gods
As we banish darkness
From our midst.
Maybe the gods
Will remember our plight,
Sense our trembling behind the gaiety.

          Can we conjure the gods by our flames?
          Can we soften their hearts by prayer?

We hope they will
Restore to us
The gift of life,
Renew the dimming world
Once more –  

          Our sun returned,
          Winter’s dread defied,
          A world reborn.

Poet's Notes:  This poem is at least triple-inspired.  First, I wrote and revised it during the late-fall approach of the Winter Solstice and its many holidays: Christmas, Chanukkah, Yule, etc.  Second, the approach of the Winter Solstice has long brought with it memories and anticipations of joy, play, wonder, peril, and tragedy. 

The poem turns on the widely different emotions and fantasies evoked by the increased amount of darkness toward winter, and the increased amount of light toward summer.  This drama is anthropomorphized by the fear of disfavor and hope for favor from the gods. The poem, then, begins with Nature and ends with human emotion, fantasy, and ritual as are embodied in cosmic drama.

Editor’s Note:  This is an interesting and controversial poem for a Jew to write, but I think it captures the purpose of celebrating light, a practice that transcends and at the same time includes many religions.  Howard’s notes add a personal touch and important insight.  SWG

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Aspiring Teenage Director at Christmas
Charles A. Swanson
                         for my father

The snow was mounting, and I said,
I must go to the church
to meet whoever comes.  You said,
The roads are much too slick.

To practice Christmas, our Christmas play,
we crossed a snowy bridge,
the highest “hill” in that flat land.
The snow wrapped edge to edge,

from woods to woods, expanse of fields
and sealed up all in calm.
Our headlights dazzled every star,
each star that drifted down.

Bathed in panel lights, your face
was softer in the night.
I flushed with warmth despite the grip
of winter’s chill, while lights

like plows pushed aside the falling snow.
Our tires left the only tracks.
Because the church’s lot was vacant,
we made the journey back.

Poet’s Notes:  When I was a teenager, my family lived a half mile from the highway and had no telephone.  I was raised on responsibility, a job-worth-doing-is-a-job-worth-doing-well steady teaching. When I took on the task of writing and producing a Christmas play for our church, it was a serious thing to me.

Dad did not go often to church.  As snow mounted, his unwillingness to take me to church for a Christmas play practice became a cherished memory for me when he relented.  As he predicted, no one came to the practice.  I had no ability to call around and let players know of a canceled meeting, so Dad drove me to church that night.  The effect on my emotions of his initial unwillingness to take me disappeared like the snowflakes melting on the truck’s windshield.  I still remember his profile, backlit by the snow filling the white fields.

Editor’s Note:  Charles captures a magical moment here, a nice memory.  The link to Christmas is tenuous, but the emotional impact, enhanced by Charles’ autobiographical notes, overcomes that hurdle.  SWG

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Gaslight Christmas Eve
Tyson West

A century ago the Great War had just
Hard fired its last barrage in anger the month before.
Tonight barrages have shrunk to sniping
Amid passive trenches of aggression which hold fast.
I breach the Great Wall to my parents door
Mom and dad skirmish cordially enough
As they offer teetotaler me a glass of Chablis
Which I always decline
To sip virginal eggnog with three dashes of nutmeg for
The father, son and holy ghost.
They open with a feignt towards my career
Which will never match
Promotions to assistant vice president with an oak leaf cluster, or full bird colonel or
Tenured professorship in rhetoric at Princeton of the scions of 
Their hair dressers, golfing buddies, and distant cousins.
Too clever for them I demur
Into the camouflage of humility
For should they draw me out into the open
White flag or not I would encounter boxing fire
Of a dozens more successful offspring of their acquaintances.
But these spiraling successes of others
Pivot as mere skirmishes.
I brace for the flank attack
My failure as a husband and father – 
The holidays after all, are all about family.
I maneuvered adroitly and
Exhale a smoke screen of flattery
As I string colored lights and scatter tinsel across my father’s ego and position
And mother’s clever crafts and bridge
I wind up my parents to berserker fervor – 
We proclaim the thickness of blood which flows like sludge among us
Before I slip away into the freezing mist
Ice crystals fall out as streaks of light
Under the streetlight beams.
My duty done with another purple heart
For this year’s campaign
I retreat from the love of family
To armistice in the indifference of strangers.

Poet's Notes:  I grew up in the late 50s and early 60s with parents of the Greatest Generation. More brutal than the current generation of Boomer parents, my dad quoted the old Confucian adage, “If you hate your child, cram him with dainties. If you love your child, give him plenty of cudgel.”  

Those of us who grew up then were never quite good enough in our parents' eyes. Once you got all A's, you were not quite good enough, if you were not the president of the class or captain of the football team, or, if a girl, head cheerleader. It seemed as if my parents were always applying shifting mental jujitsu moves to keep me off balance. 

Most of us who left home made secret, private vows to never return. When we did visit, especially at Christmas, our words were calculated because anything we said could and would be used against us. Family tension was definitely home for the holidays. 

Given the current generation, which seems to have no hesitancy to move back into a parent’s basement, I wonder which approach was the best. My generation of children certainly lacked a warm and loving relationship with their parents, but at the same time we were definitely motivated to become ourselves.  

Editor’s Note: I particularly enjoy the way Tyson weaves military metaphors into the holiday family dynamics.  SWG

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Holiday Hide And Seek
Tyson West

A theological conundrum arrived
With the brightly wrapped and tightly bowed presents
Nana sent by parcel post from just south of Arkham.
Out growing our Oswald the Rabbit print pajamas
She had sent last year
This season we had hoped she would think us worthy to sleep
Swaddled in the great Mickey himself. 
The gifts of socks and whitey tighties from Mom and Dad
Or as they orchestrated each of us kids to the other
Appeared déjà vu in their poinsettia and holly 
Wrapping paper Mom saved from presents the year before.
I could shake rattle and roll in the anticipation
Mom and Dad would give me the Red Ryder BB gun
Wrapped in virgin paper of a cowboy Santa surreally riding against a purple sage night sky
But my hopes always rode off into the sunset alone.
Santa’s gifts, on the other hand,
Lead to dark questions for Mom
As we sprinkled red and green jimmies on the pastel iced sugar cookies
Minted in shapes of stars and moons and Santa.
Hearing Mom fancy dance her answers was more fun than dreaming of Christmas morning.
Why would Santa enslave elves in such a hostile environment
As the North Pole and sweat shop them to pirate toys
For the descendants of serfs like us?
Why toys and not books – 
To lure us into silly idleness
Which is next to idolatry?
But the last temptation of my childhood
Hung in the circumstantial evidence of our attic 
A stage set in biblical proportions 
Christ’s wilderness to meet Satan
And the nether world of Isaiah 
The home of bats and wasps and black birds.
Father once captured a little brown bat there in an old towel – 
I saw its tiny eyes glisten 
Before he threw the towel and soft fur into our incinerator
To appease Mom’s hysterical nag.
The bedroom I shared with my brother David
Held the portal to the splintered steps
Up to the attic floor ten feet above our heads as we slept.
Groggy winter wasps crawled under the door
To the warmth of our room and tried their wings in slow motion
Before Mom smashed them under her heel.
We were forbidden to ascend that ladder of fire
Into the acrid attic air – 
So of course we timed our climb
When Mom and Dad drove to Cleveland to shop
Leaving white haired Betty to babysit us
Dozing in the lazyboy before the flickering black and white Grand Ole Oprey.
We found the rhythm band set
The cap guns and the chemistry and erector sets and Barbie and Ken for sis
Not well hidden at all.
This had to be the work of Mom and Dad
Santa would not have screwed up the concealment this badly.
I shushed David who wanted to immediately tell Mom and Dad all – 
For even then I sensed you never show your hand
Until you have to.
We made a covenant to fake sleep on Christmas Eve
To see who brought these presents for real.
On that magic night my brother like St. Peter fell asleep
And I alone have escaped to tell you.
Mom and Dad flush with mulled wine
Whispered excitedly through the gates of hell
Then carried down the jingling load to spread beneath the drying scotch pine.
I silently slipped part way down the stairs behind the bannister
Saw their laughing and giggling as they set out Santa’s offerings,
Then retreated to my room
To ponder the implications and contradictions 
As I fell to sleep while snow piled up deep outside.
Does every good gift and every perfect gift,
Come from deception, delusion and the darkness above?

Poet's Notes:  I grew up in the late 50s and early 60s in a small western Pennsylvania town. My family lived in an old two storey house where the attic was accessed through the bedroom my younger brother and I shared. I remember being fascinated with the attic because of the bats and odd things we found there, such as Christmas presents and my grandfather’s air raid patrol helmet. 

One December, when I was in elementary school, my brother and I found the presents in the attic. We were going to stay awake to see if our parents delivered them or Santa, but my brother fell asleep. When Mom and Dad carried them from the attic downstairs, I alone crept down the stairs and hid and watched them put the presents under the tree. I imagine that would have made a great Norman Rockwell painting, charming in spite of all neuroses before and after the event depicted. 

Editor’s Note: Tyson captures the spirit of Christmas here but from the perspective of a too thoughtful and philosophical child.  The dark underbelly of deceit and betrayal that simmers beneath the magic is nicely captured here, too.  SWG

* * * * *
Sober
Tyson West

A few dry moons into sobriety, I woke whistling “Joy To The World”. Swiftly our coven joined Lady Artemis Wolfrose to ring in the Yule dawn. Breaths ice crystal globed beneath hard blue sky, Cerridwen, Yellow Bear, Birch, Oak and I, held hands circling our druid priestess with solemn energy before laughing to her kitchen for hot tea. As Birch and Oak prepared goose, parsnips and rutabagas, I kneaded emmer dough between my fingers. Had the God at Lughnasadh not gone into the grain we could not celebrate his baby blue rebirth with this wreath of bread, golden raisins spiced with cardamom. We sang “Come All Ye Faithful”.  Our Lady, who popped in to be sure potatoes would be scalloped and pineapple cake upside downed, intercepted a nip of brandy. Faith, our Lady’s daughter, had raised her fifteen-year-old bones that sacred hour before noon for my orange muffins and a hazelnut latte. As mother and daughter sipped, their stares decreed that Faith would not serve at our circle.  When Faith flew to see her boyfriend, our Lady poured a neat of port and retired to her chambers in tears. While Birch and I baked mincemeat pie, I sought bourbon for hard sauce I would never taste. The Wild Turkey had only a feather left. As we robed for circle, we hummed, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. Artemis stumbled then fell asleep so Cerridwen and Oak cast the circle around her. The spirits of the watchtowers of the four directions joined us then the Goddess and newborn God grew close. Our ceremony flowed to the rhythm of our Lady’s snores rather than her sobs. We laughed and feasted then exchanged gifts under a glittering yule tree. Our Lady awoke to Faith’s opening the door saying nothing as she came for her gifts. We all sang “Silent Night” for our turn at the wheel.

Poet's Notes:  In the mid-1980s, I discovered that I was Pagan. Being Pagan is not a belief one is converted to; it is a state of being where one discovers one’s soul dwells. I joined a coven of Wiccans, and our priestess had issues with alcohol and her teenaged daughter, not to mention a persistent delusion that Michael Jackson was going to send for her to be his partner. 

I learned in the course our worship the lesson that many Roman Catholics face with their priests. Our faith is based on our relationship with the forces behind the veil and with the spirituality we have inside. The imperfections of practitioners of one’s faith do not destroy that belief’s validity. 

I also realized at that time that the year-end holiday around the winter solstice, no matter what we call it, has power, because we are creatures who love light and warmth in the midst of the cold and dark. We all share the same primal feeling which gives birth to the Coca Cola Santa, “A Christmas Carol”, dreidels and gelt, the Blue God, Yule logs, secret family recipe cookies, and Kwanzaa, and a thousand other customs.

Editor’s Note: I enjoy the way this prose poem captures the pagan and the Christian and marries the ancient with the modern.  The narrative is full of enchanting imagery and mythology, a perfect balance of the prosaic and the poetic.  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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Poetry Review
A Book of Minutes by Cathy Smith Bowers
Reviewed by Charles A. Swanson

Cathy Smith Bowers, a former poet laureate for the state of North Carolina, teaches in the MFA program at Queens University in Charlotte.  Her poems not only demonstrate her giftedness as a writer but also suggest some of her many strengths as a teacher of poetry.  Each of the little poems found in her collection A Book of Minutes (Iris Press, 2004) is in the “minute form”--a pattern based on sixty syllables.  The form is further complicated by an 8, 4, 4, 4 syllable count in each of three stanzas and the rudimentary requirement of rhyming couplets.  The ways in which Bowers treats these requirements is not only inspiring but also educational.

The masters know how to use a poetry form not as a box but as an escape.  Bowers’ poems strike a tone of resonance over and over despite their brevity.  Images crystallize, and rhymes, while not always in an end-rhyme pattern, reinforce meaning.

The book also delights because of its appearance, so much like a prayer book and even organized into sections by titles of the canonical hours (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline).  Each section heading is illustrated with embellishments and artwork that take a reader into a mood of reflection and a sense of wonder.

As Bowers writes in her preface, her “major task in writing a poem is to shine a light on a moment of intensity.”  Some of the poems are about her brother’s death from AIDS.  In the poem, “Flying to Sausalito with My Sisters,” Bowers incorporates the bodily breakdowns of three sisters in the required space of sixty syllables and still ends the poem with the memorable words, “Our bodies’ deep / cargo of grief / enroute to our / dying brother.”

“Peace Lilies,” a double minute available for reading at the Poetry Foundation https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/54767/, juxtaposes the demands placed on someone caring for an ill relative with the small requirements made by the peace lilies.  Through the symbolism of the lilies, the poem presents both the quiet desperation bound up in the grieving process and the measure of peace that may be fostered by the hours and days of solitude after death.

One of my favorite themes of the book is Bowers’ use of flowers, referencing medieval practices and superstitions in some poems.  These poems take me to Ophelia’s sprinkling of flowers in Hamlet and her allusions through the flowers’ symbolism.  In “Thyme”, Bowers addresses the plant by noting how it was once “embalmer of // the freshly dead.”  All of Bowers’ flower poems bring up images that reveal and even startle as she connects history, medical practices of the past, and the literature of Romance to her own personal stories.

A Book of Minutes may be enjoyed again and again poem-by-poem, one poem a day, or in a single sitting. It is available through Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Book-Minutes-Cathy-Smith-Bowers/dp/0916078582.  A new trade paperback copy may be had for $23.98, used copies from $9.99.

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Frequent Contributor News

FC Sylvia Cavanaugh has decided not to stay on as a Frequent Contributor next year.  On behalf of the editors and staff, I wish her all the best as she pursues other projects.  Her haunting, lyrical voice will be missed.  SWG

Lana the Poetry Dog has been an integral part of Songs of Eretz from its inception, working behind the scenes to help me sort out the "doggerel" poems, snuggling up with me when I read, and always just being there for support.  We almost lost Lana in November when she was struck with a terrible illness.  Emergency major surgery was required to save her life.  After a frightening two weeks, true to form, my faithful Canis lupus familiaris bounced back and resumed her exuberant puppy-like ways.  She reached her eleventh birthday on the 12th--elderly for her breed.  Every new day with her is a blessing.  SWG

FC Alessio Zanelli is pleased to announce that Frogpond, the magazine of the Haiku Society of America, published a haiku of his in the Fall 2019 issue http://www.hsa-haiku.org/frogpond/.

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Lana the Poetry Dog
A Year in Review & A Year Forthcoming
2019 was a good year for the Songs of Eretz franchise.  In addition to strong poetic offerings from our frequent contributors and editorial staff (even the Art Editor had a poem published this year!), we published poems of the highest quality of over two dozen guest poets.  We had well over 70,000 visits to the website, bringing our total visit number close to the half-million mark--a milestone we will surely reach in 2020.  Those numbers are not quite as high as in 2018, but considering that we switched from a daily to a monthly format and discontinued our popular but cumbersome annual poetry contest, those statistics are nothing short of remarkable.

2020 will bring more changes.  Songs of Eretz will begin publishing quarterly again as it did in its early years--quarterly issues will be published in March, June, September, and December.  I am particularly excited about our coming September offering, which will be a special "election-themed" issue.  Many memorable political poems were published in Songs of Eretz when it was a daily, and I really miss that important aspect of what we used to offer.  Political poems of all stripes will be welcome and seriously considered for publication, as long as they are of high quality and contain facts with citations, as opposed to opinions without support (no rants allowed).  The themes of the other three issues will be announced soon in our guidelines--stay tuned!

In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks and to bestow credit where it is due.  First, my heartfelt gratitude goes out to my editorial staff.  With my move from Kansas to Maine, maintenance of two households, and re-joining the full-time workforce this year, I would have been quickly overwhelmed if I tried to continue to do everything myself.  Jason, James, and Terri threw themselves into the many fun little jobs that makes Songs of Eretz hum along smoothly, all the while upholding and at times even exceeding my exacting standards.

Second, I would like to thank the Frequent Contributor staff for submitting such high quality poems, no doubt some of their best work.  It is an absolute pleasure and privilege to offer them a home for their poetry.

And last but most certainly not least, I would like to thank the readership--an average of 200 people per day--for visiting Songs of Eretz Poetry Review and thereby breathing life into the poetry and art that we offer.  Without you, there would be no point in this poetic endeavor.

Best wishes for a happy New Year,
Steve
Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD
Editor-in-Chief

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