Sunday, March 10, 2024

SPRING ISSUE "Holding Your Breath" 2024

The Window Is Now Closed for New Submissions.



"Holding Your Breath" SPRING ISSUE 2024 


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Unless otherwise indicated, all art is taken from "royalty-free" Internet sources. 


Chief Executive Editor

Steven Wittenberg Gordon



Terri L. Cummings

Charles A. Swanson

Associate Editor

Clayton Spencer


Frequent Contributors

Terri Lynn Cummings

Steven Wittenberg Gordon

John C. Mannone

Karla Linn Merrifield

Vivian Finley Nida

Clayton Spencer

Howard F. Stein

Charles A. Swanson

Tyson West


Biographies of our editorial staff & frequent contributors may be found on the "Our Staff" page.

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Table of Contents


Letters From the Editors


Featured Frequent Contributor

John C. Mannone

“Angels Dancing”




Frequent Contributors

Steven Wittenberg Gordon

“It’s a Gas”

Terri Lynn Cummings

“They say everyone grieves differently”

Vivian Finley Nida


“Atlantic Ocean, American Coast”

Tyson West

“Fish Boil Sock Hop”

“Requiem Suite for Slatsz”

Howard F. Stein

“Escalation – A Narrative Poem About Labored Breathing”

“Urgent Game of Cups, Old Folks’ Home”

Charles A. Swanson

“Dad didn’t want a phone in the house”

“Mother Mary at the Dumpster”

Guest Poets

Llewellyn McKernan

“Hold Your Breath”

Lora Berg

“This is a Silent Zone”

C. M. Gigliotti


“Techno Prayer”

Parks Lanier

“Night Blooming Cereus”

Norma C. Wilson

“My Distant Sister,”

Lucy Rumble

“Seaside Boy”

Sharon J. Clark

“I lost my heart to an ice water free diver”

“The long breath of winter”

L. Aadia

“War Wakemare: Inured”

Frequent Contributor News




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A Letter from the Co-Editor-in-Chief

      As Terri Lynn Cummings said, “Clay is a gem.”  This issue marks Clayton Spencer’s first appearance as our Associate Editor.  Working with him has been inspirational, but we’ve probably already tired him out. 

I also want to thank Drew Swanson for his contribution of artwork.  Our magazine boasts the mission statement of bringing “a little more good poetry and art into the world.”  Most of our artwork recently has been from royalty-free sources, so we especially appreciate the piece Drew sent us.  I also want to thank Terri Cummings for how wonderfully she matches each image to its accompanying poem.  Terri is truly the genius behind our day-to-day operations.

        For the theme of “Holding Your Breath,” quite a few guest poems were set in a water environment.  Because we breathe air and not water, the effort to hold one’s breath seemed an easy direction for a somewhat literal interpretation of the theme. Of those submissions, “I lost my heart to an ice water free diver” and “Seaside Boy” made the final cut.  Paeans to nature also came across the desk (the computer desk, that is), and nature certainly provides breath-stopping moments.  Music also has its moments of tension, and some poets found opportunity to point out what music can do to the body.  And then there is war, and we received several strong poems about war’s effect on breathing.  The selections featured here, both in the Frequent Contributors’ poems and in the Guest poets’ poems, show that life throws many moments of reflective or heart-pounding stasis into the middle of a bustling and overfull life.  I think you’ll enjoy the variety this issue presents.

Charles A. Swanson



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A Letter From the Associate Editor

I'm happy to be kicking off my first official role as an editor with a Spring issue. I found our theme, "Holding Your Breath", to be appropriate, and relatable. I am a deep lover of Summer, and each year the arrival of Spring- redbuds sprouting too early, the first snowdrops and jonquils raising their heads, the scent of magnolia passing softly overhead- is something like releasing a held breath, a hand-in-hand return with the soil and the earth, its own inhalations sensed beneath the wet leaves. 

A theme will take a writer in many places, some of them expected and others previously unknown. Darkness and light. Success and failure. Turns like seasons. 

I'd like to offer this list of words, phrases, and lines pulled from the poems in this issue, a slice of where the minds represented here wandered, something of a Spring bouquet of these writers' language: 

monkfish, engine, dreamless dreams, the big heart, unholy fumes, local shrimp, glint off and shimmer, spell, this world's everyday abuse, Spanish moss, crackerjack, but here we are, Queen of the Moon, white flowers we wove into chains, submerged and gurgling, echoes of my mother's voice, wet swimwear, useless usless useless, I want to be that clock 

Thank you for reading. 


 Clayton Spencer

Associate Editor 

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Featured Frequent Contributor

Angels Dancing

prose poem

John C. Mannone


Weather radar shows a weak line of thunderstorms slicing through Lake Erie north of my destination // but breaking up quickly // I study the map, watch the looped animations tell the story I want to hear—yellow flickers over strands of green—only light rain; mist edges Niagara County // Red thunderstorm globs already dissolving into the lake of the weather monitor // The storms are dead // Stiff,

variable crosswinds plague my departure airport on a low-visibility summer day // precipitation fog lingers from earlier storms and drapes the Adirondack Mountains to the south // My single engine airplane drones in and out of ghost clouds washed graveyard gray.

By the time I reach Buffalo, NY // my communication radios crackle from electrostatic rain hiss and my instruments register lightning from a few distant clouds // but in ten seconds, the few strikes soar into hundreds of in-close aggressive lightning // slashing all the clouds around me // spilling rain as blood // The storm howls and my engine rumbles.

The storm scope shows clusters of black crosses stabbing my plane // I pray for evasive vectors from Approach Control // to deliver me from an inescapable gauntlet // Miraculously, a protective pocket of air forms around me that remains undisturbed // and clear of lightning no matter where my airplane ventures—zigzagging across the lake // Yet jagged lightning is relentless // and continues in angry pursuit in all quadrants // It wields fire swords burning air, attempting to melt my wings under a cracking egg-crate sky // Wind-whipped albumin clouds funnel their turbulence upon me.

It’s twenty infinite minutes of white-knuckle flying // sweat falling // on my approach plates before a calm controller’s voice fills my ears with hope // He says, I have some good news // Just through the next cloudbank, your destination airport will loom into the clearing… // but you might experience severe turbulence // I hold my breath and fly through the ominous clouds, bracing for the worst.

Fear churns with anticipation of sheering winds // but there’s nothing more than mere sprinkles and uncanny-smooth air // My angels are dancing on the heads of pins // I swear // I see them waltz on the oscilloscope screen, swathing the ballroom as whirling lights // waxing the nimbus clouds to stratus smooth // while buffing out all the red and yellow streaks // until there is nothing but placid green.

Emerging from the threat // I swoop down on a visual approach and land safely // As I secure my plane with ropes, I look up and see what I have flown through—mammato cumulonimbus—tornado-spawning clouds // I finish my prayer of thanks through the rain // in my eyes.

Poet’s Notes: “Angels Dancing” is based on true events while flying my Piper Archer II back in 1998 in the Great Lakes region [but relocated to upper state NY]. A truly miraculous experience in my assessment. The Stormscope mentioned in the prose poem responds to the magnetic component of the electromagnetic radiation from lightning and is correlated to the strike frequency. When the scope registers 20, it has my attention, when it registers 70, I am actively evading the area. On that day, the scope reading jumped to 200 and a few moments later to 570! My green screen was heavily splotched with black crosses signifying lightning strikes in my immediate area. Once again I learned the meaning of prayer.

Structurally, the double slashes serve as a nexus for tension via juxtaposition but also are symbolic of lightning slashes (flashes).

Editor’s Notes:  Perhaps my favorite device in the poem is the symbol for the lightning strike, the black cross.  That symbol, not an invention of the poet, but a representation on the Stormscope screen, parallels the anxious prayers uttered in the terrifying storm.  CAS

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free verse

John C. Mannone


When I see the heart

of electrical substations

—its a maze of wires,

relays, transformers,

switches and other

components that deliver

power to our homes—


I think of the big heart

of industry, how it thrives

on current and voltage

to make things happen

in a factory, to light up

scientists in a research lab,


Yet when I study the heart

sketched in medical books

I glow like a light bulb full

of bright ideas borrowed

from mechanical engineering

like rhythm diagnostics using

Fast Fourier Transforms

of the beating heart.


It’s not just the marvel

of anatomy and physiology

that holds my breath in awe,

but the physics of the heart

as pump for vital fluids.


The flow of lifeblood

is controlled by ingenious



the sinus node generates

a spark, guides it to another



atria are stimulated first,

milliseconds later in the lower

chambers, the ventricles

contract, each one a heartbeat.


Imagine three billion

non-stop beats in a lifetime;


and in mine, they beat faster

and faster trying to catch up

and be in sync with yours.

            Each set of pulses

            between breaths


surges in iambic pentameter.

To hear yours is pure poetry


even if only for a moment

            before my heart quits 

            ... or yours.

Poet’s Notes: I've always had a fascination with electric power stations. A picture of one served as an Ekphrastic prompt. As I wrote, I saw the substation as a metaphor for the human heart, whose functions and rhythms are electrically controlled. A very close and dear friend of mine has a heart condition and I couldn't help thinking of her as the poem closed.

Editor’s Notes:  I think my own heart, equipped with a handy-dandy pacemaker, beats in empathy with this poem.  CAS 

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prose poem

John C. Mannone 

I am dreaming in deep sleep—engulfed in a blue derivative of liquid perfluorohexane— extracting air dissolved in fluid, just as I did as a fetus until born into air.

My lungs drink in oxygen, steady and deep, my pulmonary pulses: sixteen breaths per minute. But I sense they are climbing, become erratic. Relax, I say to myself, this is a dream, right? And there’s no pollen or mold, no smog or chemical pollutants to choke me, no asphyxiant, just pure air, clear and cold.

Eyes coming out of the blur, I focus on the navigation panel: still bound for Epsilon Eridani-3, a planet in the near distance, a mere five light-years to go. I am dreaming yet I am troubled, my breath fogging the glass of my protective pod. Wait! This is not a dream. I must have awakened from cryostasis ... much too early. There’s no way to return to sleep, to submerge and fill my lungs with hope.

I’ll drift into dreamless dreams, to lonely lullaby thrums inside the cage of my heart, and to the desperate breathing of the rocket engines rushing to get me home.

Poet’s Notes: This sci-fi microfiction/prose poem attempts to capture the exasperation of breathing, to remain alive and not die from anoxia, which is inevitable. Even at the speed of light, the spacecraft would travel at least for five more years. If only the astronaut could hold his breath. Under cryostasis, the oxygen demands are reduced to miniscule amounts. What caused the cryogenic system to fail is unknown, and a moot point.

Editor’s Notes: As A.I. technologies mushroom, I consider how I am living in the middle of day-to-day science fiction.  John’s poem may seem light years away, but I’m not so sure anymore that it is.  CAS

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Frequent Contributors


It’s a Gas

free verse

Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD

(Former USAF Flight Surgeon)


“Awright officer candidates!

Close your eyes tight and hold your breath!

This chamber is filling with CS gas!

That’s 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile for you doctor types!

Gas masks on!

Now, open your eyes and breathe!

Your mask filters out the gas, doesn’t it?

Doesn’t it!!?”

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Now, as you are no doubt aware,

Chemical warfare was absolutely prohibited

By the Geneva Protocol of 1925.

Mwa ha ha ha!

That always makes me laugh!”


 Poet’s Notes: In the year 2000, at the age of thirty-five, I entered Officer Training School for the United States Air Force as a Flight Surgeon candidate. Part of that training involved “convincing” me and my fellow officer candidates that we could absolutely rely on our gas masks to function properly in the event of a chemical warfare attack. CS is used as a riot control gas—the Air Force was not trying to kill us. 


Editor’s Notes:  This poem has muscle, and the muscle shouts out in the voice.  I like that.  CAS


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They say everyone grieves differently

free verse

Terri Lynn Cummings


Grandfather clock beats without a breath

of sense, without a sense of what’s to come--

obeys the weights that rise and fall, then stop.


He loves his life. Holds it deep in his bones.

As a family, we balance son’s special needs

until his delicate scale breaks.


In ICU, we stand by his side,

see death steal close. I beg

his life for mine but live on.


His wings beat against an error

in the blood like a moth trapped

between glass panes.


Blood runs from his body

as if it has a pressing deadline.

Wall clock runs without a

crushing current of emotion.

I want to be that clock.


My lungs betray, insist I breathe.

My gut eats grief, leaves a black hole.

And during all the daze and haze

we’re told he’s in a better place.


We leave the room with its empty bed

and without a sense of what comes next

obey the weight that lifts, falls, lifts, falls,

until at last it stops.


They’re in a better place, they’ll say.

They’re in a better place.


Editor’s Notes: I don’t care as much for personification as I do metaphor.  In this emotionally rich poem, the grandfather clock never achieves human character, even though the cruelty of time’s passing is achingly real.  The penultimate stanza prepares for the irony of the repeated lines in the last stanza.  The last stanza blends hope and despair in its straightforward repetition. This poem is a gift even though it rises out of pain.  CAS


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free verse

Vivian Finley Nida


My husband has a photo snapped offshore

at Gustavus, Alaska, where morning chill

welcomes humpback whales to Glacier Bay’s ring

of azure icebergs—jewels of the Bering Sea.


Spring to fall, humpbacks sing here

beneath billowing waves

pianissimo to forte, bass to treble.

One long note, piercing like a trumpet,


signals a choreographed dance.

Humpbacks circle herring, krill, salmon,

blow bubbles that roil to surface,

a net to trap school of fish.


In the picture, gulls spiral down,

squabble for fish left floating.

Five humpbacks breach, breathe,

slap sea, and, cavernous mouths agape,


blast stench of half-digested

fermenting fish—unholy fumes!

So vile, my husband grimaces,

all I could do was hold my breath.


Poet Notes:  My husband, a veterinarian, has dealt with many smelly situations, but none compared to this! 


Editor’s Notes:  This poem moves from the sight of nature to the smell of nature in one quick turn.  If we were watching this beautiful spectacle on video, we would never catch that stench.  I like this ending, and it doesn’t destroy the wonder that comes before it.  CAS


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Atlantic Ocean, American Coast


Vivian Finley Nida


An ecosystem paradise, alive

Earth’s largest deep sea coral mound to date

descends past hold your breath or scuba dive


Miami up to Charleston, reef lies

three hundred ten miles long by sixty eight

an ecosystem paradise, alive


The Blake Plateau sweeps flat then drops—nosedive

six hundred to three thousand feet down straight

descends past hold your breath or scuba dive


Squat lobster, monkfish, sea stars, all survive

on reef that sunlight cannot penetrate

an ecosystem paradise, alive


Fish feed on plankton floating down and thrive

in coral’s Million Mounds; divine seascape

descends past hold your breath or scuba dive


Submersible can take you to glimpse life

beneath the waves that nature still creates

An ecosystem paradise, alive

descends past hold your breath or scuba dive


Poet’s Notes:  January 19, 2024, I read an article in USA Today titled “Scientists map largest deep-sea coral reef,” by Julia Gomez.  Intrigued, I searched online and found that only a week had passed since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published findings in the journal Geomatics. In addition to numerous articles, I found videos posted, which will have to be enough for me since taking a submersible is not in my near future.


Editor’s Notes:  Put an entire ecosystem into a villanelle.  How would that be for a poetry prompt?  Yet that’s precisely what Vivian does.  She succeeds wonderfully.  CAS


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Fish Boil Sock Hop

free verse

Tyson West


At our first encounter, Aurora Luz,

you had claimed air for fifteen months

while I for almost three quarters of a century

have been holding my breath

parsing my significance among black holes

white dwarves and red giants.

So how should I now feel?

My father visited your papi when he stood unsteady as you.

Your grandfather never changed the diaper

of his insecure self absorption

in the hotel room where he and his second wife

watched your papi throw ice cubes in the bath tub

and cameoed the role of abuelo for

less than an hour.

So how should I now feel?

I can strike a Norman Rockwell pose

playing into Americana myths

that a special bond floats between the very young

and old poets who have not yet followed the way

of Hart Crane and Vachel Lindsey.

Your grand dames casually cluck their comfort

while I congeal a hasty cloud of cliche

assemble career chatter with my son and daughter-in-law―

pontificate their first home purchase―

assuage how well their blood blended.

So how should I now feel?

We break dance awkward etchings of age

in a child's coloratura of spacetime

to the soundtrack of Taylor Swift and escape

to dinner for the whole family

at a fish boil selected by my vegan daughter

with all things animal and vegetable slathered in margarine.

Redolent with loud music and chatter

and Florida fabulist flare,

I brace myself for the mandatory large party tip as

my kinfolk choose Alaskan snow crab, not local shrimp.

Our waitress' glittery false fingernails talon so curved

I'm astonished she can carry our plates.

As I peel shrimp and clean clams

plucked from the crash of breakers

to the thunder of the jukebox,

we've reached dinner's impasse

and those who can hear one another

lean into their cocoons of conversation.

So how should I now feel?

Sound waves confine my sense to visual art

critiquing the composition of our awkward tableau

as our Rembrandt group portrait transmutes into an action sequence.

My Dominican daughter-in-law lifts our Aurora Luz

and dances with her before the jukebox

pulling from my shambles the old soul man raised on Wilson Pickett,

Four Tops and Temptations

to join the dance.

Beatriz trusts Aurora on her feet

wobbling to my stiffish steps

while I choreograph and she follows my Swim, Watusi, and Hand Jive

old sock hop standards from high school spin again.

She mimics my Funky Chicken and tracks the Twist

of our relationship wordlessly weaving dawns and dusks

to that common something

and pulse of our blood to the pounding of our heartbeats.

I exhale

and feel free

to feel what I feel.


Poet's Notes:  Around Thanksgiving of 2023, I went to Jacksonville, Florida, to visit children and my new granddaughter. She is not quite a toddler, but is talking and a bit unsteady on her feet. Being older, I don't have quite the dance steps I had when I was young. We bonded, in all places, in a fish boil restaurant where I took the family out to dinner. She mimicked my dance steps from the 1960s. When she is in high school, many years from now, maybe her memory will pull out these moves, not knowing where they came from.


Editor’s Notes:  Granddaughters are treasures.  West’s description of dancing with Aurora Luz is my favorite moment in the poem.  CAS


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Requiem Suite for Slatsz

multiple forms

Tyson West



we do not share

birth names―poets





the bell tolls his fall

i weigh a poet's soul

hold my breath―

all his breaths balance the weight

of words, wit, and careless love




Existence for young poets is a breeze

hormonal highs rotate sweet clouds of dread.

Once we laid back under tall swaying trees

to ponder passions and worlds of the dead.

Old poets hold close how hot they once felt

to watch their children's angst at their mother's tongue.

Their craft matures as pomp and egos melt

the maker's less than ballads he has sung.

We hang alone to wrestle beat and rhyme

in hope of praise but like a spider spins

we weave words to enchant what's left of time.

You taught me, Slatsz, I best forgive my sins,

and learn through art smug critics will bare claws―

we don't hold breath to hear sincere applause.







passes and

holds their final breath

their words breath free of further change

or maker's explanation or justification―

images alter in alien minds who rehue roses and hear subtle timbres

of lovers' whispers in summer gardens redefined

by climate change―words of the dead

glint off and shimmer

free to a

life of




Poet's Notes:  This suite contains a senryu, a tanka, a Shakespearean sonnet, and a Fibonacci. In January of this year, one of our local elder statesman poets passed away at the age of 92.  He wrote over 1,400 poems, mostly sonnets and form poetry. He was writing up until the end when he passed unexpectedly. I could not write one poem about him, so I wrote a suite. He never wrote senryu, tanka, or Fibonacci, but I did as I thought of him. The included sonnet, his favorite form, was written in his honor. Rest in peace, Slatsz. Your words live on. 


Editor’s Notes:  West embeds some wise words in his requiem.  Poets must keep their audiences in view while learning how to disregard their criticisms.  I find myself mired in a bit of irony here as I critique words that will one day be past change.  At least I can say, “Tyson, don’t you dare leave us too soon!”  CAS


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Escalation – A Narrative Poem About Labored Breathing

To the Memory of Paul Celan

free verse

Howard F. Stein


As far back

As I can remember,

I have held my breath.


I listened on the radio

In 1962, when

President John Kennedy


The Cuban blockade

Of Soviet ships –

Would all-out

Nuclear war ensue?



In 1973 I watched tv

News accounts

Of Egypt and Syria’s

Coordinated invasion

Of Israel that began

The Yom Kippur War.

Day after day in the 1990’s,

I watched news reports

Of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic’s

Ethnic cleansing

Of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims.



An avalanche swept

Through the early 2020’s:

In 2021 I sat frozen

As tv newscasters reported

The COVID-19 pandemic

In the US had reached

A million deaths.

Churning in the same vortex,

On January 6th 2021,

I watched on tv live accounts

Of the attack on US Capitol;

Then in February 2022

The massive Russian

Invasion of Ukraine.

Decade after decade,

I watched tv news like

Viewing a horror movie.

But this was no cinema.



. . . all along,

I also read

History books:

Of Hitler’s Holocaust –

SS firing squads,

Gas chambers

And crematoria;

Stalin’s forced famine

In Ukraine; of Mao Zedong’s       

Cultural Revolution in China;

Of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge

Slaughter of all opposition

In Cambodia.

My body knows

Holding my breath

Is all I can do –

That though it will

Change nothing,

I still cannot help

But hold my breath, 

But I had to breathe . . . .



Poet's Notes: Some issue-themes for Songs of Eretz bring poem-images to mind more readily than others. "Holding Your Breath" almost immediately brought to mind a cascade of emotion-drenched memories of horrific historical events in my own lifetime and others about which I had read in history books. My  poem was based on this flood of re-membering.


Editor’s Notes:  I feel as if I am in the presence of our senior statesman.  Howard sees the big picture, and he gives us words by which we can grieve.  CAS


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Urgent Game of Cups, Old Folks’ Home   

narrative poem 

Howard F. Stein


I sat with Grace at our usual square table,

the dining room of an old folks’ home.

Cancer spread throughout

Her frail body.


Grace began to pour black coffee

from her cup into empty cups.

Soon she had surrounded herself

with cups of all kinds, ceramic, plastic.


A game of chess, a scientist

At work with all sorts of glassware 

In a chemistry lab.  Something vital

Depended on her to get it right.


“This is not craziness,” I kept telling myself.

What floodwaters was she trying

To hold back? I cannot count

How many times I held my breath.


I know none of the afflictions

That confounded her body

And her doctors.  A living experiment

Doctors constantly changed their minds.


I pictured her now the doctor,

The chemist, performing experiments

Adjusting her own medications,

With her game of cups.


For over twenty minutes, the oatmeal

And fried eggs sat untouched.

I could not leave her. “Grace,

Try taking a few bites,” I gently said.


Her head turned to me, her eyes

From another world. She ate

A few morsels.  She said nothing.

Some spell, let go, for now.


Poet's Notes:  This poem is an amalgam of reality and imagination. It is based on an experience, then story, that I could not make up. It began with observation and fascination, and soon became a moment of bearing witness, a refusal, if not an inability, to turn my head away and flee. 


Editor’s Notes:  This pointless game of cups reminds me of times when I counted the dots in the ceiling.  It was an endless game, if I could call it a game, lying there in bed when I was sick.  From what I remember, I never got to a final count.  CAS


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Dad didn’t want a phone in the house

free verse

Charles A. Swanson


That window

no curtain, cold light

That distant barn

spider-gray, doors-eyes

That truck

I can’t see it leaving


This stair-step under me

hard as pitchfork tines

This big-eyed brother

five years littler, he knows

This monstrous shotgun

he knows I’m useless


What will come

How male How wild

I see him by her panic

the shirtless man

the sleeping man

the unknown man

What will come

out of the barn

which door


I wait,

hearing her words

mom’s words

there’s a strange man

upstairs facing away

sleeping, strange

oh why the loft that friendly loft


take the gun, watch


I watch

useless useless useless

I watch

do what I’m told

but what will I do

if he comes out


I wait

for her tires

for her grownness

for the rescue

she’s gone to call

at the neighbors’


I can feel it beside me

my brother, his knowing

I’m useless

useless the word

he doesn’t say


Poet’s Notes:  The man in the barn was a total stranger.  My mother discovered him when she went to the loft for a bale of hay.  I’ve written about this experience a number of ways, but I’ve never zeroed in on the held-breath moment until I attempted this version of the drama. 


Editor’s Note:  Swanson sets the scene and suspense beautifully in the first stanza. I felt like I was in an Alfred Hitchcock movie even though I knew this was a true story. The tension that resulted from not having a home telephone made me hold my breath as I read to the end. The final stanza shows the helpless emotions of two young boys without the need to state it. It also shows the older child didn’t want to disappoint his younger brother. Helpless. TLC



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Mother Mary at the Dumpster

free verse

Charles A. Swanson


Jesus said, “Behold your mother.”

Some John may come along,

pick up this plaster or plastic

virgin mother sitting on the wall.


I see your characteristic pose,

the blue and white gown, grace

you bestow, as I speed by.

You look out on all this trash.


Whoever dropped you here, he left

you sitting on the concrete lip.

What tears, ripped seams? Among

the crowd, did you feel broken?


Now, you watch the dark green box,

the tokens that testify to some

brief measure of devotion. Mother,

what did you ponder in your heart—


spit, curses, jeers, thorns, thrown

at him, trash before them, worse

than an insurrectionist, something

to be sacrificed, cast aside.


At the greatest moment of loss

he thought of you, told the beloved

to take you home.  And I ponder,

whether scarred or cracked, marred


by this world’s everyday abuse,

will someone treasure you. 


Poet’s Notes: In our county, a household item, such as a chair, may be left beside the dumpster rather than in it.  Warnings prohibit removal of items from the dumpster site, but sometimes the cast-away finds a new home.  When I saw the Madonna on the concrete lip of the dumpster box, I wondered about the person who couldn’t quite pitch the iconic figure all the way in.  I wondered, too, who would stop to examine, perhaps even claim, such an object of devotion. 


Editor’s Note:  I appreciate the bit of conceit on the name 'John' in the first stanza, second line. I’ve seen plastic Madonnas placed in special alcoves and on small tables in the homes of friends. Never by a dumpster. What a striking and memorable metaphor it posed in Swanson’s poem. TLC


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Guest Poets


    Hold Your Breath

    free verse

    Llewellyn McKernan


    when the sky

    has perfect pitch.

    Breathe out when

    the palm tree scissors

    blue heaven, the ebullient

    hedge thickens

    its windows.


    Hold your breath

    when the air tongues

    your red and orange caladiums.

    Breathe out when

    their true colors

    raise the roof

    with their kisses.


    Hold your breath

    when the Spanish moss

    hangs on the tree,

    solemn as an old man's

    beard.  Breathe out


    when you fear nothing

    but how nothing

    with its infinite

    edges parts the grasses

    in passing.


About the Poet:  Llewellyn McKernan has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from Brown University.  She has authored six poetry books for adults and four for children. Her poems have appeared in many journals and 56 anthologies.  They have won over 100 awards and honors on the state, regional and national level.   

Editors' Notes: How literal is breathing and how metaphorical!  The everyday and imperative function of breathing is matched to the body’s physical response to wonder.  The effect McKernan creates in the poem is subtle, effective, and beautiful.  CAS

Imagery and imagination hold the reader from beginning to end. TLC

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This is a Silent Zone

American sonnet

Lora Berg


An early reader, I wait for mother crouched in the stacks,

and pretend the shelved books rustle. I choose a big one,

Dante’s Inferno and haul it down, its weight pulling me

under. I touch the cover’s embossed golden letters,

etchings of swirling naked bodies going up in flames­­­,

surely screaming, but silence balances in the air like dust,

or holding my breath in the Dodge en route to campus

past Mount Hope Cemetery, the kind of quiet in which,

if I crunch a crackerjack, I might be sent to Hell, silence

as if existence itself had taken a vow of silence. Silently

I read, “I found myself within a forest dark…” that’s all.

I close that book and shelve it, some work for me, since

it’s heavy, but no matter how tempting, the voice inside

is not like my mother’s; it isn’t the voice I’m waiting for.

Poet’s Notes:  My mother taught night school at the university, and when I waited for her in the library, I missed her. One day when I was sitting down to write a poem, the silence felt heavy. I remembered those times of waiting and thought how in the present as well, I so much wish to hear her voice again. 

About the Poet:  Author of The Mermaid Wakes (Macmillan Caribbean) with Grenadian artist Canute Caliste, Lora writes with a light touch from her home in Maryland. Her poems have appeared in ShenandoahColorado Review, etc. She served abroad at U.S. Embassies as cultural attach√©. With an MFA from Johns Hopkins, Lora worked as poet-in-residence at Saint Albans School. She joined the 2022-23 Poetry Collective at Lighthouse and is a proud grandma in a vibrant multicultural family.

Editors' Notes: I appreciate how the scene is realized, the moment is caught, the breath is held, as the child waits in the stacks of books.  The struggle the child experiences in putting the huge book back on the shelf keeps the experience in the present moments of the poem.  CAS

This took me back to childhood and the frequent trips to the public library. I loved the hush and the stories that called my name. And the ones that didn’t were shoved right back on the shelf. TLC

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For the centennial of the premiere of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, February 12, 1924, Aeolian Hall, Manhattan.

modern sonnet

C. M. Gigliotti

It was a joke at first, a prank with which
to pass rehearsal time and jibe at George,
who sometimes got to wandering, too wrapped up,
too bogged down in the details. Anything
to keep us in the moment. It paid off.
He got a mighty kick out of that slide—
I can’t say I intended to create
the Big Glissando, fit to end them all,
but here we are. A real who’s who out there,
and all upset because the heating’s shot.
We’ll give them what we’ve got, and it begins
with me; not to sound too presumptuous,
but that’s no small demand. Silence. I hear

his sweet final directive: Let it wail.


Poet’s Notes:  Much of my work across media is dedicated to highlighting musical history. Rhapsody in Blue looms large among my formative influences: it's the first piece of music I can recall humming aloud. I got the centennial on the brain back in the summer of 2022, but the poem came to me in its entirety right around the day itself. Once I learned about Ross Gorman, the virtuoso clarinetist in Paul Whiteman's orchestra, it seemed obvious to tell the story from his perspective. His contribution to the piece is instantly recognizable, even if many listeners never know his name. I hoped to honor that.

Editors' Notes:  I’m drawn to dramatic monologues.  I look for a voice as nuanced as the timbre of an audio recording.  I hear such a voice in this poem.  CAS

Gigliotti writes a fine poem that befits Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. TLC

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Techno Prayer

free verse

C. M. Gigliotti


Give us this day our mutant beat,
monstrous brute ostinato suspending
us, the seekers, whose bass euphoria
drowns the whistle tone of the inner muse.
Give us something to string us along—
lace-and-net girls, men with euro eyes—
something to reach us, fragmented, through the haze of
cigsmoke banter, something to make us shake
our blonde-on-blonde hair down from the high
tails we spend all weekend tightening.
Give us heavy on two and four
and a two-note vacillation
(and no language—middlemen are for the faint)
until we stop staring, or we stare
in a way that no one sees, until we surface,
blinking, sweet-veined,
for breath.


Poet’s Notes:  This poem went through a few permutations since its first draft in 2021. It reached its current form as I cemented my commitment to Berlin's club scene over the past year. I realized the poem was asking me to try to simultaneously exist inside and outside the experience, to take note of what I saw and heard in a given space on a given night while allowing myself to participate in the overwhelming movement and sound. I liked the idea of the environment being another form of spirituality, of engaging with the divine. Only once I gave myself permission to embody this engagement did I understand what the poem was trying to communicate.

About the Poet:  C. M. Gigliotti is a US-born, Berlin-based multi-hyphenate artist. She holds an MA in English Literature from Central Connecticut State University and a BA in Creative Writing from the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University. Her work has appeared in Longreads, VIA, Beatdom, Scraps, Prose Poems, and DoveTales: Writing for Peace, among others. Find her projects here.

Editors' Notes:  Music is one of those ineffables of life.  Music enters the spirit in a way unlike words.  I feel music in Gigliotti’s poem—though it is, as a poem, stripped of melody, harmony, and instrumentation—and that is quite the achievement.  I feel the techno beat, the techno abandon.  CAS

Gigliotti shows abandonment through selective word choices in another of her fine poems. TLC

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"A Cool Night," is adapted from "Hylocereus undatus" by Shamarama64, used under CC BY-SA 4.0. "A Cool Night" is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 by Drew Swanson

Night Blooming Cereus

free verse

Parks Lanier


A cactus with names like Princess of the Night,

Honolulu Lady, Queen of the Moon

is an excuse for summer porch parties.

Sleepy kids in tow, we creep with flashlights

And breathless trepidation, curious 

To spy on the exotic flower as it opens,

Mysteriously communing with the moon and stars

To cast its exotic fragrance on the night air

For one night, then fade and die.

Our porch is no Brazil, Ecuador, or Venezuela

So the bat to which it so earnestly signals

Does not appear. There is no consummation.

All this exuberant sexual activity on the front porch

Amounts to nothing. The Princess of the Night

Might as well be the lovelorn Sleeping Beauty

Or Miss Havisham with her uneaten wedding cake.

"Wake up, children," we say. "See how beautiful she is."


Poet's Notes: Only twice in my life have I enjoyed porch parties for the night blooming cereus. Those memories, the genesis of the poem, were awakened by a reading/writing workshop conducted by poets April Asbury and Angela V. Clevinger at the Pulaski County (VA) Library some months ago. I needed only a bit of research to find the exotic names for the beautiful plants to let the poem blossom after its initial budding. I dedicate it to the memory of Bill Brown, a gifted poet lost too soon.

About the Poet: Parks Lanier has been retired for fifteen years after teaching English for thirty-seven years at Radford University. He devoted time and energy to supporting Appalachian writers, serving for five years as president of the Appalachian Writers Association and twice as Program Chair for the Appalachian Studies Conference. For many years he was host and facilitator for the Selu Writers Retreat at Radford U. Thirty-years of his Highland Summer Conference archival television interviews with regional writers are preserved at the university library.

Editors' Notes:  One of Appalachian literature’s greatest treasures lies in the Radford University library. The many interviews Parks conducted over the years are worth watching, not just for the writers he interviewed, but for Parks’s own wonderfully disarming and generous style as host.  CAS

Parks’ disarming writing style casts a spell over the reader in this gentle scene. Breathless. TLC

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My Distant Sister,

epistolary free verse

Norma C. Wilson


I hope you’ll visit when wild plums bloom.

            Walking into the morning, we’ll smell

                        tart sweetness on the wind.


Touching the tiny, white flowers,

            we’ll breathe perfume. We’ll clip a small twig

                        of blossoms to take inside.


They’ll smell like hominy.

            We’ll be hungry for posole.

                        As the soup simmers, and its smell blends with


the wild plums’, the taste of spring will enter

            all our senses. With luck, this will bring us

                        as close as the four-leaf clovers we found


beneath white flowers we wove into chains

            as we sat on the grass in the shade of

                        our father’s pines when we were just girls.

About the Poet:  Norma C. Wilson is a University of South Dakota English Professor Emerita. Born and raised in Clarksville, Tennessee, she received a Ph.D. from University of Oklahoma in 1978. Nature is the primary focus of her poetry and prose. She is the author of Continuity (Gyroscope Press, 2020), Frog Creek Road (Scurfpea Publishing, 2019), Rivers, Wings & Sky, with Nancy Losacker’s mosaics (Scurfpea, 2016); Under the Rainbow: Poems from Moj√°car (Finishing Line Press, 2012); and The Nature of Native American Poetry (University of New Mexico Press, 2001). She lives in a geo-solar house on a prairie bluff northwest of Vermillion, South Dakota.

Editors' Notes: A held-breath moment can occur in many ways.  The quietness of this poem undergirds both remembrance and longing for reconnection.  As a reader, I want these sisters to have the rekindled joy of their childhood.  CAS

Wilson uses the senses to connect her readers with nature and heartfelt longing. TLC

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Seaside boy

free verse

Lucy Rumble


Feet slipping, sliding down seaweed cobbled steps, flinging off rocks to skim

the shining surface of the sea, my boy comes skidding down the bank.


At Peveril Point (the danger zone), he regains fragmented ground, flaxen hair

sticking to his sodden cheeks as he traverses Poseidon’s pathways down.


Edges of the earth crumble beneath his feet and fall off far beneath – my boy

follows, descending with a deafening crash into the raging currents below.

Our love is held in stasis by the rocky hands and ancient bays of this seaside town.

I see him there, suspended his descent: existing as a shadow over Purbeck.

Spitting at my feet, salty spatters of sea return me to cliffside’s treacherous reach.

My boy stares up at me with goldfish eyes and jelly legs, arms foaming pink.


He’s sinking deeper now, dancing in aquatics, water bubbling circles round his head,

submerged and gurgling, spinning as sparkling halos over my cherub’s bed.


About the Poet:  Lucy Rumble is an emerging writer from Essex. Her poem “My Nan, Remembered” won third place in the 2023 Tap Into Poetry contest, and her work has been published in Crow & Cross Keys, Myth & Lore Zine, and Needle Poetry, among others. When she isn’t writing, she is trapped in the dust and darkness of an archive (or her mind). Find her on Instagram @lucyrumble.writes or online at

Editors' Notes: A good poem leaves a reader thinking beyond the poem.  What catches me most is how tragedy can look angelic.  Appearances can be deceiving, of course, and I wonder at the emotion that next floods the speaker.  CAS

Rumble makes the reader pause to wonder what comes next. Well done. TLC

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I lost my heart to an ice water free diver

free verse

Sharon J. Clark


My booted feet are secure in the snow. I fill 

my own lungs as you inhale deeply and then surrender yourself 

to the lake. I watch you swim beneath crystal clear ice. You are

strong, fearless, beautiful: at one with the bitterly cold water. 

Long before you complete your pre-agreed length, temptation

to breathe defeats me. I gasp, then gasp again as you

surface triumphant into the winter sun. Your belief 

in yourself terrifies me. I wish I had your faith. Instead 

I only see the fragility of flesh and the merciless solidity 

of the frozen surface. As you dry your skin, pull 

on warm clothes, I turn to stare at the distant white-capped mountains. 

I draw in another breath, tap my watch to time 

the slow tick of seconds. With the frozen ground beneath my feet, I free dive 

into the landscape –  the snow-burdened trees, the ice-covered lake, the cold blue 

of the winter sky. My lungs burn. My head buzzes with the lack

of oxygen. Just a little longer. Another ten seconds. Another 

five. Until I’m forced to suck icy air into my body, to surface again. 

Turning back I see you watching me. You smile. You wave.

And once again I pack my fear away with your wet swimwear.


Poet’s Notes: I lost my heart to an ice water diver was inspired by a newspaper article on Johanna Nordblad who took up cold water swimming as a cure for pain, and now holds a world record for swimming beneath ice. I find the videos of her swimming both inspiring and rather terrifying!

Editors' Notes:  This poem is straightforward but surprising.  I like for a poet to recognize an event that is poetic, and then to put that event into language that makes the narrative clear.  The long look into the landscape, as the speaker holds her breath, is a brilliant moment in the poem, as the winter landscape becomes something more than description.  The last line of the poem is one I wish I had written.  CAS

I didn’t realize this activity existed until I read Clark’s poem. It made me want to huddle beside the fireplace on a warm day. Simple and effective language and imagery. TLC

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The long breath of winter

free verse

Sharon J. Clark


The trees inhale a closing breath of smoke-filled autumn air,

savouring its burnt toast flavour as their golden leaves

crackle and burn on the garden bonfire.  Winter steals 

the final centigrade of warmth from bark and roots.

Branches morph into skeleton limbs, still beautiful

when silhouetted against an ice blue sky.

Hold onto that precious breath of life, I whisper

to the mighty oak tree. Rest well in the silence

of hibernation. Sleep peacefully in this season 

of slumber and solitude. Long dark nights may drag 

heavily through the hours, scouring the soil, turning all 

to sallow shades of yellow flax. But spring will not be denied. 

From beneath the earth, fresh life will stir. Green tips of snowdrops 

pushing and shoving towards the light. Fresh foliage 

unfurling in the warmth. Branches creaking with newly birthed promise.

The woodland awakening to a song: on that sweet tomorrow 

we will breathe again.

About the Poet:  Sharon J Clark is a poet and short story writer living in Milton Keynes, England. Her writing has been published in a number of anthologies and online literary magazines, including Still Point Arts Quarterly, Reflex Fiction, and BlinkInk. She has self-published two poetry collections and is working on a short story anthology. She is also the communications director of a medium-size charity. Read more at

Editors' Notes:  I like how this poem is metrically and sonically different from Clark’s other poem.  Here, people are not needed to actualize the scene.  CAS 

The speaker’s quiet entry into the poem does not detract from the scene as if the speaker is nature itself. TLC 

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War Wakemare: Inured

dissolving heptasyllabics

L. Aadia


Awake, we have not noticed

missiles flying overhead

single sine waves west to east,

missed geometric contrails

from fighter jet incursions.


I’ve been living looking down,

smiling as my dog sun-basks,

waving to neighbor toddlers,

reading fantasy novels,

watching the road biking home, 

not the sky, usually clouded:

reality we’ve collectively wordlessly agreed

to ignore.


We are not dreaming of war,

we are in war, and

it seems



I hear echoes of my mother’s voice,

weighed down

arms full of gifts she’ll give us,

and a child sliding off her hip:

“I am inured.


About the Poet:  L. Acadia is a lit professor at National Taiwan University and member of the Taipei Poetry Collective, with poetry in New Orleans Review, Strange Horizons, trampset, and elsewhere. Connect on Twitter and Instagram @acadialogue

Editors' Notes:  A scary thing, to be “inured” to a life looming with disaster.  I don’t want to live in a countryside of war, but I fear that many in the world do.  CAS

Acadia shows the reader the duality of war—how life and a sense of normality may exist in its midst. Her use of simple and clear narrative chills the reader as the poem progresses through generations of lives. TLC


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Your Support

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is a for-profit entity that operates at a loss of up to $7,000 per year. It is sustained entirely by donations of time, talent, and treasure made by our editorial staff, loyal readership, and family of poets and artists.  

Our four quarterly issues take hundreds of man-hours to produce.  That is what it takes to be able to offer our readers a quality experience and our featured and guest poets and artists a place where they may be proud to publish their work. 

Please consider making a modest gift in support of our purpose, which is “to bring a little more good poetry into the world.” Those interested should use with as the receiving address.

Please note that contributions are not tax deductible.

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Frequent Contributor News


Vivian Nida and Terri Cummings will each have a poem in Oklahoma Humanities Magazine with the theme, Fabric.


Vivian Nida presented her book of poetry, From Circus Town USA: Poems, to Oklahoma City’s Panoramic Book Club. Vivian also served as the middle school and high school poetry judge for Oklahoma Writing Project’s annual “Write to Win” statewide contest. She will meet with winners at the OWP Spring Conference where students will receive an anthology of the winning prose and poetry and hear Kimiko Hahn, an award-winning American poet speak. 


Terri L. Cummings presented her poetry at the Southwest American Pop Culture Association conference in February.


Alessio Zanelli’s sixth collection (SOE is listed in the acknowledgments section) is finally available from the publisher’s website (; it will also be available from online bookshops (Amazon, etc.) by the end of April. Among his latest magazine acceptances in the USA, the most important are Artemis (VA) and Chiron Review (KS).


Lauren McBride shared this link, to her on-theme poem, “Take a Minute To Not Breathe” that she had previously published by SOE on October, 30, 2018.  Of note, Covid is not listed since this was published in pre-Covid days. 


John C. Mannone’s Sacred Flute, his 4th full-length poetry collection, inspired by Native American culture, history, and legend, was published by Iris Press (February 2024).


John’s "Violinist at the Metro" was Chattanooga Writers Guild’s creative nonfiction December contest winner (January 2023).


"A conversation with John C. Mannone" can be found at Briar Haus Writes on YouTube (February 2024).


Karla Linn Merrifield continues to cope with cancer recovery but has managed the past 11 months to write a few dozen new poems and send out an average of 40 submissions per month, Songs of Eretz included. In addition, Karla maintains her regular fortnightly blog posts.


Mary Soon Lee gave a reading and was interviewed by Jean-Paul Garnier of Space Cowboy Books: Her poem, "What Giants Read" appeared in Strange Horizons:


In addition, Vivian Wagner reviewed Mary’s astronomy poetry collection, "How to Navigate Our Universe," also in Strange Horizons: 


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Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn”


John Keats’s masterpiece, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" explores human emotions and the enduring power of art. For our next issue, we are not looking for paraphrases or explanations of his ode. Rather, we want poems that spring from Keats’s vision.  


One possible prompt is to use a line or part of a line as an epigraph and to go from there.  Another prompt is to write into one of Keats’s themes, such as the immortality of art, or how a poem (like a vase) is a unit unto itself.  A poem is static in that it has been given a finished form, but the images within the poem can seem quite active. 


Of course, a writer could also dive deep into Keats’s famous line, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”  We must see some connection to Keats’s poem, but the connection need not be overtly obvious.  Surprise us!


We hope you enjoyed this issue and encourage you to return.  Our themes and deadlines are as follows:

(Please note the new submissions' address, both here and on our Guidelines page.  The new submissions' address is 


    Season           Theme                          Submission Period


    Spring            Holding your breath              Feb. 1-15


    Summer         Respond to Keats's                May 1-15

                          “Ode on a Grecian Urn”


    Fall                Something you can hold        Aug. 1-15


    Winter            A dramatic monologue          Nov. 1-15


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