Volume 2, Issue 2, Number 9
November 2014

From the Editor:

The e-zine needs to be funded from sources other than my pocket.  I have come up with the following creative ways for poets and readers to help:

Donations:  The suggested donation for poets is one dollar for every poem submitted and twelve dollars a year (just one dollar per month) for readers.  See the new "Donate" Page for details

Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest:  Each ten dollar entry fee allows for the submission of up to ten poems.  Only one person will win, but every entry will be considered for paid publication in the e-zine as well as for appearance in the Poetry Review.  A five hundred dollar prize will be awarded to the winner.  While the main purpose of the contest is to recognize an outstanding poet, the contest also will be the e-zine's major fund-raising event.  The deadline is December 31, 2014.  For details, please see the Contest Page:

Finally, I wish to take this opportunity to offer a heartfelt thanks to all of the Friends of Eretz who supported the e-zine's recent Kickstarter campaign.  Even though the campaign failed and none of the funds pledged were released to the e-zine, the outpouring of support was deeply appreciated.

Steven Wittenberg Gordon


Table of Contents

From the Editor

“the harlot” by Ross Balcom

“red light” by John Reinhart

“An Ode to Poetry” by James J. Tuffy

Father & Daughter Special Feature:
"After Hearing Frost at Eleven" by Delbert R. Gardner
"Row Your Boat Ashore" by Adele Gardner

“The Slaves in My Basement” by Marie Vibbert

“first contact” by Steven Wittenberg Gordon

“Just Words” by Lauren McBride

"45th Reunion Redbook Rubrics" by Gerard Sarnat


the harlot

the moon

gray light

on misfortune's

its shattered

dank alleys


your daughter

a harlot

in her eyes


of lust

her torments
her joys

she runs
from you

feet bleeding

hair flying

lost to you

her pale hand

the soiled
of dawn

Ross Balcom

About the Poet:  Ross Balcom is a counselor living in southern California. His poems have appeared in Beyond Centauri, inkscrawl, Scifaikuest, Star*Line, Tigershark, and other publications. Currently, his favorite poets are John Ashbery, Lo Fu, and Michael McClure. In addition to poetry, his interests include parapsychology, hypnosis, and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).

Poet’s Notes:  Many have experienced the emotional nightmare of trying to "save" a loved one who does not want to be saved. This poem conveys the futility, despair, and heartbreak that such would-be saviors feel.

The poem had its inception in a series of mental images that arose spontaneously while I was resting, though not sleeping, with my eyes closed. Many of my poems originate in this way.

Editor’s Note:  What a great set up to the shocking revelation in the seventh stanza!  I enjoy the stark imagery and find the steady rhythm to have just the right amount of variation to make it interesting.


red light
stop, check the rearview--
unlike Snow White’s stepmother, I saw not
myself, but like her mirror,
my rearview reflected a gorgeous visage:
my life’s love,
my one and only true soul mate long lost better half
checking her lipstick in her own rearview,
a comfortable yet cozy six feet behind my bumper,
a safe and reasonable distance according to driver’s ed

her car was clean, six cylinders, not ostentatious
with good gas mileage according to the sticker at the lot, practical
dependable strong loyal independent spontaneous when necessary
attractive a good listener - all the same characteristics she
would see in me and many I value in a woman, this woman
the one behind the wheel behind my wheel stopped, as if by
chance or fate at the same red beacon of universal karmic law

in the same effervescence of diesel fumes CO2 eroding
asphalt and anxious morning coffee please-don’t-let-me-be-late
sweat of the modern workforce wage roundup
she glowed like the check engine light on my dash,
conjuring images of Thursday nights turned Fridays out sick

oh, the collaboration of all those features in her
face, forming the look of the girl next door or the
house one over or the one who could have been an actress
or a model or a porn star or maybe one of those waitresses
you meet in the corner bistros with good food and decent prices
who are probably working in the family biz but just until they make the break

not a waitress you know for only ten minutes but one who sits
down for a drink during lunch rush, ignores the boss the clock the customers,
gazes into her cup reading the entrails of foam then quits quietly,
walks out with dignity, arm in arm out of work
without a care into sunlight into the sunset into
the rest of her life into the end credits into the car behind
mine at the red light on 17th and Sheridan where our lives
meet, mingle, and progress instantaneously into eternity
wedded by the rearview mirror, never looking back,
writing our futures intuitively

we make love with our eyes with our eyes closed on the beach in the elevator in the backseat of my car just out of view of the rearview mirror on the floor on the table, at red lights while traffic
passes like buffalo or mosquitos at dusk, horns ablaze yet weaving past our hazards, 
blocking the road and paving another, our road,
the road, the superhighway of all time where
speed has no limits and time has no speed and the
grass is always green, where we recline in the moss, together
inexplicably indelibly improbably inexorably inevitably
by a chance fated necessary meeting in mirrors at a light
that said stop: stop and notice, see the roses,

then I saw her waving, motioning, gesturing,
communicating – it was all overwhelming – crying, laughing,
both at once, in cryptic code –
a moment passed
and then another
then I realized, I knew, I understood:
the inevitable

as I looked behind me, she turned the wheel, redirected
fate and like the energizer itself, reconfigured my molecules
before dumping my newly configured body into another reality,
she passed me, still gesticulating with more animation than classic
Looney Tunes on Saturdays past, followed by an overweight Ford
with an accountant, lust in his eyes and a coffee perched perilously
on an attitude of eternal defeat, then station wagon with a woman
off to man a desk and phone and listen to people complain about
a service she knows nothing about

I looked up
to see the light
once red was adamantly green
and the horns of passing cattle prodded me to go

I leaned on the accelerator, only faintly realizing
the loss of truth, beauty, and love,
but the light turned red again –
this time my mirror revealed a haggard man with three kids in the
car, a ringing in his ears, a bald spot growing on his forehead,
and no love or longing or lust or even recognition
in his heart for me, stuck at the red light at 17th and Sheridan

John Reinhart

About the Poet:  One-time beginner yo-yo champion, state fiddle and guitar champion, tinkerer, and certifiable eccentric, John Reinhart lives in the Weird, between now and never, collecting and protecting discarded treasures, and whistling combinations of every tune he knows. His poetry has recently been published in Apeiron Review, Black Heart Magazine, FishFood & LavaJuice Magazine, Liquid Imagination, Star*Line, Vocabula Review, and forthcoming from 94 Creations Journal. You can listen to him fiddle at

Poet’s Notes:  Is hindsight really 20/20? Not if the future is behind us.

The idea of holding infinity in the palm of your hand is the beauty of Romantic transcendence caught in the web of modern conceit. There is more than a little bit of self-mockery in this poem, as a Romantic, a man, and a devoted husband and father, interlaced with commentary about expectations, dreams, and the Mittyfold potential of the infinite instants that compose the nine-to-five countdown to Taps.

Keats was exceptional at elegantly capturing this sense of eternal moments. I tried to capture a similar sentiment with the exception that not only is this a fictitious moment, but the fictitious dream never came to be, and the poet whose head we enter is in fact holding up traffic. What a nuisance!

I composed the basis for this poem in my head during my daily commute, which takes me past 17th and Sheridan twice daily six days a week. When I sat down to write this, I poured in every commuting image and sound, then punctuated with deadly seriousness and sardonic humor, both of which are in easy reach when I ponder early morning traffic.

Editor’s Note:  The most beautiful and enduring possibilities in life can be denied in a moment--in the duration of a red light.  What a thought-provoking and moving poetic conceit!  Mr. Reinhart's deliberate omission of commas to convey a furious, dream-like state is nicely done. The final four stanzas, where the narrator snaps out of his reverie, hit me like a bucket of ice water to the face, with the final stanza, whether interpreted as foreshadowing or not, leaving me stunned.


An Ode to Poetry

The world thrills to good poetry.
You will find it in the gentle puff of the south wind
and in the biting blast from the North.
The whitecaps on the river weave and roll to lilting tunes and frothy sparkle
as they bow and glide on the way to the sea.
All this world about us portrays its goodness.
The world with its horizon walls
displays each night and morning the glory of its depths.
The harmonies are fleeting and deep
but we somehow sometimes find them as we dream.

As the singing seasons swiftly make their rounds,
changes come and we sense the joy and sorrow all in one song.
Thoughts like these come in ruminating solitude.
They creep in to haunt the memory of times gone by.
Times spent in the open, captivated by the spell
of the moon on landscape and water,
the wonder of night noises,
A Whippoorwill
and the redundant song of the whip-poor-will.

Poetry is not a mere flow of words in rhyme;
nor is it a marching of events in bright array.
It is the unexplainable, deep, wispy, mystic feeling
which returns on wings of thought.
It picks us up and drops us here and there
to perhaps enjoy or regret the spirit of the trip.
Never is it rousing doggerel put together in the studded form of jingle.
It is always measured in a choice of words and phrases
free from pedantic and small show.
Brevity is the key to wit,
and when you make careful study you will find it.

Recall the days when you were young and free from frets.
How you thrilled at the rising of the moon, the setting sun.
How the first snowstorm of the season hid the colorless barren land,
dressing it in a robe of clean white splendor.
How in your youth you saw and felt the beauty of a clear, sharp winter morning.
Then spring, with the melting of the snows and the gradual change to green.
You sensed the strange, sweet smells wafted in on balmy breezes--
the clean smell of earth.

Again in the autumn on the side of a mountain
the stars seemed to be there for the reaching.
The spell of a quiet night is often recalled with much delight.
In the same setting, sans stars, the flashing heavens seemed
to declare war on lowly Earth only to end in a truce
with a fresh and lingering odor of ozone;
a celestial bath, a cleansing of the land.

One is truly poor who has not experienced
that mysterious feeling of aloneness upon entering a place unoccupied.
The joys, the sorrows, the young, the old, the good, the bad,
all flit in the mind’s eye in sort of a pass-in-review in this lonely place.
The utterance that wells up in your throat and is checked and suppressed--
this ephemeral feeling is poetry. 

James J. Tuffy

About the Poet:  James J. Tuffy (1906 - 1991) lived almost his entire life in Troy, New York.  He was a frequent contributor to the Albany (New York) Times Union and Troy Record and a bit of a local celebrity.  He was a:  poet, painter, musician, stringed instrument maker, gardener, outdoorsman, cantankerous old coot, and my maternal grandfather.

Editor’s Note:  My mother recently found an old, undated newspaper clipping in a box of my grandfather's old papers.  The clipping contained what was either a letter to the editor or free lance article written by him and entitled "An Ode to Poetry."  I kept the title and arranged the body of the article in verses.  The line breaks are mine, but the words are my grandfather's and appear here in the exact order in which he wrote them.  Not a single letter or comma was altered or omitted.


Father & Daughter Special Feature

After Hearing Frost at Eleven

Robert Frost
            They played an album of the poet reading
Some of his works--"The Death of the Hired Man,"
"The Road Not Taken," "Birches," "Mending Wall,"
And more.  They smiled at his humanity,
Nodded at insight, and laughed at his wit.
The reading ended.  "Voila!" said the man.
"An entertainer for when the lamp is lit!"

            "An entertainer?" echoed his wife.  "That's not
The way I see him.  He's a poet who shares
His view of life, his feeling, and his thought."

            "He's what you say, but an entertainer too--
Or 'storyteller' might be a better word.
Cut from the same cloth as the ancient bard,
But sewn in a different style to suit our day,
With greater emphasis on work than war.
If his muse had picked heroic heights to soar,
He could have plied his trade as well, I'd say,
Back when bards were welcomed royally
To beguile the time and inspire the citizenry."

            The woman laughed: "Imagine sitting through
Long winter nights just listening to a bard
Chant through the Iliad or the Odyssey!
How would they concentrate without falling asleep?"

            The man said, "Oh, they'd stay awake, all right.
It did for them what movies or TV
Will do for us when they are up to snuff--
As they are at times, although not often enough.
They'd forget their common worldly needs,
Like having dry, warm shelter and getting food,
And clothing to protect them and adorn--"

            "Or how," she said, "to educate their brood."

            "And other unromantic things," he said.
"They'd lose themselves in following the deeds
Of Odysseus, wherever he would roam.
His aspirations and adventures they would share,
Enjoy the titillation of each affair,
But exult with him upon his coming home
To ever-faithful Penelope at last."

            "Now that's a myth!" she said.  "A wife so steadfast
Doubts of her man would never enter her head;
She'd never believe he could be dead--or untrue.
What woman would wait like that for twenty years?"

            "An ideal, of course," he answered: "we wouldn't ask
A living wife to fend off men that long--
It seems a more than Herculean task!--
But in that setting she's believable;
There's a poetic truth about her--beauty, too.
But Frost, I'm sure, would have understood."

           She pondered that.  "Yes, I think he would."

Delbert R. Gardner

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Row Your Boat Ashore
(for my father)

Last night, I learned, you took your final breath
About the time I woke and worried
You had slipped away.  No phone call, so all's well:
But the heart knows, somehow.  That week before
You went to hospital, my chest was tight
With panic that all time had slipped away:
And yet I didn't call, I didn't stop by, didn't stop
Typing your words long enough to hear you speak to me--
I'd held that fear so long, though never so strong--
I felt I couldn't breathe.  You tried and failed,
An oxygen mask for life-vest, vent for raft
Kept you afloat till we could swim to you,
My brother catching me just as I left shore,
Pushing off for your house, our weekly visit.
He steered me to hospital instead of home,
Your final stop on earth.
                                                We waited, parched,
Thirsting for your words, your breath,
Hanging on that little sound--mechanical, loud,
But regular, as numbers monitored your fate.
You slept.  We stroked your head, held hands
That gripped us sometimes as you rose from sleep,
Head cresting for that sip of air, one eye
Peering for us through that distorting, liquid surface
Of pain-meds and sedation.  You floated, drifting there,
Effortless in sleep, but struggling when they demanded
That you consciously stroke the waves by yourself,
Stay buoyant on the strength of your own air.
You were tiring, eyes scanning for us, for shore.

We tried to lift you up, hold your head above water,
Hands stroking forehead, hands, arms,
Loving, encouraging words, our voices a beacon
That might call you back.  We praised your every breath.
The breathing trials went better when we stood beside,
Each of your swollen hands gripping ours,
As we prayed and told our love, to make your spirit light,
Help lift your burden and smooth you over the waves.
It worked enough that we began to hope.
They took you off the ventilator.  Mom called us for goodbye,
Then brought your glasses.  You saw us clearly through still water:
You held out your arms, hugged my brother
Like a man clinging to a spar, his hope, his strength.
But your hoarse breath filled the room, four times as fast as ours,
And we anxiously gulped each minute,
Afraid they'd not add up to hours.
So much pain, and yet you fought for us, for each breath,
Gripping our hands so tight
It was clear you were saving us, not the reverse.

We were drowning, holding our breath, our eyes flooding
As we felt your pain rasping with each shallow, rapid breath,
So much effort, to lift one chest--
Far more than you needed to crush our hands with love,
Hold us in shaking arms.  You brought our hands together in a cross--
My brother and I, then our entire clan--
Clear symbol we must stick together,
Keep this boat in one piece--each other, afloat--
This family ark you'd built with each patient breath
Over so many years.
                                    Stroking your sweating, swollen brow,
Sister says you should think of the calming lake,
Our favorite place--imagine yourself floating there,
Peaceful, easy.  Relax, try to nap,
As you did on the cool porch to the sound of waves.
You're slipping away from us, stealing away from shore,
The current carrying you out to the end of your tether--
But you will not let go, your grip stronger than ever
As the waves shake and rock you,
Your breath jagged, monstrous waves on the computer graph,
Your heart racing to keep up.
                                                I'd give anything
For one more breath, one more word.
Your eyes, the squeeze of your hand
Are all I have to translate.  Poet, dreamer, pragmatist,
You often used concrete symbols to make your point:
I think of all those people you taught to swim: my brothers and sister,
Aunts, uncles, cousins, me: the way you cupped my head in one big hand,
The other just under my back, your soothing voice
Telling me to relax, don't fear the water,
Just breathe.  I wanted to thrash, splash, get my feet
On the lake's stones: but you held me, and I held still.
We floated, daughter and Daddy, who was the world.

I search your face for the words you can't say, panic stopping me
From saying anything that might suggest your end.
You keep your eyes on us, so large and moist, looking frightened,
Uncertain for the first time, no lenses to shield and sharpen,
Straining to catch us through the blur
Like an exile squinting for each last glimpse of home,
The land dwindling as you put out to sea--a line, a point, gone.
Where are you, under that starry sky?  I'll guide your raft.
Swimming through night after day,
I fear my lungs will find their own watery grave
If you let go.  Brother talks to you in the darkness,
Telling his children's day, small points of color
Glowing along the shore.  At last visiting hours end.
I don't want to go.  I keep looking back.
Mom sleeps beside you in her chair.  At last
You slip your moorings, push off,
And quietly drift away from shore,
Eyes on her sleeping face, her own breath serene while yours
Rasps like the snore that guarded us so many years.
One last time, you row through night-lake waters,
Black and smooth as silk--dark as the night she swam,
Trying to decide on your proposal,
Till you swam out fearing for her life,
And found her calmly dripping
On the shore of your love.  Time stops,
The ticks of your breath silenced.  They close your eyes.
But you're already out to sea.

Adele Gardner
About Delbert R. Gardner:  A veteran of World War II, Dr. Delbert R. Gardner taught English literature and creative writing for Keuka College.  Recent Science Fiction/Fantasy publications include:  a story in Lamplight, and poetry in Star*Line, Goblin Fruit, the 2010 and 2009 Rhysling Award Anthologies, and Tales of the Talisman.  Over forty of Dr. Gardner's poems and stories have appeared in publications such as: The Literary Review, Poetry Digest, American Poetry Magazine, Provincetown Review, and Christian Science Monitor, among others.  His nonfiction credits include the book An "Idle Singer" and His Audience: A Study of William Morris's Poetic Reputation in England, 1858-1900.  Learn more at
About Adele Gardner:  An active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), Adele Gardner has had over 300 pieces of fiction, poetry, art, photography, and nonfiction published in:  Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Penumbra, The Doom of Camelot, Legends of the Pendragon, Challenging Destiny, Podcastle, American Arts Quarterly, and more.  She's a librarian, musician, and literary executor for her father, Delbert R. Gardner.  Two stories and a poem earned honorable mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, while two poems, one long and one short, won third place in the Rhysling Awards of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) (in 2012 and 2013).  A graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, Ms. Gardner is the author of Dreaming of Days in Astophel.  Previously published as Lyn C. A. Gardner and C. A. Gardner, she has taken up the exclusive use of her middle name, Adele, in honor of her father Delbert, her namesake and mentor.  Visit    

Commentary by Adele Gardner on After Hearing Frost at Eleven:  Every night after putting us to bed, my parents would sit together for an hour or so enjoying one another's company, talking, listening to jazz, and sharing their lives.  Though they often spoke about us, one of the things they loved best to share was literature.  Dad had been a college English professor, and Mom was once his creative writing student (she asked him out after she graduated).  They often read to each other, and to us (I especially loved those rare occasions when Dad would read his own poetry).  

While pursuing my master's in English literature, I found a recording of Robert Frost at the library.  Dad loved Frost, and would often quote from his poems.  We were all excited to have this chance to hear the poet read his own work.  Dad told me how much he and Mom were enjoying listening to Frost in the evenings--long evenings of "us time," now that we kids were grown. Dad loved this special time with Mom that continued unbroken throughout the years, and I believe he incorporated many of these evenings past and present when sketching this tribute poem--a tribute both to Frost, and to my mother, Marilyn H. Gardner, who was "ever-faithful Penelope" in his mind, and no myth!

Editor's Note:  I like the back-and-forth debate, reminiscent of some scenes from the Iliad, and the adroitly executed back-and-forth between free and Shakespearean verse.

Poet’s Notes for Row Your Boat Ashore:  I actually jotted notes for this poem the day I learned Dad had died.  I wrote the rough draft just a few days later, waiting in the hotel room with my husband Marc the night before Dad's burial service in Elmira, New York.  A long night.  

It took almost four years before I could even look at it again, though I thought about it during the intervening years, which included two more deaths of close family and an unwanted divorce.  Alone in my house, bereft of my husband, I found myself revisiting that notebook at last, which included quite a number of works about Dad.  This was the poem that had stayed in my mind the strongest.  

At last I revised and shaped it, giving myself the chance to inhabit again that hospital room with Dad, living again those final hours.  Holding his hand, hearing his breath.  Listening as my brother Theo gently told Dad about all the things his kids had done that day--his own goodbye, though none of us knew that Dad would slip away that night.  

Perhaps Dad's spirit touched me--I could feel his hand on my shoulder, his careful presence, the way he gripped his pencil, intent on the page as he crafted his own poetic lines.  He'd been my guide in the world of literature.  His own poetry always inspired me, but I felt I'd never come close before.  For the first time I felt something of his essence in my lines.  Not only is this the poem of mine that's most important to me, I hope it is my best.

Editor’s Note:  The concept of death as a sea journey is an old one, but Ms. Gardner brings a freshness and deeply personal originality to the conceit.  Her repetition of "stroking" is nicely done, transforming (what I had wrongly presumed to be) her father's cause of death into something gentle and comforting.  The emotional gamut from fear to pain to sadness to hope and finally to peace is smoothly executed.  What a fine tribute to a fine man.


The Slaves In My Basement

The slaves in my basement
Forget they are there, sometimes,
Between the cat box and the water heater,
Waiting for my infrequent call.
I’d feel bad, but I forget, too.
They nestle in the same physical and mental space
As cracked teapots and half-started projects –
A painting, a chair cover, them.
To be fair, they tend toward the insubstantial:
A curl of steam, a glimmer, a coal.
But that, too, is my fault –
I drew them out of mildew and frost,
Bound with cobwebs and Queen Anne’s lace.
One never needs as much help as one thinks,
And the homeowners’ association
Doesn’t bother me anymore,
So my cottony golems sit and wait.
If they are agnostic toward me, I don’t mind;
A more capricious god could not be.

I walk barefoot over columbines
And sun my tummy on the floor above them
While they wait and forget
And sometimes cease to be.

Marie Vibbert

About the Poet:  Marie Vibbert is an Information Technology professional from Cleveland, Ohio.  Her work has appeared (or will soon appear) in Asimov’s, Escape Pod, and Lightspeed.  She has ridden 14% of the roller coasters in North America and plays defensive end for the Cleveland Fusion women’s tackle football team.

Poet’s Notes:  This poem was born out of frustration and self-doubt.  One day I just decided to throw away my feelings of poetic inadequacy and write some tasty-sounding words together without judging myself.  “The slaves in my basement” was the first phrase I drew from my subconscious, and the rest followed rather quickly.  Considering the impetus, it’s not surprising the poem focuses on personal power, on reveling in indolence, and the ability to choose to walk barefoot, while acknowledging all those guilt-inducing monsters we hide away half-completed in the dusty corners of our lives.

Editor’s Note:  As I read this poem, I become lost in the magical mood and ethereal world that the poet has created with such clear images, emotion, and originality.  I feel like I am there.


everything will change
a gloved hand is extended
first contact is made

Steven Wittenberg Gordon

About the Poet:  Find out more about Dr. Gordon by clicking on the “About the Editor” link below the e-zine.

Poet’s Notes:  This poem was inspired by my distant memory of watching television news footage of the historic handshake between Apollo spacecraft commander astronaut Brigadier General Thomas Stafford and Soyuz spacecraft commander cosmonaut Colonel Aleksei Leonov after their two ships linked together in space.  The year was 1975, and the Cold War between the USA and USSR was at its height.  Then, there was this thawing, this powerful symbol, this glimmer of hope that one day there would be peace and cooperation between the two enemy nations.  For the details of that day, see:

I imagine that the first contact between humans and space aliens might begin in the same way--with a docking together of spaceships and an extension of the gloved hand of the human spaceship commander.  "first contact" first appeared in Asimov's.


Just Words

Who is essentially me -
my picture?
Or the pictures I paint
with my words?
Poems and prose -
lined up in rows.
Some are his story
some are hers -
all just words.

Is the eye the sole
window to the soul?
Or does writing
share more,
bare more,
lay naked the heart
by words penned?
Choose carefully:
may befriend
or offend.

We leave behind
our reflection
when we reflect
our thoughts
onto the page.
Height, weight, sex, age
matter not!
Ideas the truest measure -
words our gift,
our treasure.

Lauren McBride

About the Poet:  Lauren McBride finds inspiration in faith, nature, molecular biology (she is a former researcher) and membership in the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA). Twice nominated for the 2014 SFPA Dwarf Stars Award, her work has appeared in various speculative, nature and children's publications including: Songs of Eretz Poetry E-zine, Dreams and Nightmares, Tales of the Talisman, and The Magazine of Speculative Poetry. She shares a love of laughter, science and the ocean with her husband and two children.

Poet's Notes:  While a member of an online writing group, it occurred to me that we knew nothing about each other except for words on a page. And yet friendships formed, from words alone with no bias based on age, race, sex or social standing.

The image we present either face to face or in a picture is a choice, just like the thoughts we share. If limited to looks or ideas, which yields a truer sense of self? Pondering this question led to "Just Words."  

Editor's Note:   I like the gentle rhymes and plays on words here--even the title has a double meaning ("just" as in "only" and "just" as in "righteous").  The theme, while hardly new, is still nicely stated and thought provoking.  "Just Words" first appeared in Word Slaw in March 2008 under the pen name, Elizabeth L. Collins


45th Reunion Redbook Rubrics

i.  My boys got a measly sentence; the Greatest Gen garnered fawning praise:

Post Dunkirk those men had no interest in visiting France or camping.

Though none beyond sherry hour elites give a rat’s ass insider

braggadocio martini mills exist, 377 years of

gnarled old fart alumni have made art forms freeloading Havad crimson.

ii. Racing Dunster tunnels to save McNamara’s ass from SDS

hasn’t sat well with me recently – effing Bob never said Thank You.

Then so arrogant, all-knowing, now vulnerable, losses, unsettled.

Still love my job but hate taking direction from goof-offs my son's age...

I am glad to read that a Mayflower a-holio bit the dust.

His ancestors’ coat of arms marked The College’s best-known dorm which housed

Hearst, JFK, Burroughs, Kissinger and my then good friend John Lithgow.

iii. Only Negro I knew, we hitched to Washington for the ginormous

Viet Nam protest, stayed with his mom who worked for the D.C. P.O. --

he’s a Nixon Peabody rainmaker, teaches at the War College.

His freshman best bud quarterback hero sells insurance in Waltham.

Weatherman fled to become Groton squash coach, Zion park ranger, addict;

I live in a halfway house with seven bizarrely familiar frauds...

Riddled with breakdowns, M. won the poetry fellowship I didn’t.

iv. My youngest’s summa, Rhodes, Boston Consulting, NIH doctorate;

pleased son made partner; daughter got into Middlebury -- her first choice...

It’s so tiresome hearing about our perfect children, grandchildren.

My son died. Separated from third wife, somehow I can’t stop working...

Just a dull dentist, I still do consider myself very lucky

v. Heresy to say here but wish I’d gone to Oberlin where I teach...

Every professor who gets to live on a coast makes me envious.

Most highly recognized classmates had no kids, I reassure myself.

So few of us seem to have stayed in touch -- is that normal or Ivy?

Class’s only Nobel Laureate [Dunster Funster Al Gore, ’69,

shared rooms down the hall with Tommy Lee Jones] wrote zilch ‘cept his cell number

while a shrink kids, Waiting for my Prize so’ll have something to contribute!

vi. A girl who wouldn’t date me lives very close by in Los Angeles.

Given transmission into the Suzuki Roshi Soto Zen School...

 I used to pick up fat girls, now I pick up Lipitor prescriptions....

Mild scare from esophagus cancer, fourth wedding, some "near Mrs."...

Bankrupt, regrets, pressure of expectations unmet, divorced four times...

Fine with my cats, marriage was a bad habit I had for a long time...

Living out of my office, not one good career choice, lottsa should-haves....

Occupation: lawyer, not one of those wants to die with his briefs on...

Occupation: Nun, The Little Sisters of Jesus, Jerusalem...

Occupation: semi-retired graduate student in Physics

vii. Same apartment, same man in my life, same dog and pre-occupations.

Decades celibate, snap-in dentures, remain HIV negative

-- truly astonishing since all three of my partners are now deceased...

Dialysis four times a week not near as much fun as you might think.

So tired I had to nap for enough energy to go to sleep...

R.O.T.C., Purple Heart, Boy Scout leader, LDS bishopric,

daughter married, her partner Sue in a wonderful ceremony...

Life is considerably more complex with a two year-old daughter.

viii. Harvard’s hierarchy of self-absorbed, self-satisfied achievers...

Ivy rats, brats in league, Citizens Unite, fuck Harvard Yale Supremes...

Not a strong affinity for those years –won’t be at the reunion...

Subsiding in Oregon, don’t tell anyone I’d been at Havad...

Whistleblower in a deadly experiment, now I’m unemployed...

Dacha south of St. Petersburg, cranky letters to The New York Times

ix. I keep up with a neighbor, who recruits for Harvard, through such missives.

She argues my garden’s stinging nettle choke her fence’s ivy roots...

J. died a half century since dropping napalm near the DMZ.

Battling Parkinson’s for ten years, he was found in the Long Island Sound... 

I sent my closest roomie Rumi for Christmas; he joked, A Jew gives...

One roommate doesn’t write, one gone -- Christ, why didn’t anyone tell me?

The Class has no information about surviving family or life.

Gerard Sarnat

A Note on the Text:  The use of italics indicates total fabrication, more or less paraphrasing, mixing and matching, and snatching and snipping from the 643-page Harvard Class of 1967 alumni/alumnae report.

About the Poet:  Gerard Sarnat is the author of two critically acclaimed poetry collections, HOMELESS CHRONICLES from Abraham to Burning Man (2010) and Disputes (2012). His pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in over eighty journals and anthologies.  Dr. Sarnat is a physician who has set up and staffed clinics for the disenfranchised, a CEO of health care organizations, and a Stanford professor.  A review of his work in The Huffington Post and more may be found here:

Poet's Notes:  Starting in 1972 with the Class of 67’s first college reunion five years out, twice a decade each classmate received a soft cover Redbook. 

I actually attended only one reunion, the 25th, after a guy met backpacking alerted me, That is the one to go to. So I did. Traveling from the West Coast to The East Coast with my family was a big deal but definitely worth it.  In our mid-forties, those who showed had generally hit our stride.

Since then I’ve kept up, sometimes more, sometimes less, through the Redbooks. Something struck me as special about the 45th: the fullness of our lives shined through all the mundane quotidians. My job was simply to create a “found” poem that mined the sentimentality, irony, humor, tragedy and captured the sadness of lost hopes and dreams.

Editor's Note:  This is one of the most powerful poems that I have ever read.  I've read comparable poetry in high-end mainstream serials such as Poetry Magazine, American Poetry Review, and Boulevard.  The revelation that it is a "found" poem is simply mind-blowing.  Dr. Sarnat has extracted the poetry from a mundane source and really made it sing, manipulating the time stream as a professional pianist manipulates the keys.  "45th Reunion Redbook Rubrics" first appeared earlier this year in Dr. Sarnat's third collection, 17s, in which each poem, stanza or line has seventeen syllables.


Volume 2, Issue 1, Number 8
August 2014

From the Editor:

Volume 2.  Volume 2!  The first anniversary issue of Songs of Eretz Poetry E-zine is here!  I hope you are as excited as I am about reaching this milestone--about seventy-five percent of new ventures never do.  This feat would not have been achieved without the dedication of the dozens of poets who shared their poetry and the hundreds of readers who visited the E-zine.  To all of you, I extend my most sincere and humble gratitude.

Songs of Eretz is going to begin its second year with a YAWP! by launching a Kickstarter campaign.  All funds raised will be dedicated to increasing the number of poems offered per issue and/or to cover and/or augment the honoraria paid to contributors (which currently come directly out of my pocket).  Please spread the word and pledge what you can afford.  There will be an announcement in the Poetry Review when the campaign officially kicks off.

Steven Wittenberg Gordon


Table of Contents

From the Editor

“the fallen rose” by Ross Balcom

“Under the gazebo's roof” by David C. Kopaska-Merkel

“And Now the Nectar” by Dominic Daley

Father & Daughter Special Feature:
"Hollow Beats the Night" by Delbert R. Gardner
"WWII Muscles" by Adele Gardner

“Mortifying Thoughts” by J. J. Steinfeld

“the thunder lizards” by Steven Wittenberg Gordon

“Leaving Alone” by Chrystal Berche

The Editor’s Picks for the 2014 Dwarf Stars Award

The Editor's Review of Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems by William Stafford, edited by Kim Stafford


the fallen rose
nameless rivers
flow to a nameless sea

many-colored mists
shroud the land

(the land of amnesiac splendor)

the blessed stranger
gestures to you
from a tarnished mirror

(she bids you to move on)

the fallen rose
is always most beautiful

its petals scattered
by the wind 

Ross Balcom

About the Poet:  Ross Balcom is a counselor living in southern California. His poems have appeared in Beyond Centauri, inkscrawl, Scifaikuest, Star*Line, Tigershark, and other publications. Currently, his favorite poets are John Ashbery, Lo Fu, and Michael McClure. In addition to poetry, his interests include parapsychology, hypnosis, and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).

Poet’s Notes:  "the fallen rose" celebrates the loss of memory, identity, and life itself. There is beauty in letting go.  This poem emerged quite spontaneously, seeming to write itself. I happily take credit for it, though.

Editor’s Note:  I like the haiku-inspired stanzas, tight construction, clean imagery, and dream-like quality of this poem.

Under the gazebo's roof

In my dream,
The elbows of my coat are eaten out,
But no one seems to notice the ragged holes.
The guests dip their faces into the tepid punch;
They come up pink and dripping, licking their lips.
I will leave the party soon.

Later, I sit in the ruined gazebo, playing cards.
“In the desert,” begins the iguana, “socialists are rare.”
I think of solitude and heat,
While rain spatters weathered planks, my hair, my shoulders,
The iguana's cracked and dusty hide.
In my dream, the house is silent now;
The party will be over soon.

Like endolithic vikings who have forgotten even their names,
The iguana and I sit, motionless, under the gazebo's roof.
Our thoughts leach out like water-soluble dye and
Soak into the floor.

David C. Kopaska-Merkel

About the Poet:  David C. Kopaska-Merkel studies the diverse part of the Earth called Alabama. He belongs to the Ganz tribe of the Glass folk, who wander the land in search of their lost transparency. Kopaska-Merkel has written myriads of poems, stories, and essays since the ‘70s. His writing has appeared in Asimov'sStrange HorizonsNight Cry, and scores of other venues. He won the Rhysling Award (Science Fiction Poetry Association) for best long poem in 2006 for a collaboration with Kendall Evans. He has written twenty-three books, of which the latest is Luminous Worlds, a collection of dark poetry from Dark Regions Kopaska-Merkel has edited Dreams & Nightmares magazine since 1986. DN website @DavidKM on twitter.

Poet’s Notes:  In my mind this poem relates to my doctoral adviser and field research on trilobites in western Utah. This despite the poem's near-total transformation into an homage to Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius novels and other psychedelic SF I read back in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the Lewis Carroll-like mood and imagery here--an acid trip without the risk of having to drop it.  "Under the gazebo's roof" was previously published in Dreams & Nightmares 22 (1988), and underfoot (chapbook, 1991).


And Now the Nectar
They call me Weed, because why wouldn’t they?
These crowds are bright and prettier than me;
if flaunting for a plastic pot, or vase
that sits at the other end of the world -
or cutting figures in the Petri dish.
I bother no-one, leave my boundaries neat.

But then they dice my hair in thoughtless shapes,
so that I turn my face away from sun.
They coat me in a smarting alchemy
and chase me back within a shallow womb
of roots in which to tangle, choke, then feed.
My alterations ache, then normalise;
the tears in empty space reworking limbs,
the bitter crunch of soil against my teeth
which starts to sit like lead inside my guts.
A Weed suspended in a dirt snapshot.

It takes the months a quarter-turn to force
me squirming from the newly-softened ground.
I taste the yellow jackets, purring calm
on the tip of my effervescent tongue,
and the water, drifting through skin and flesh
       It takes a slow sunset to know
that now I’m sure this puberty was bliss.

Dominic Daley

About the Poet:  Dominic Daley is a first-year student at the University of Hull, studying for a BA in philosophy with a minor in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in: Flashes in the DarkHellnotestrapeze magazineMicroHorror, and 365 tomorrows. "And Now the Nectar" is his first published poem and first professional sale. 

Poet’s Notes:  I wrote this poem after thinking about what a mixed bag teenage-hood can be for a lot of people, and how that time of life is a necessary, if often difficult, confusing and painful part of growing into a happier person. Not sure why I chose a weed to represent it; I guess it started out as being a bit more bizarre, in which a kid actually turns into a plant, but I thought the finished result came off as a little closed. It’s in blank verse because I used to write entirely in free, but after getting the hang of iambic pentameter I’ve found it strangely impossible to go back. 

Editor’s Note:  What a beautiful poem upon such an humble subject!  Taken literally, the anthropomorphized Weed displays an interesting array of emotions--a gritty determination that is quite inspiring.  Taken as metaphor or conceit, the Weed provides an interesting moral lesson.  I believe we may expect great things from this debut poet.


Father & Daughter Special Feature

Hollow Beats the Night

December blew white tracers past the window,
And somewhere, children would be building snowmen,
Dreaming of the time when Santa Claus
Would prop up Christmas trees with stacks of gifts.
Though Nelson Strong was scarcely forty-five,
With dark brown hair as yet untouched by gray,
And lithe-appearing body used to movement,
He sat each evening in a trance-like manner,
Refusing to take part in conversation,
And stared with hollow eyes at nothing earthly.
Some friends came, after hearing of his illness,
And tried to cheer him up with apt remarks,
Like "Don't kid me, you're only tired of working,"
Or "May, how long you going to pamper him?
I wish my wife would wait on me like that."
But, getting only curt one-word replies,
Unsettled by his pale, unwinking stare,
They fidgeted, already sensing Death,
Afraid to stand inhaling His black air.
They fumbled their goodnights and quickly left;
May walked them to the door and softly wept.
"Poor Nelson, I don't know just how to help him.
For three weeks, ever since the doctor told him
That any kind of labor'd stop his heart,
He's sat and looked like that, and never eats
More than a bite or two of food, that's all
He ever eats.  I don't know what to do."
They tried to comfort her, in awkward kindness;
"This thing has kind of thrown him for a loss,
But he'll perk up within a week or two,
You'll see," they said with hope they did not feel.

The children had been always close to Nelson,
And now they could not understand his quiet.
"Your father needs his rest," May gently told them.
"He isn't well, and we must all be patient.
Let's give him all the help and love we can
And pray to God to give him back his health."
Lucille, at twelve, was eldest of the three.
She sat upon the floor by Nelson's chair
And, smiling, put her hand upon his knee.
"What would you like to get for Christmas, Daddy?"
Tenderness was throbbing in her words.
He looked at first as though he hadn't heard;
And when he turned his head to look at her,
His eyes were prisms of his bitter soul.
"Death," he hissed; then, seeing how the word
Had struck her in the face with freezing shock,
He briefly touched her hand and said more gently,
"I just don't want to be here Christmas Day."
She put her face upon his knees and sobbed,
"Please don't say that, Daddy, please don't die!"
Her younger brothers stood by looking helpless,
Not understanding why Lucille was crying,
But close to tears themselves in sympathy.
May hurried in and pulled Lucille upright,
Caressing her to soothe the wracking sobs.
The man stood up and threw his wife a look.
"If you don't keep those kids away, I'll kill 'em,"
He muttered, and walked slowly to his bedroom,
Shutting the door upon his daughter's wailing.

Lying in the darkness, Nelson listened
To the uneven hoof-beats of his heart;
"Useless-failure-useless," it insisted,
"You almost got your wish, your wish to die;
Just one more crisis, one more strain like that--
I'll end the farce, and stop cold, stop you cold."
"Oh, no you won't," said Nelson, "not that way;
I want it slower and more natural-looking.
Besides, if you won't work, I'll starve you!
No work, no food," he said and chuckled lightly.

How long he slept he had no way of knowing;
The house was lying under heavy silence,
As he became aware that some intruder
Now shared the darkness that before was his.
"Who's there?" he whispered hoarsely to the room.
A soft, soft voice came floating through the gloom.
"You're frightened, son.  It's only me, your Mother."

"It can't be--but it sounds like Mother's voice--"
Then, suddenly he knew it was his mother;
His being was pervaded by a calm,
A quietness he hadn't known for years,
And nothing seemed unnatural or strange.
Silent and unquestioning, he waited.
"I want you to go back to sleep and dream,"
His mother said.  "I want you to remember,
And be again, a boy of twelve years old.
Goodnight, my son, sleep well and don't forget
That every man must be a child first."
The mind of Nelson swiftly bridged the years
To that hot summer when his mother lay
So near the reaching hand of hungry Death,
That every breath he feared would be her last.

            In the close and tiny bedroom,
            Nelson sat beside his mother.
            With a cardboard fan, he fanned her,
            Through the hot and sticky night,
            Dozing seconds at a time,
            Till her gasping "Fan me, fan me!"
            Brought him guiltily awake,
            Made him fan with freshened vigor,
            Saying underneath his breath
            "Get well, Mother, please get well,"
            Praying hard as he knew how,
            "Save her, God, please make her well;
            I won't ask for nothing else."
            Once she felt a little better,
            Looked at him with loving eyes;
            "You're so tired, dear," she said,
            "Go to bed and get some rest."
            "No," he said, "I'm gonna stay."
            Smiling then, she fell asleep.
            Nelson went and ate a sandwich,
            Fixed some beef broth for his mother,
            And fed it to her when she woke.
            Morning brought the scorching sun,
            Making the bedroom like an oven.
            Not a breath of air was stirring
            To relieve the stifling heat.
            Nelson's mother gasped for breath,
            Begged her son to keep on fanning.
            All that day he waved the cardboard,
            Changing hands when one went numb,
            Wishing that some rain would come,
            Wishing that the day would end.
            Evening finally chased the sun,
            But the air was thick as ever,
            Sticky air too hot for breathing.
            "Let me get a doctor, Mother."
            "I've no money for a doctor."
            Nelson's mother wrote a note.
            "Take it to the little church,
            Where we used to go last spring.
            Give the minister the note;
            Ask them all to pray for me."
            Saying this, she lay back panting.
            Nelson was afraid to leave her.
            "Hurry, son," his mother begged him,
            "I'll be all right while you're gone."
            Kissing her, he hurried out,
            Buckled on his roller skates,
            Skated as he never had,
            Jumping curbs and broken sidewalk,
            And the clicking of the wheels
            Matched the pounding of his heart.
            Tears were blurring in his eyes,
            Causing him to pass a street
            Where he should have made a turn;
            Soon he was completely lost.
            Frantically, he dashed around,
            One direction, then another.
            Desperation mounted in him,
            And his breath was coming short.
            Then his eye fell on a sign
            With "M.D." behind the name.
            Knowing that the sign meant "doctor,"
            Nelson stood before the house,
            Wrestling with his indecision,
            Till his worry for his mother
            Overcame his fear and shame.
            Quickly taking off his skates,
            Dashing to the porch and knocking,
            He asked God to help his mother,
            Make the doctor help his mother.
            After what seemed endless hours,
            Someone came and let him in.
            Pushing past the skirted figure,
            "Where's the doctor?" he demanded.
            "Doctor Williamson is busy."
            "What's the trouble out here, Thelma?"
            Asked the doctor, coming forward.
            Nelson ran to kneel before him,
            Threw his arms around his legs,
            Begging him to help his mother,
            Saying that they had no money,
            But he'd work and pay him back.
            "She's so sick, I know she'll die,
            If someone don't come and help her."
            Dr. Williamson was touched;
            Maybe he could see himself
            In the mother-loving boy.
            "Thelma, bring my bag," he called.
            "Come along, son, you can show me
            Where your mother and you live."
            Nelson said he had to find
            The little church somewhere around there.
            "Come, I'll take you," said the doctor.

            Getting out before the church,
            Nelson humbly thanked the doctor,
            Told him where his mother lived,
            Begging him to go ahead.
            Going in the little church,
            Nelson hurried to the altar,
            Gave the minister the note,
            And kneeling down, he prayed out loud,
            Asking God to save his mother,
            Get the doctor there in time,
            Help the doctor make her well.
            Everybody listened to him,
            Feeling shamed before his faith.
            When he ran back up the aisle,
            "Pass the plate for that boy's mother!"
            Shouted someone in the back,
            And the preacher stood amazed,
            Seeing four plates overflowing,
            Emptied out and filled again.

            Nelson paused before the bedroom,
            Hardly daring to go in.
            Then he turned the knob and entered,
            Saw the doctor standing there,
            Saw his mother, pale and quiet,
            Breathing softly in her sleep.
            Dr. Williamson was smiling,
            Leading Nelson out the door.
            "She'll get well, my boy," he said.
            Nelson's knees began to shake.
            Sinking down upon his cot,
            With his face between his hands,
            "Thank you, God," he mumbled weakly.
            Looking at the boy, the doctor
            Mixed a glass of medicine.
            "Here, drink this," he kindly ordered.
            Nelson gulped the bitter fluid,
            Then he settled back and slept . . .

When Nelson woke, he looked around the room.
Daylight slanted through the curtained window,
And May was dozing in a chair beside him,
Her head against the back, fatigue lines showing
Around her eyes and mouth.  Humility
Began to spread its balm throughout his soul,
Crowding out the bitter, useless feeling.
As if she felt his loving glance upon her,
She gave a start and looked at him with fear,
But when she saw his open eyes, she smiled.
"Feeling any better, dear?" she asked.
He nodded.  "Better, but I'm awful hungry."
Surprise gave way to gladness in her face.
"I'll fix some breakfast for us both," she said.

He ate with such a relish it amazed her.
When he was done, he looked at her and asked,
"What day is it?"  "It's Sunday," she replied.
He hesitated, wondering how to say it.
"Mother was here on Friday night," he said.
She nodded slowly as she gazed at him.
"I think I'd like to see the children, May."
Her eyes were searching.  "I'll go get them, Nelson."
Lucille came in with reddened nose and eyes,
Followed by young Fred and Nelson Jr.,
And May was smiling at the door behind them.
He solemnly shook hands with both the boys,
Then, hugging his daughter close, he kissed her hair.
"You're what I want for Christmas," he said gruffly.

Delbert R. Gardner

* * * * *

WWII Muscles

Dying isn't easy, even when you have the strength
To lift a B52 and pull the injured from the wreck,
Fly the maimed and dying to hospitals faster than a helicopter,
Or sweep a young woman off her feet, saving her
From a mistake that would have cost her future children's lives.
These feats that helped salvage our side, these muscles
That helped to win a war, this humble heroism that sought no praise--
None of that helps when you're fighting for your life at 85,
Gasping with half your diaphragm paralyzed
As surely as if you'd taken a bullet all those years ago.
Houdini couldn't survive a sucker punch, and even Steel
Seldom blocks modern weapons.  Worse still,
Entropy--that supervillain, unconquered enemy of life--
Holds sway even over the brave and the just,
The compassionate, the strong--especially these,
Who expend their lives, their energy, at a furious pace
In saving others.  At least his children's once-small hands,
Now grown, clasp his with saving grace,
Their sole mission to stand in for his strength--
Not heroes reborn, just concrete, heartfelt proof
That the saving matters.

Adele Gardner
About Delbert R. Gardner:  A veteran of World War II, Dr. Delbert R. Gardner taught English literature and creative writing for Keuka College.  Recent Science Fiction/Fantasy publications include:  a story in Lamplight, and poetry in Star*Line, Goblin Fruit, the 2010 and 2009 Rhysling Award Anthologies, and Tales of the Talisman.  Over forty of Dr. Gardner's poems and stories have appeared in publications such as: The Literary Review, Poetry Digest, American Poetry Magazine, Provincetown Review, and Christian Science Monitor, among others.  His nonfiction credits include the book An "Idle Singer" and His Audience: A Study of William Morris's Poetic Reputation in England, 1858-1900.  Learn more at
About Adele Gardner:  An active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), Adele Gardner has had over 300 pieces of fiction, poetry, art, photography, and nonfiction published in:  Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Penumbra, The Doom of Camelot, Legends of the Pendragon, Challenging Destiny, Podcastle, American Arts Quarterly, and more.  She's a librarian, musician, and literary executor for her father, Delbert R. Gardner.  Two stories and a poem earned honorable mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, while two poems, one long and one short, won third place in the Rhysling Awards of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) (in 2012 and 2013).  A graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, Ms. Gardner is the author of Dreaming of Days in Astophel.  Previously published as Lyn C. A. Gardner and Adele Gardner, she has taken up the exclusive use of her middle name in honor of her father Delbert, her namesake and mentor.  Visit    

Commentary by Adele Gardner on Hollow Beats the Night:  When my father was twelve, during the Great Depression, the family had no money for a doctor.  Sitting up night after night fanning his mother Effie in the heat, Dad was convinced that she was dying.  He roller-skated to the Methodist church and asked the minister to pray for his dying mother; the minister immediately visited and brought a doctor.  The kind Dr. Ella Ritter of Williamsport saved Effie and provided groceries for the family--free of charge.  While Effie battled peritonitis at a time without antibiotics, Dad kept the family together, cooking meals, sewing, mending, cleaning the laundry and house, and taking care of his six-year-old sister--as my mother says, "quite remarkable for a young boy."  Dad wrote this poem in 1953 while studying literature at Syracuse University for his bachelor's under the G.I. Bill (he was the first member of his family to go to college).  Though he never submitted the poem for publication, he wrote an article praising Dr. Ella Ritter that was published in a Williamsport, PA, paper around 1955.  While Dad was always careful to fictionalize any autobiographical elements in his work, I'm convinced that if he'd had the chance to revise this poem in later years, he would have included the actual character of the woman who retained his gratitude all his life.

Editor's Note:  The story told in "Hollow Beats the Night" reminds me of something out of a work of Dickens.  The rhythm is impeccable, and the occasional rhymes make for nice surprises.  The mood created is special and moves seamlessly between the various stages of grief--with particular emphasis on anger and then finally on acceptance--my thanks to Adele Gardner for sharing this lovely poem of her father's with Songs of Eretz.

Poet’s Notes for WWII Muscles:  I think a lot about the daily lives of superheroes, the trials they face to continue their mission, and the costs of human living that even they must pay.  Dad was always our hero.  From a young age, we knew he'd served in World War II.  The stories he told were few, but he always made a point to praise the courage and sacrifices of others and downplay his role.  But we had other ideas.  When Dad went on his first away assignment to the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) when I was ten, I made him a welcome-home card with a drawing of Dad as Superman (alluded to as "Steel" in the poem).  We were conscious of Dad as an older father as someone extra-special, to be treasured; no matter his age, Dad remained strong and courageous, wise but young at heart.  In Kentucky, when Dad was fifty-nine and they were ten, my brothers coined the phrase "World War II muscles" in genuine admiration for Dad's strength.  We all loved this concept and used it with pride through Dad's eighty-fifth year.  In this poem I decided to imagine what it might have been like if he'd really had these superpowers--but still met his own very mortal end.  

Editor’s Note:  The themes of "WWII Muscles" are universal but told in a deeply personal, moving way.  The conclusion is well done, with just the right amount of poignancy and sentiment--a fine tribute to a fine man.


Mortifying Thoughts
sure is mortifying
when you turn around
and a snarling wraith
sucker punches you

sure is mortifying
when you start praying
and you hear laughter
from above

sure is mortifying
when you meet God
and are mistaken for a character
who has lost his way

sure is mortifying
when you are asked
to spell mortifying and you get
two of the letters wrong

sure is mortifying
when you meet yourself
and neither one of you
has anything profound to say

J. J. Steinfeld

About the Poet:  J. J. Steinfeld is a Canadian fiction writer, poet, and playwright who lives on Prince Edward Island, where he is patiently waiting for Godot’s arrival and a phone call from Kafka. While waiting, he has published fourteen books, along with five chapbooks, including Disturbing Identities (Stories, Ekstasis Editions), Anton Chekhov Was Never in Charlottetown (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Curiosity to Satisfy and Fear to Placate (Short-Fiction Chapbook, Mercutio Press), Would You Hide Me? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), An Affection for Precipices (Poetry, Serengeti Press), Where War Finds You (Poetry Chapbook, HMS Press), Misshapenness (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions), A Fanciful Geography (Poetry Chapbook, erbacce-press), and A Glass Shard and Memory (Stories, Recliner Books). His short stories and poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals internationally, and over forty of his one-act plays and a handful of full-length plays have been performed in Canada and the United States.  

Poet’s Notes:  First of all, let me say it sure is mortifying to be asked to write about a poem written over four years ago. Second of all, I’ll hop into my Muse’s poetic time machine and attempt to describe the formation of "Mortifying Thoughts." I was taking a late-night walk through an outwardly tranquil and orderly neighbourhood, my questioning, wandering thoughts hovering between the absurd and the existential, the meaningless and the meaningful, the senseless and the senseful, when a group of disorderly words, not all that pleased with my intrusive presence, seemed to jump at me from all metaphoric sides. I began to gather these words while attempting to reconcile my late-night contradictory thoughts. By the time I returned home, "Mortifying Thoughts" was formed in my mind and I quickly wrote out the words. Then the real existential grappling began, as I shaped those disorderly words into an orderly albeit mortifying poem.  

Editor’s Note:  I love the sardonic humor in this poem, accented by the poet’s adroit use of anaphora.  “Mortifying Thoughts” was first published in the poetry chapbook A Fanciful Geography by J. J. Steinfeld (erbacce-press, Liverpool, UK, 2010).


the thunder lizards
bane of the first furry ones
transformed to dragons
of double helical twists
deep genetic memories

Steven Wittenberg Gordon

About the Poet:  Find out more about Dr. Gordon by clicking on the “About the Editor” link below the e-zine.

Poet’s Notes:  Have you ever wondered why geographically isolated cultures, such as those of China and Europe, all have their own dragon mythologies?  I have, and “the thunder lizards” provides what I think may be the explanation.  “the thunder lizards” was first published in the November 2013 Print Edition of Scifaikuest in which I was the featured poet, and is up for a Dwarf Stars Award this year.  


Leaving Alone
I wait for you
When the black leather seats of the diner
Are no longer plush
And stuffing oozes
Like mashed potatoes
From broken stitching
Like the rearview
I watch for you in
Through fields of blooming clover
Thumb out
For the aged silver bus
Painted in flowers
To ride on by
And me
In beads and braids
Hanging out the window
Mellow and warm
To old freedom songs
In the pounding rhythm of a country
So far removed
From all that is holy
It has forgotten
The blood
The magic
The sex
Spilled and leaked
On the old highways
That forged America
And pumped life
Into withered veins
And agony
In restriction
The loss
Of what made us gods
The American nights
Where Jazz is dead
And blues are the swirling neon
Of too many bars
All pressed together
In tiny rows
Pretending there is nothing wrong
With a place
That says come in empty
And leave alone.

Chrystal Berche

About the Poet:  Chrystal Berche writes. Hard times, troubled times, the lives of her characters are never easy, but then what life is? The story is in the struggle, the journey, the triumphs and the falls. She writes about artists, musicians, loners, drifters, dreamers, hippies, bikers, truckers, hunters, and all the other things she knows and loves. Sometimes she writes urban romance, and sometimes its aliens crash landing near a roadside bar. When she isn’t writing, she’s taking pictures or curled up with a good book and a kitty on her lap.   

Poet’s Notes:  “Leaving Alone” was penned during a drive down the East Coast that began in Massachusetts and ended in Tennessee. Along the way I encountered an old diner and the remains of a burned out hippy bus and I started to wonder what the country must have seemed like in seventies, while my dad was hitching coast to coast and meeting all kinds of people. As I sat having breakfast in the weathered diner, looking at the people there, wondering what their stories were, if they had experiences like my father had on the road, the poem began to come together as I imagined someone waiting for a lover, or a friend who never came through those parts again, the changes they must have witnessed, the memories they must have had, and the disappointment of knowing that time was over.  

Editor’s Note:  I was captivated by the short, staccato stanzas, narrative style, and haunting imagery of this poem.

The Editor’s Picks for the 2014 Dwarf Stars Award

The following are my personal favorites (in addition to my own nominated poem, “the thunder lizards,” of course) ranked in order of preference:

Second Place:  "Stirring Time" by Lauren McBride, Tales of the Talisman 8:3.
Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle and Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle may go through your head as you read this one.  If it doesn’t make you tear up, seek medical attention.  And if you have never heard of those songs, listen to them on YouTube--you owe it to yourself. 

Third Place:  "Invasion" by Sandi Leibowitz, Red Rose Review 6.
The clever build up to the space disaster is riveting, leading to an unexpected, horrifying twist.  Nice combo of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.  

Honorable Mention:  "about 600 light years" by Dietmar Tauchner, Star*Line 36:3.
Mr. Tauchner builds up a sense of hope and of looking forward to the future and then tempers this with a sudden feeling of loss.  In my mind, I was transported to the spaceship.   
Another Honorable Mention:  "Look, the On symbol" by Manos Kounougakis, Dreams of Myths.
So many speculative thoughts pour out of this tight haiku.    

Yet Another Honorable Mention:  "What We Carry" by Beth Cato, inkscrawl 6.
I felt like I was back in Narnia as I read this one.

Steven Wittenberg Gordon


The Editor's Review of Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems by William Stafford, edited by Kim Stafford

William’s son, Kim Robert Stafford, who is a poet in his own right, selected the poems that grace the pages of Ask Me and provided a brief but helpful preface to the collection.  The poems he selected are short--most do not even fill a page--and though easily understood or interpreted, they are nevertheless profound. 

Stafford used plainspoken, free verse language, in the manner of Whitman, but unlike Whitman, Stafford was not afraid to give a nod to classical forms--as the many examples of his contemporary take on the ballad demonstrate.  The ballads, generally organized in quatrains with four metric feet per line, are filled with occasional rhyme, as well as end-line assonance and consonance.  The end result is a rich, lyrical quality not often found in standard contemporary free verse.  

William Stafford could also be compared favorably to another William--Wordsworth, the Songs of Eretz Poetry Review Poet of the Month for June 2014--both for his love of the ballad form and for his choice of conceits, which often involve communion with and reverence for the forces of nature.  Nostalgia for the simple, bucolic life of the Great Plains and of the Oregon of two generations past is apparent in a good number of the poems, reminiscent of Wordsworth’s admiration for the pastoral life of rural England. 

A folksy humor and exuberant optimism are present in most of Stafford’s poems.  However, some of the poems included in the collection are sober reflections on man’s warlike nature.  Stafford was an outspoken pacifist and conscientious objector--apparently, he could not help but let just a little bit of social activism creep into his work from time to time. 

William Stafford was the subject of the Songs of Eretz Poetry Review Poet of the Month feature for July 2014.  Visit the Review for links to and commentary on many of Stafford’s poems, including a few that are a part of the Ask Me collection, and some that provide audio recordings of Stafford reading his poetry.  A link to a biography of Stafford may by found in the Review as well.

Steven Wittenberg Gordon


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