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Formal Poetry

Change of Seasons

She asks him every year, November first,

if he has wrapped the pipes against a freeze.

He could point out that they have never burst

before. Besides, it’s forty-five degrees.

 

He could explain that whether Fahrenheit

or Celsius, no more than once or twice

has even January brought a night

so cold it sheathed the outdoor pipes in ice.

 

He doesn’t. Gathering his rags and ball

of twine he goes out in the feeble sun.

It’s just another ritual of fall —

he knows she will sleep better when it’s done.

 

A marriage has its season, cool or warm,

and small concessions can avert a storm.

Richard Wakefield’s publications include East of Early Winters (winner of the Richard Wilbur Award) and A Vertical Mile (short-listed for the Poets’ Prize). His new collection, Terminal Park, has just been published.

Edge of the Gulf

                  O that Pearl of great price!

                          Have you found it?

                                — Old Swedish Hymn

 

Bread out of stones, bones out of fish —

out of the endless slosh and slap of the waves

               words wash up:

I said . . . you said . . . who knows what?

I cast my bread upon the waters —

you pick the bones of a thousand graves.

 

Dead skate. Dead tern. Dead speckled crab

gutted by a gull. A lone plover braves

               the scorching sand.

Sea oats whip ragged in the wind —

dune grass bakes. A shack with loose shutters

sags in the heat. A dog barks. My heart heaves.

 

Your eyes are red. Sad eyes. Circles.

Who can sleep these days? A black skimmer shaves

               the gritty bar —

a pelican nods, white caps blur . . .

A dolphin! Two! Way out . . . What matters

it to us? No heart pounding leaps and dives.

 

No high spins with the blazing light

on their leathery backs. “The ocean loves

               them” you said once,

watching them out there do their dance.

Now you say nothing. The sea glitters

like broken glass. The wind blows, the sand gives.

 

I wade out to my knees and turn —

will you come? You won’t. The churning gulf leaves

               not much left

to say. To hear. Waves break. Words drift.

I cast my bread upon the waters —

you pick the bones of a thousand graves.

John Perrault is the author of three books and nine albums of original ballads. His poems have appeared in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Better Than Starbucks, Blue Unicorn, Comstock Review, Orbis, and elsewhere. A chapbook’s forthcoming this fall from Finishing Line Press.

Old Women on the Churchyard Wall

Old women perched like crows upon a wall

Are laughing through their tears — once crow was swan

And plumed with youth till worn by flame and strife.

 

Old women perched like crows upon a wall

Will brood, Who’ll shield our children when we’re gone?

For none have coals to make a glowing life.

 

Old women perched like crows upon a wall

Know every name staked on the boneyard lawn,

Stonecutter’s chiseled work, or scratched by a knife.

 

Old women perched like crows upon a wall

Will fly this kindled world of fire and dawn

One by one: each maker, mother, wife.

Recent books from Marly Youmans are Charis in the World of Wonders (novel, Ignatius, 2020) and The Book of the Red King (poems, Phoenicia, 2019.) Forthcoming is an adventure in blank verse and bob-and-wheel chapters, Seren of the Wildwood (Wiseblood.)

First Kiss

The lightheadedness of your first kiss,

the letdown upon having to part:

you will not remember any of this.

 

Already you barely remember the bliss,

the rush of your first love just at the start —

The surging excitement of your first kiss.

 

The narrow escape, the thrilling near miss

that took your breath as it paused your heart:

You will not remember any of this,

 

nor will you remember — a great solace —

your failure to master this skill or that art

or the lightheaded rapture of your first kiss.

 

The tedious hours spent in an office,

the nagging suspicion you weren’t that smart:

You will not remember any of this.

 

And now — as you approach the abyss —

you try to recall the sweet and the tart,

the light head — the frisson — of your first kiss:

You will not remember any of this.

Donald Carlson lives in Texas. His poems have appeared in Better Than Starbucks, Ekphrastic Review, Blue Unicorn, The Road Not Taken, and more. His most recent book, Tweeting Dante, has just been published by Wipf and Stock, under their Resources imprint.

The Dead and Missing

The dead and missing fill our little book,

their addresses and numbers out-of-date.

It does no good to take a second look.

It would not help to call or write, then wait.

They’re gone for good now, ink upon a page

and nothing more, the page itself a blur

in places, everywhere the stain of age

and fading residue of things that were

and are no more. We scan them with a sigh,

then close the book, return it to its drawer,

return to other things much closer by

that we still know and are involved with more,

reminded, though, they too are passing fast

and only have a little time to last.

Bruce Bennett is Emeritus Professor of English at Wells College in Aurora, New York. His poetry website is https://justanotherdayinjustourtown.com.

with Vera Ignatowitsch

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Lilacs

What ought to have lasted, when you

          were standing there,

Gathering flowers, that slipped through

          your fingers? Air,

 

Sunlight, clouds, all of that gone now,

          immediacy

Alone remaining. But no vow,

          no remedy

 

Or explanation, no belief

          matters, ever.

Nor is there lessening of grief,

          that long tether.

Jared Carter’s seventh book of poems, The Land Itself, with an introduction by B. J. Omanson, is from Monongahela Books in West Virginia. Carter lives in Indiana.

My Parents’ Home, 1995

In my parents’ home there were no clocks,

except one above the sink, which stopped

long before, and one that they’d rarely wind

by their bed. They hadn’t forgotten time,

and still observed the formalities —

vacations and insurance bills to pay,

the cycles of the seasons, holidays

and Oscar nights, anniversaries;

the cleaning girl arriving to begin

the working week; the trashmen sweeping streets,

unloading garbage cans, recycle bins;

and daily chores would day-by-day repeat

themselves like clockwork. Drops and medicines

before their meals, morning walks to stores,

the nightly news. Nor could they ignore

it seeping through their limbs, eroding strength

and silting pain. But that hourly score,

the beat-by-beat enumerating lengths

of narrowing time they preferred not to hear

or see on the walls of the home that for years

had remained a refuge, brick solid and secure

since the day they moved in, the year before the war

when their new lives seemed immutable and as wide

as the horizons dissolving into the sky.

 

First published in the anthology Home (Outrider Press).

J. Weintraub has published fiction, essays, translations, and poetry in all sorts of literary places and has had dramatic work produced throughout the world. His annotated translation, Paris à table: 1846, was published by Oxford University Press in 2018. https://jweintraub.weebly.com/

Twenty Years Later

Dan’s voice is still as grey as pencils and

each time he hears himself, it frustrates him.

And he still worries about butterflies

because he can't help but identify

(that doesn’t change), though now he’s pretty sure

that zig-zagging is not the way to win.

 

So you might say not much has changed, except

he's figured out how people look at him:

that's what adult means, mostly. So, so sure

that all he had to do to reconcile

the puzzle of the outside world with him,

was find the missing key — and all the while

 

there wasn’t one, except to analyze

each separate, not-quite smile. Dan does have friends

however, and last year Josh flew with him

to visit the Saguaro, though he swears

(he likes to make Dan laugh) the plant-life there

is just as keen to bite —

Kathryn Jacobs is a poet, professor emerita, and editor of The Road Not Taken. Her fifth book, Wedged Elephant, was published by Kelsay Press. Her portrait of autism, A Life Lived Differently, with Rachel Jacobs, is now out from BTS Publications.

Too Much Morningtime

Inexplicably awake,

your small voice seems to fill the night,

narrating the undreamt darkness.

Buoyant boy, your brain is bright —

brimming words and bursting wide,

a poet at the age of three.

I can’t forget that time you said

There’s too much morningtime in me,

explaining why you once again

were waking in a world that slept.

This sudden need for passing on

the words that rattle in your depth —

it’s new to you. You don’t know yet

how silence slowly floods a man.

Insomniac child, wide-eyed wordsmith,

speak now while you can.

Jesse Keith Butler lives with his wife and two children in Ottawa, Ontario. His poetry has appeared in The Orchards Poetry Journal, Ekstasis Magazine, Cloud Lake Literary, and Darkly Bright Press.

On the Bus

The bus grinds north three hundred miles and back.

The bus completes its rounds three times a day.

It jolts along a widely traveled track,

back and forth upon its endless way.

 

The bus completes its rounds three times a day

past scenery that’s drained of meaning too,

back and forth upon its endless way.

Providing us with nothing strange or new,

 

the scenery is drained of meaning too,

although we stare unblinking at each sight.

Providing us with nothing strange or new,

this bus will bear us forward into night.

 

Although we stare unblinking at each sight,

we’re granted neither respite nor surprise.

This bus will bear us forward into night

and follow the dull route we recognize.

 

We’re granted neither respite nor surprise.

The bus delivers us from threat to threat

and follows the dull route we recognize

to one city or another, we forget.

 

The bus delivers us from threat to threat

and jolts along a widely traveled track

to one city or another. We forget.

The bus grinds north three hundred miles and back.

Ruth Holzer is the author of eight chapbooks, most recently, Living in Laconia (Gyroscope Press) and Among the Missing (Kelsay Books). Her poems have appeared in Blue Unicorn, Faultline, Slant, Trajectory, and elsewhere. She has received several Pushcart Prize nominations.

Lighthearted Verse

Full Disclosure

“The trouble with this growing old,” he said,

“You lose so much . . . and you get what instead?

If you can hang a bath towel on your tool

It’s wasted when you’re in an all-boys school.

Time was, I’d come — as you’d expect —

with just a look, a touch.

Now, not so much.

The only thing that gets me full erect

Is feeling flesh firming from kiss and grasp;

so all my work is trying to make her gasp!

I need her climax if I’m to get sated.”

He looked at her. She looked at him. He waited.

Robin Helweg-Larsen is Series Editor for Sampson Low’s ‘Potcake Chapbooks — form in formless times’ and blogs at formalverse.com from his hometown of Governor’s Harbour, Bahamas.

New Moon Rendezvous

Pressing her swift feet across the sand,

she sought the place where her soft lips could land,

but missed her boyfriend's pucker by a mile

and kissed a beam of creosote in style

beneath the wharf. My heart! she then exclaimed.

I fear my lips with splinters have been maimed!

If ever you would meet a lover true,

take care to bring a GPS with you.

Paul Willis has published seven collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Somewhere to Follow (Slant Books, 2021). Individual poems have appeared in Poetry, Light, and Writer's Almanac. He is a professor of English at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.

On the Snow

We’re all supposed to love the Earth

And thrill to nature’s bold displays.
We’re all supposed to be entranced
When nature sends us snowy days.

But I just tumbled on the snow
And gave my knee a nasty whack.
If I’m supposed to love the Earth,
The Earth should try to love me back.

 

First published in The Providence Journal.

Felicia Nimue Ackerman is a professor of philosophy at Brown University and has had over 220 poems published in a wide range of places.

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The Non-Browning Version

Its pest-control black history,

   That mass rodenticide,

And ‘kids and piper mystery’,

   Brands Hamelin Europe-wide.

 

The Mayor fumes and fusses

   About the child-free town

And endlessly discusses

   New ways to track them down.

 

Such constant iteration

   Of Hamelin's loss and shame

 Provokes this observation

    From me, the boy born lame.

 

I won’t waste breath regretting

   Such bullies, such spoilt brats.

It’s not for them I’m fretting

    But all those friendly rats!

Jerome Betts edits Lighten Up Online in Devon, England. His verse appears in Amsterdam Quarterly, Light, The Asses of Parnassus, The New Verse News, The HyperTexts, Snakeskin, and various anthologies.

Luke Palmer on Unsplash.

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