Poetry Section: Powerful Poetics

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “Deep autumn had set in, with a crackling wind from the west.” That wind from the west has not only brought in the Fall for our 5th issue, but it has also blew us four wonderful writers. Poets Amber McBride, Judy Shepps Battle, Terry Clark, and Robert Wexelblatt show us the power of poetics by making the mundane much more than it appears to be.

As you look at the leaves that decorate the ground in a collage of colors this fall, make sure you bring in the autumn right by reading these powerful poems.

Amber McBride
Amber McBride is currently a graduate student at Emerson University; she will be receiving her MFA in Creative Writing in 2012. She attended James Madison University for undergraduate studes, where she won the annual poetry writing award in March of 2010. Her poetry has been published in James Madison’s literary magazine, Gardy Loo.

Alba and Phoenix

I grew up between two
oak trees, Alba and Phoenix.
Their roots massive crop circles in
my grandmother’s front yard.

At dusk, fireflies mimicked
the heavens creating constellations
that were too changing to record.

Between them, I ate pineapple until my
tongue swelled, until the night swelled
with the sporadic sound of
hundreds of chirping violinists.

When it stormed,
rainboots in hand, nightgown on,
I raised my sleep-soggy body
from bed, to hush the thunder.

Between Alba and Phoenix
I turned into a seashell.
I placed my hands over my
ears and listened to the rain
echo against my arms.
Until I could hear bees
moving inside me,
until the storm’s thunder was
a dull distant train.

The Revolution
He wakes up in Roxbury. Tangled in the ropes of his sheets
with a phrase lingering on his tongue,
Sally sinks slave ships.
It’s not pretty; like gods jawline. It’s more like
the disaster you break on the edge of, it’s like the glass
that is constantly digging into your heels.
So he swallows it down, quickly, with his morning
devotions, pills and strong coffee.
And there is stillness for a while.
But like a good girl, Sally comes back stitched firmly into the
fabric of his black night shirt. She tugs at his sleeves, licks the inside
of his mouth and melts slowly, into the marrow of his bones.

She says, welcome
to the fall out. The melting pot. Where the revolution
was not televised and so it never happened.
The revolution will show up at your door; and it will find
the means necessary to fuel itself.

He went insane
Sinking a nation with his beautiful mouth.

Judy Shepps Battle
Judy Shepps Battle has been writing poems long before she became a psychotherapist and sociology professor at Rutgers University. Widely published both in the USA and abroad during the Sixties and Seventies, she deferred publishing to concentrate on career and family. Fortunately her muse was tenacious and she continued to write during the next three decades filling a file cabinet with scrawled and typewritten poems that are now being organized into chapbooks and individual submissions. The material submitted for publication represents her return to active participation in the writing community. She can’t think of a better way to spend her retirement. In the past six months, her poems have been accepted in a variety of publications including Ascent Aspirations; Barnwood Press; Battered Suitcase; Caper Literary Journal; Epiphany Magazine; Joyful; Raleigh Review; Rusty Truck; and Short, Fast and Deadly.

GOOD AND BAD DAYS

Epiphany excites like a strong
cup of coffee after tsunamic
fortnight

dark disappointment
distant feelings and inner
gyroscope failure

blind to North Star
memory of Polaris* fades
along with ambition, focus
and desire.

Epiphany awakens
insists I am not dead, urges
forward movement

hesitant chorus of “fake
it ’til you make it” roars
crescendo

reinforces my promise
made before birth to make
different choices

about addiction, relationships,
secret keeping and
spirituality

On good days
when at one with surrender
even my worst experience

seems like magnificent
stepping stone

On bad days
when captained by ego
the sea becomes hungry

swallows me whole and
I join Jonah in the belly
of the whale

*Polaris, known also as the
North Star, is the brightest star
in the constellation Ursa Minor
and the navigator’s benchmark.

RUNNING OUT OF TIME

My body, brought to the
precipice of pain and
illness, surrenders
accepts help

begins to grieve lost
opportunity and mistaken
judgments about beauty
and perfection

I suffer the void alone
stuck in slowed-down mind
I both miss and don’t miss
the need to achieve

Meditation replaces squeaky
hamster wheel with sacred
silence yet distraction
demands I run, Run, RUN

but
last week when I tried to run
I slid, fell and hit my head
on corner wall

and I know
last month when I mindlessly
chomped pretzels that a back
molar fractured

I need to walk slow
I need to eat slow
I need to obey Kalliope*
crying for her time

I need to clean the kitchen
sink and bathroom toilet
to say a few hellos and
many more goodbyes.

* Kalliope was the Greek muse
of epic poetry

Terry Clark
Terry Clark acquired his Bachelor of General Studies degree from Wartburg College, where he majored in English; he later completed his Master of Arts in English at Chicago State University. Currently, he serves as Department Chair of Kennedy-King College’s Communications Department, also teaching composition, literature, and reading. He is a creative writer, including the genres of poetry, short stories, and lyrics. His publications include “None by the Righterous” (NCTE National Day of Writing); “The Preacher’s Wife,” “Evil in the World,” and “Sonnyman” (Taj Mahal Review); “JT’s Song” (Art&Prose online magazine); several poems and two short stories (Timbooktu.com); and, most recently, “Counting Scotty” (poetic diverstiy).

Jazz I

The acoustics of the room changed
We sat
Two broken hearts, staring
Hoping—
One day the tempo would be set right
Without having to chase the dragon,
Catch him
And clip his wings
The headlights dimmed—then freaked,
Turning its corner cuts softly
Along the grain
Tumultuous drummer rolled his sticks
Across our skins and made them go
Pop, pop, pop!
We follow the leader and his tune
The only resolve to a solution gone wrong
Pied piping along the way
A slant virtuoso refrains
Piercing our ears and hearts

Jazz II

First track, then two
She mutes and spins me home
While beating on the bass path
Catching the floater tumbler (and its thunder)
She glides through false air
Her hand note is clear, bright
Featherlike
Her waltz balances in the mourning air tunnel
An Angel, barely above her ground
Prancing in a style all her own
And
Her movement is taken in another direction
Away from its beginning
Still
Spinning, running, jumping
The closer chorus is chilled
By the sax man and his prayer
Doubling notes on a stick
His tone is clear the bass path resets with a click
Her tired journey is lulled to sleep
Angelic in her tears with her head downward
We speak
A prayer.

One Morning in Church

Unexpectedly, I am summoned to a funeral.
Never been to one of them down home funerals before
The deceased was sanctified
so the Holy Ghost accompanied her
the elder preacher made me cry
the sister woman sang
She sang, clapped her hands and stomped her foots
The sister woman growled a holy blues that would wake the dead
“If I already–had my wings,
Well, I sho’ wouldn’t—
be down here”
I mainlined Jesus and caught the Holy Ghost!
I spoke in tongues’ ancient voice
Elijah, the madman of the mountains,
came down and blessed me with his sword
I bled like Jesus
I crawled up to the alter and out of the womb of infants
I suckled at the breast of Mary
She cradled my broken spirit, stroked my hair
and told me to give my worries to Jesus
Finally, Satan loosed me
And–the dam broke!
The Mothers of the church formed a circle of white around me,
held hands, moaned and prayed for my soul
The elder preacher heaved his breath into mine
I rose from the dead and began to dance the holy dance
shuffling my feet, flailing my arms and bobbing my head
The guitar chords of the sun glassed musician walked with me
every step of the way–all in honor of the deceased
Rock the church sister, rock the church!
Rock the church sister–rock the church!
The flowers and the wreaths swayed, hummed and patted feet
with a mood familiar of sadness to a sanctified song
All the while stomping out my demons of the street
one morning in church

Robert Wexelblatt
Robert Wexelblatt is a professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published essays, stories, and poems in a wide variety of journals, two story collections, Life in the Temperate Zone and The Decline of Our Neighborhood, a book of essays, Professors at Play; his recent novel, Zublinka Among Women, won the Indie Book Awards First Prize for Fiction.

Three Legs at Sundown

The spectacle of sinking spectral light,
this oozing slick on a deliquescent
horizon, yields no deduction a fist
might grasp, though there’s a crumb of dignity
in standing erect and facing west.

Three Unhappy Endings

1.

Russet stripes on unrumpled sheets, maples
grazing the panes, a brazen afternoon.
He delivers his explication de
texte in a candidate’s brisk baritone,
empty voice, vacant shoes; the man vanishes
as he drones. The bedroom grows hollow, dim,
and, lighting her first cigarette, she notes
that afternoon has turned to dusk, like a
distillation of all their pointless secrets.
When he leaves she does not switch on the lamp.

2.

More women try; more men succeed.
No, not that. Too opaque, abstract,
chauvinistic too. No, I need
a poignancy that dumb boast lacked.
We are in the power of no
calamity while death is in
our own. Stoic, though still below
the dignity of mortal sin;
same for getting through a bad night
the way Nietzsche bragged he often
did, with just the thought of it. Might
I look for some phrase to soften
her heart? No. The woman’s callous.
What’s more fatal to love than blame?
Oh, screw spite. No lethal malice
could touch her. . . Hell, it’s all the same.

3.

They talked until there was no way to talk
touch see smell comprehending the nothing
left to be comprehended after they had sucked
the juice from every verb left husks of nouns
over each once fertile acre where now only
black tormented adjectives jutted as if
brutal regiments had marched east leaving
farmhouses foully smoldering calves and lambs
slaughtered this waste would go on and on
because they had burnt up the parasols the
pink and lavender dresses bartered crocuses
April afternoons for nothing for lifeless novels
with broken spines drizzling untouchable
November nights without even telephones.

Lorn Leopard

Dirt’s dents nor rugged ruts,
and gravel’s no gladsome guide:
between busted-up boards
all’s deranged, detached, denied.

How do I do? what
recklessly remember?
I might say on Monday,
maybe next November.

All Arkansas aches
Kentucky’s catching cold
double dour the Dakotas
and oh, Ohio’s awfully old.

Harmless, homeless, hopeless,
extant yet in exile
from your feline face that
smiled, once in a while.

From me to me to me
from you to you to you—
unwired, wistful, watchful,
like a leopard in the zoo.

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