Nocturne – a poem by Shakiba Hashemi

Nocturne


In the beginning there was darkness,

            there was no ray 

and no prism,

           no rainbow

to arch above the clouds,

           there was no water

to veil the earth,

           no splendid sun to blaze,

and no gentle breeze

           to murmur.

In the beginning there was no pain,

           no mother to wail

for her dead son,

           there was no sin

no spirit,

           no father.

There was no apple

           to want,

no tongue

           to lick the nectar,

no desire.

           There was no star

to pierce the night,

           no heaven for angels

to descend from,

                      there was no cross,

no candle,

           no altar.

There was no blue sky,

           no wing to unfurl

and no wind beneath,

           or above.

In the beginning

           there was darkness,

there was silence,

           and love.

 

Shakiba Hashemi is an Iranian-American poet, painter and teacher living in Southern California.  She is a bilingual poet, and writes in English and Farsi. She holds a BFA in Drawing and Painting from Laguna College of Art and Design. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Atlanta Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Ibbetson Street Magazine, The Indianapolis Review, I-70 Review, Cream City Review, The Summerset Review, Roanoke Review, Collateral and the New York Quarterly Anthology Without a Doubt: poems illuminating faith.

Space Made of Breath – a poem by Maija Haavisto

Space Made of Breath


I emptied the cup and then
poured out the emptiness
but then I looked in and
there was still more

what was your original face
before you were born
and what was the original
face of this cup when it was
still just the dust of the earth?
what was the "i" before it
grew into a self-important capital?
lost its dot into a glazing
that wanted to shine even
though it was just earth
cradled between someone's hands
a container for emptiness
and you can never pour it out
it's too full of itself like I'm
too full of "I" and dust

I am Earth that wants to be
cradled but my bones are
too full of emptiness
and when you look at my breath
it disappears, it was never there
you can't add air into air
and make it separate
why do we try so hard to
draw our diaphragms into
space made of breath?

Maija Haavisto has had two poetry collections published in Finland: Raskas vesi (Aviador 2018) and Hopeatee (Oppian 2020). In English her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in e.g. Moist, Capsule Stories, Soul-Lit, ShabdAaweg Review, The North, Streetcake, ANMLY, Eye to the Telescope, Shoreline of Infinity and Kaleidoscope. Follow her on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/DiamonDie 

Bartimaeus – a poem by Ann Power

 
Bartimaeus  
    
 
Clasp…that holds the darkness…
and it is noon,
and he is fastened beyond his wish
as if wrapped in some morbid shroud without
bindings.
 
He, the blind beggar, the petitioner at Jericho’s gate,
who can never look outward on a vista,
never see a star tumbling from heaven, whose sight,
confined to sightless patterns bleeding into umber-red,
knows by feel, by taste, by touch, but more by intuition,
the world’s activities.
 
He hears the palm fronds that rustle in the morning air,
the sound of sandals on flagstone,
the bells of camels carrying their tired cargo,
the grappling, the laughing of little boys wrestling in the dusty plaza.
 
He smells the scent of lemons and melons exaggerated in the heat,
and the figs and dates on their way to market packed carefully
in their baskets.
 
He feels the tunic of a merchant, busy with the cares of morning,
whisper past his outstretched hand,
feels the warm sand filtered between his toes in his sandal and
the small lizard that unexpectedly slithers over his thigh.
 
Today there is the jostling of a crowd
There is a special excitement…a different crowd…not the one
that gathers for the market busy with the occupations of day,
with the gossip of each passing hour;
not the one that follows a thief, shrill in its cries of pursuit;
nor the one that prepares in hushed voices for the passing of
a dignitary.
 
Something other.  
 
Suddenly a brighter darkness.
It is a fire with warmth, without heat,
and he is drawn like the flower he cannot see to the sun he can
only feel in a
magnetism of divine coercion. 
 
He finds his voice rising from his throat,
uttering the Messianic secret,
discovers himself on his feet stumbling forward
toward a depth he cannot fathom
knowing only the draw and need, seeing
without seeing.
 
Caught by the force that impels him,
he leaves his cloak.
Frightened, without the conceit
of imagined appearances,
he is aware of hands pushing him backwards.
His supplication, his syllables have a sharpness
that surprises.
 
Then a question.
Encouraged by the Prophet’s invitation,
he finds himself in the presence of Him who elicits love.
His knowledge no longer reliant upon lateral effect,
he plumbs the depth of certain understanding, the hidden,
now unobscured.
He comprehends as clearly as if sight were his, and it matters
only little that the circumference of his universe is darkness.
Still, in answer to the question,
he names desire.
 
Then the miracle everyone sees.  It is not
the miracle he feels within, the unexplainable expansion, the
question which no longer needs to be asked but is
answered.
 
Delineation and line and depth and color and 
overwhelming beauty in a breathtaking instant
are his.
 
He sees the sun and understands the shadow.
 

Ann Power is a retired faculty member from The University of Alabama.  She enjoys writing historical sketches as well as poems based in the kingdoms of magical realism. Her work has appeared in: Limestone, Spillway, Gargoyle Magazine, The Birmingham Poetry Review, The American Poetry Journal, Dappled Things, Caveat Lector, The Copperfield Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Amethyst Review, The Loch Raven Review, and other journals. In addition, Ann’s poem, “Ice Palace” (The Copperfield Review) was nominated for Best of the Net in Poetry last year.  

What Right Do Meanings Have To Hide Behind the Things We See – a poem by Rich Boucher

What Right Do Meanings Have
To Hide Behind The Things We See



I saw the alchemy symbol for 
the first breath we breathe
on a bumper sticker
that was on an ambulance 
that was on a busy street
last week

and in that moment 
I knew I’d never get smart enough
to define the one and only meaning
behind what I saw
which, I mean, honestly

is exactly the sort of predicament
that could make you 
start a religion 
without even realizing
that all you had to do
was maybe tell just one other person
to get the whole ball of waxing Moons rolling

and so I guess I’ll tell you
that lately my work days 
get me up before the Sun 
can come through my window,
and this morning
when the gold light shined in
and began to give me some shadows to see
the sunlight through the lace of the window curtain
made this pattern on the wall
that looked precisely and frighteningly 
like the alchemy symbol for honey, 
two fish kissing each other in profile,
the one on the left frowning,
the one on the right smiling,
and I debated on whether to mention it to anyone
until now and so since you are technically anyone
what do you think it all means
or maybe at least can you tell me
what some of it might mean

Rich Boucher resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Rich’s poems have appeared in Bending Genres, Menacing Hedgeand Stink Eye, among others, and he has work forthcoming in Boats Against The Current. Rich is BOMBFIRE Magazine’s Associate Editor, and he is the author of All Of This Candy Belongs To Me.

Mirabai – a poem by John Copley Alter

Mirabai


Your fragrant devotion—charcoal
fire—sandalwood incense burning—

through a long winter inspires me—
each moment tossed into the flame—

each moment a note from the flute
player—handwritten—you find strewn

like flowers when the bridegroom
comes—how—when sunset comes—
			your heart

restlessly begins to hum hymns
of desire—it is becoming

clear—a clearing—your tent pitched—fire
wood gathered—each moment kindling

you offer—prasad—beloved
you sing—come now

John Copley Alter is an elderly foreigner.

Silence – a poem by Janet Krauss

Silence

“...make a poem that does not disturb the silence from which it came.”
Wendell Berry


Silence creates a wide berth
for a poem to be born
and for a poem to leave
 a silence behind
ringing with meaning
and a choir of images,
a silence housed
in a temple or a church,
a silence bedded
in still waters
or reflected
in a child’s eyes
the first time she gazes
at  the  wavering flare
of a lit candle.

Janet Krauss, who has two books of poetry published, Borrowed Scenery, Yuganta Press, and Through the Trees of Autumn, Spartina Press, has recently retired from teaching English at Fairfield University. Her mission is to help and guide Bridgeport’s  young children through her teaching creative writing, leading book clubs and reading to and engaging a kindergarten class. As a poet, she co-directs the poetry program of the Black Rock Art Guild.

I remember, I Fear – a reflection by Tejaswinee Roychowdhury

I Remember, I Fear

Once every year, a good week after the first new moon of Ashwin, if you walk down the shore, southward from the embouchure where the Budhabalanga meets the Bay of Bengal, salt on your skin, wind in your hair, sand between your toes, you will find frozen in time and earth the ten-handed warrior Goddess, the eternal Mother, by her roaring lion. Her eyes, calm like the spring skies, gaze into the horizon where the sea and the sky form a liaison. Her trident strikes the final blow upon her nemesis, the Mahisasura. Her children—the Goddess of wealth, the Goddess of learning, the warrior God, and the elephant-headed God—stand tall on either side with an owl, a swan, a peacock, and a mouse.

I remember.

I remember finding them shaded underneath the chadowa—a holy cloth in patterns of red and white—inside a makeshift bamboo pandal, draped in bright orange and fuchsia fabric.

I remember a raging fire upon a brick altar, a fire, who I was told was sacred, was alive, and a chanting priest fed him ghee.

I remember hypnotic rhythms from a man beating his sticks upon the membrane of a dhak and a boy hammering a thick piece of wood, the size of his palm, on a gong bell; both frantic, both poised.

I remember cotton wicks dipped deep in mustard oil, burning bright in a hundred and eight clay lamps, braving the winds. 

I remember sea and camphor curling into a riveting and unusual aroma.

I remember feeling safe, because the storms in me had ceased—even if for only a moment.

But I fear.

I fear revisiting that place where I saw Goddesses and Gods for the first time, not their idols but in flesh—whatever that means.

I fear my mind, the memories it must have essayed in order to preserve, for perhaps, what I will find is far from what I chose to remember, because I may believe a hut is a fort.

I fear time, for perhaps, I will find ruins of what used to be, because the Goddess picked another shore.

So, I will tell you this: 

If you find yourself on those shores where the Budhabalanga meets the Bay of Bengal, around that time of Ashwin when the Goddess comes home with her children, I pray you regale me with lies, with stories of how that shore lies unchanged, anchored in time, my memories unfrayed, and do so without guilt, otherwise—

I fear I may fracture under the weight of decay. 

Tejaswinee Roychowdhury lives in West Bengal, India, and writes fiction, CNF, and the occasional poetry. Her work has appeared in Ongoing, Alphabet Box, Kitaab, Roi Fainéant Press, Third Lane, and Borderless Journal, among others. She is a lawyer and currently, also a Fiction/Stage Editor for The Storyteller’s Refrain. Twitter: @TejaswineeRC

Envoie – a poem by Joel Moskowitz

 Envoie


Go, little poem,  
into the meadow 
among the sunbeams, 
seedlings in moist loam,
sweet jewelweed, and fallen 

branches. Rest in mottled shade,
for you are my failed prayer,
lightweight.

A slug slides over you,
leaving a luminous trail
like a gentle teacher's marginalia.

You feel exposed,
hear thunder, 
wild voices.

If a snake draws near,
praise its cold scales,
the plates on the turtle’s shell,
and the fox treading lightly.

Now you are 
among them. I'm still 
in my house, gazing out the window,
a mild agoraphobic. But I follow

you as the wind lifts 
you towards the riverbank
among the elusive shorebirds 
in the lapping tide.


Joel Moskowitz is an artist who lives in Sudbury, Massachusetts. His poems have appeared​ in The Comstock Review, Ibbetson Street Press, J Journal, Midstream, Naugatuck River Review, The Healing Muse, MuddyRiverPoetryReview.comBostonPoetryMagazine.comAmethystMagazine.org and Soul-Lit.comHe is a First Prize winner of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire National Contest. 

Letters to a Poet – a poem by Martin Willitts Jr

Letters to a Poet

(With lines, in italics, from Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Book of Hours)

For Wally Swist


1.

There is a spontaneous combustion to changing a life —
a deeper search into the spiritual
spark of life — one spark churning the necessary urge
to change, and the language of change is
not as important as the transformation itself —

only nature contains the alteration
in their native tongue,
its own timbre and virtuoso —
an after-shook, a settling-in,
following the change —

all breathless and breathtaking —
leading us to a new place
where we search for the Creator
and the Creator searches for us,
and we meet in the middle
on common ground.

We are unable to talk, not knowing what to say
or how to say it — how can we express amazement
while discovering solace?
We can allow ourselves to merge with Spirit.

We are startled to find spirituality
outside the structure of church —
but we shouldn’t be surprised;
after all, spirituality is everywhere.
Why wouldn’t spirituality be found in the most natural places?
Spirituality doesn’t play hide-and-seek;
it wants to be sought and discovered.

We are all workmen building spirituality.
We construct spirituality in our hearts so we may find our Creator
and its many names, many faces, many voices,
many stillness in necessary places — both wholeness
and absence, always wanting to enter us.

Martin Willitts Jr is a Quaker poet. He has over 20 full-length collections including How to Be Silent (FutureCycle Press, 2016); Unfolding of Love (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2020); and forthcoming Leaving Nothing Behind (Fernwood Press, 2022). He is an editor for The Comstock Review.

The Tea Party – a story by M. Anne Alexander

The Tea Party

We’d come to visit Aunt May’s grave: to clear weeds, to plant new flowers, to water those still alive. The sun seemed to have absorbed her smile, her warmth, her wit, her spirit: I’d always thought that they could never be snuffed out. 

A chattering couple entered from the lych-gate, arms full of flowers. Seeing us by her grave, they fell in like old friends, regaling tales of times shared with her and her mother. Their flowers were fresh cut, frequently renewed, as they lived close by. Familiarly, they replenished their father’s grave – and then their mother’s – and then her father’s – and then her husband’s father’s mother … till the graveyard felt like a field full of their family folk.

The waving of their arms merged with the murmuring movements of the branches of the Spring green trees in the warm breeze. The directing of their eyes seemed to awaken their folk from their graves, till the churchyard became peopled with chattering souls. They named each, fondly, and yet accepted that they were gone.

They showed where they had booked their own plots – for, as they said, the one thing certain in life is that their turns would come. And this was where they wanted to rest. 

“Of course,” they said, “the village isn’t as it used to be – all commuters coming in now. They come. They go.” They nodded ahead, to indicate their family home, close by, to which they had now to return for tea.

We walked footpaths that marked ancient ways. The trees were slow to meet the month of May, but flowers bloomed and animals busied themselves as if we were invisible to them. Rabbits flew through the fields. A deer flashed past, surprised, rather than shy. Birds settled, fearless as in a fairy tale.

There never had been time to walk when driving down before Aunt May had died. Then, the Bank Holiday heat had been merciless, melting the roads, choking the traffic. I’d advised our son not to drive down to visit her, not knowing… A lone crow had looked at us, from the hospital gates. I had noted that, in a story, this could be a horrible omen, but I’d not believed in these things.

At the peak of a wooded hill was an empty cottage. An old man, in ancient sack-cloth toned jacket and trousers, appeared. We were walking baked chalk tracks that were once a main thoroughfare, he told us, in his quiet, clear voice, while his gaze seemed settled on something far away. The last resident had left, he said, because it wasn’t worth the cost of bringing power here. “See this sandstone?” he said. “Bricks were made here, on the spot, for our cottages. Water was here…” He pointed to a well in the garden. It drew on a now-dry spring at the foot of the hill, he said.

A summerhouse … in the cottage garden … Were children still playing here, in this little world within the woods? Bright cottage flowers – mostly red and yellow – asserted themselves from out of the tangled earth, and jasmine and honeysuckle reached their tendrils over the hedgerows, as if assuring us that life went on.

That night, we slept in Aunt May’s still too-silent house, and I dreamt of a tea party in the garden. Old friends of hers were there. Then our daughter, Rachel, approached, carrying her own cup. One lady lifted the teapot, the other lifted the jug of milk, but neither poured into her waiting cup. Instead, they stared coldly at her distressed face. They seemed to be making excuses not to help her, though they acknowledged among themselves that she had already done more than most would ever do to help herself. “The war, you know… and then the family… and now…”… their excuses.

“Oh no, don’t fade away!” she was crying. “Where else can I turn?”

“Not to the dead,” they called.

I awoke, stunned, ashamed. “What are we doing?” I asked. “What about her grief?” I fumbled in the dark for my mobile telephone. Then remembered that it was the middle of the night and that, anyway, there was no signal here. 

Only when we returned home the next day did we learn that she and her friend had been robbed on a bus in London, on their way home from orchestra – of her brave defence – of others’ cowardice – of the uselessness of cameras and police – of the injustice…

Not knowing that, I’d slept again. This time I had dreamt that we were walking in that beautiful hinterland again. Only, Jack had wandered further on. So I was the one to be stopped by a police car. The man and woman police officer inside had wound their window down, and had spoken gently. There were still things that needed to be done, they said, that had not been done: I had to speak to him.

Next, in the dream, I saw Aunt May, sitting in her chair. In the dream, I looked towards Jack, to see if he saw her too. He saw, but looked away. Aunt May sat straight as she had always done, gracefully, so like our daughter. They’d always been close. Aunt May had told us that she expected to die soon, and that her one regret would be not living to see Rachel developing her career.

In the dream, Aunt May’s eyes twinkled, as if the sadness that had settled silently there was pierced now with peace, even joy. “Please stop calling me back,” she asked, smiling, stretching out her arms. “Take my hand,” she urged. “Feel that I am for real.” Her delicate wrist was unmistakable, as was her warm, gentle grasp – like no-one else’s, except Rachel’s. “I don’t want to stay here anymore,” she explained. “I had a life before you were born and I’m where I want to be forever now.”

She appeared young. Perhaps it was the way she was around the end of the war, for there was a surprising lack of softness in the fabric of her dress, and an unsubtle brightness in her lipstick. Her gently waving hair was parted at the side, as of that day, but her soft facial features were as always, delicate as a porcelain doll, like Rachel’s.

Her eyes would not stop speaking to me – would not fade until I finished thinking through what she seemed to be telling me. Had Aunt May found again her first love, who had died in the war? Was this not what I would want to believe – that she was with him now forever, at the age they were then?  I would not drag her back any more.

And I had to help others to move on. 

But how?

“Remember when we came to tend Auntie’s grave…?” I began. 

M. Anne Alexander’s background is as a lecturer in English and teacher of Music. She turned to writing poetry, generally exploring restorative relationships with Nature, as an outcome of counselling. Her latest publications are the poetry pamphlet, Wildflowers (Poetry Space, December 2021) and a story, Flight, ShabdAaweg (January 2022).