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All that Jazz

Riffs & ImprovisationsReading Riffs & Improvisations, the new collection of poems by Gregory Luce, was like stepping into a time machine for me. The beat pulses powerfully, lyrically from the pages, from the first poem, “Music to It,” to the last, “Return to a Love Supreme.” 

If I could just put music to it
this feeling that drives me
through the Metro station
wanting to dance and glide
like a disembodied spirit
seen and not seen
between all these other bodies 

So begins the collection, taking me back, way back, to when I was single and living in Washington, DC. We haunted Blues Alley and the late-lamented Bohemian Caverns in those days, feeling the music pound in our souls. Or, as Luce puts it in “Double Bass

The plucked notes of the bass
mimic my heartbeats and then
the bow draws out a long
low moan the way your hand did
drawn across my back.

These are love poems--love of jazz, of a partner, of the city. Holding lived experience up to the light so readers see the transcendent in the ordinary … that’s what the best poetry does. In a 2016 interview with Delphi Quarterly, Luce says, “I seem to get a great deal of my inspiration in times of quiet reflection or observation” and goes on to explain that he wants “readers to take a fresh look at the things around them, even the seemingly most mundane, and see their unexpected beauty.” Take, for example, his short poem “Improvisation: ‘Better git in in your soul.’”

Better embrace it like Mingus’
bass, stroke it, caress it, pull it in,
draw it like smoke, drink it
like old bourbon burning
all the way down.
Then give it back.  

Luce, who grew up in the Midwest, has been actively involved in the DMV poetry scene for years. (That’s District, Maryland, and Virginia, not Department of Motor Vehicles.) He serves on the board of directors of DC-based Day Eight, whose mission is “to empower individuals and communities to participate in the arts through the production, publication, and promotion of creative projects.” One of those projects is Bourgeon, which showcases visual, performing, and literary arts, including, of course, poetry.

Thanks for your many contributions to poetry, Gregory Luce. And thanks for the music.

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Thanksgiving Coda

Gratitude JournalAnd speaking of thanks, shouldn’t every day be Thanksgiving? OK, that’s a corny thing to say, but think about it. Think of all the things you’re thankful for, even in dark days, even when all’s definitely not right with the world. Some days it’s hard to come up with much of a list, but even then, I’m grateful for the urge to write, no matter the result. A few years ago, I put it like this:

Gratitude Journal
bySally Zakariya

I’m grateful for the obvious
(family, friends, health)
but also the more obscure –
for the difference between
what something is and what
it appears to be and the space
in between and the circuitous
routes we take in that space.

And for the space between words,
between music notes--pauses
that can say so much.

And then there’s the vast space
between Saturn and its rings,
revealed when the spacecraft
Cassini flew near, then dove
into destruction in the planet’s
atmosphere.

And most of all I’m grateful
or the curiosity and itch
that drives us humans
to see things differently
to write poetry and music,
to reach beyond our own
small planet.

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The Guardian

The ShomerThe dead shouldn’t be left alone “like a piece of luggage in a locker someplace,” says Rabbi Shloma Freed of West Hollywood’s Chevra Kadisha Mortuary. Someone should stand watch, and for observant Jews, that person is the Shomer, or guardian, who safeguards the body of the deceased until burial.

“More generally, the term Shomer has been used to describe an individual who acts as a guardian in the context of both daily routines and significant life events,” writes Ellen Sazzman in her new poetry book The Shomer. “The goal of the Shomer,” she continues, “is to witness, to attend, and to protect those who can no longer protect themselves. Under the best of circumstances, the Shomer gains a glimpse into the liminal, into what happens in the space between love and loss, hunger and fulfillment, forgetting and remembering.”

And that’s just what Ellen does in her accomplished poems, from the book’s first lines (“To Chaya”),

Before I can tell her I love her, before

I am with her and the eyes, the eyes
are closed at Torchinsky’s Funeral Home …

to the closing prose poem, “The Fast,” she keeps watch over family, love, history, and belief with an eye that is both tender and confident and sometimes humorous. (“Men like a little fat to grab hold of as long as it’s tender,” she writes in “Brisket Wars.” “Learn to make / the bloody recipe. Be generous. Brisket’s a forgiving cut, a very forgiving cut.”)

I’ve been in classes with Ellen for years and can’t read her poems without hearing her distinctive voice, seeing in my mind’s eye the picture she draws:

My Father’s Last Visit to Marconi Beach
by Ellen Sazzman

Five months before his fluid-filled lungs drown
further breath, a nurse’s aide the sole witness
to his death, we watch Father challenge the tide
for what seems like hours, his knees so swollen
he can barely stand. His unspoken wish:
to submerge into the numbing Atlantic,
to swim beyond the whitecaps following
his long-gone brothers’ flickering shadows
crooning riddled shanties. He clutches
the waistband of his too-big trunks. Waves knock him
hard against rocky sand. Already battered
by disease and its harsh cures, he lurches

up again. Finally he sits, lets the breakers
take him under. We jump fast, drag him out.

(Note how the break before the final couplet lets you know that, yes, this is a sonnet.) Published by Finishing Line Press, The Shomer is Ellen’s first book of poetry but not, I hope, her last.

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The Plumber

Even the most everyday events can find their way into poems. Clearing out clogged drains is a pretty uninteresting task, but the plumber who helps us is anything but. I wrote about him recently, and Third Wednesday was kind enough to publish the poem:

Plumbing
by Sally Zakariya

The plumber comes to deal with the shower

We see him once or twice a year
this slight, dark man from Ethiopia

When he’s done he joins us for a cup of tea
strokes the cat, murmurs in its ear

I want to ask him about the civil war
raging in his country but instead
I say how I admire the churches
cut from living bedrock

They’re built by angels, the story goes

I picture cherubim with hammers and chisels
carving a haven for the spirit

I’ve never been to Lalibela, he says
I hope someday to go there

Meanwhile he scours down clogged drains
to clear away the detritus of life

The same link will take you to another of my poems as well. Thank you, Third Wednesday.

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9/11 + 20

Julia FreyIt changed everything. We remember where we were when we heard the dreadful news and saw the towers fall, images etched forever in our memories. Now, 20 years later, we’re inundated with pundits, politicians, and historians telling us what it all meant then, what it means for America now and going forward.

It’s worth listening to people who lived through it. Julia Frey, whose poem “For Ron, Dead Ten Years” appeared here a few months ago, was there when the planes hit and wrote about it--a gripping first-hand experience:

Very quietly Ron said, “You know, I think the Towers are going to go. Maybe we’d better get out of here.”

We suddenly realized that if either of the Towers fell at a certain angle, our building was directly in the line of fall. Above the raging flames, the perpendicular steel I-beams were beginning to bulge out, softening in the heat.

Again his unnaturally quiet voice, “I can’t stay here. If the Towers fall on us, I’ll die of fright.”

Her book, Balcony View: Living at Ground Zero after 9/11, is now available in a 20th anniversary edition from Amazon. That day I was in my office just a few miles from the Pentagon. Sometime later, I wrote about the experience in a poem that also appeared here a while ago and was published in the 2020 anthology Written in Arlington, edited by Arlington Poet Laureate Emerita Katherine E. Young and published by Paycock Press:

September Song
by Sally Zakariya

It seemed like the ruination
of everything yet we went on
some things got better, some got worse
and we were left marveling
at what we could handle, wondering
what would come next

Three miles from the Pentagon
we saw a rain of objects, stuffing
from airplane seats, floating,
drifting, insubstantial yet
consequential, some landing
on the office roof while inside
we watched it all unfold
in real time on the screen

Years later we are still wondering …
wondering after a summer
of destruction overseas, disparity
at home, slaughter of innocents
in the streets, dreading now
what could come next

Also from Written in Arlington is this moving day-after poem by my friend Jackie Jules:

September 12th
by Jacqueline Jules

Muscled men with sun-drenched skin
were out the next morning at 9 a.m.
fighting weeds with gas-powered blades.

After hours of watching the smoking rubble
of collapsed buildings on a TV screen,
it was a comfort to sit at a stoplight
and watch men sweat
over bushes and green grass
in the bright September sun--a comfort
to see others resuming jobs as if
the lives we led on Monday still mattered.

Yesterday's siege of smoke and sirens
had not touched this tree-lined street
too far from the Pentagon to smell the flames.
I drove on familiar roads,
flanked by buildings and sidewalks
unchanged by the dark voice on the radio
reporting the dead and missing.

Except for light traffic, the streets
appeared to lead back to Monday's
aggravation over a broken copier and
cheap toilet paper in the ladies--
not stories of spouses who saw the plane hit,
children who felt the rumble in their classrooms.

I drove on, recalling the wide blue eyes
of the woman on the lobby couch,
silent tears inching down her cheeks
while the dark voice on the radio
reported smoke at the Pentagon,
swallowing the world we knew before.

That world, “the world we knew before,” has been changed in huge and heart-breaking ways--and in subtle ways that continue to affect our lives. Twenty years on, we commemorate those who were lost. And we muddle on.

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Stargazing

Rochus HessYou don’t have to be an astronomer to be entranced by the night sky. I’m a sucker for stars, so when he talks about constellations and planetary motion, I listen with awe to my husband, who knows enough about the sky to design and make sundials and astrolabes.

Measurement and instruments are his domain; words are mine. My thanks to Gregory Luce and the good folks at Day Eight for publishing four of my poems, along with a gorgeous photo by Rochus Hess, in Bourgeon, a beautiful initiative to bring arts and audiences together around literary, visual, and performing works. Here’s one of my poems, which appeared online in late May:

Star Light, Star Bright
      “The universe is under no obligation to make
        sense to you.”--Neil deGrasse Tyson

I never asked the stars to spell your name
or said the sun should rise especially for us,
and when the full moon went into eclipse
I never thought night darkened just for us
and us alone.

There’s something to be said for planets,
how they ride their measured rings
around the sun, and something to be said
for meteorites, those rocky tears
the cosmos sheds.

But let science say what can be said
about it all--it makes no sense to me.
I watch in wonder as the heavens
wheel and drink it in, enthralled.

So when you talk of perihelion
or perigee, event horizon or
ecliptic, I nod, then smile inside
and think, how lucky that the stars
aligned for us.

You can read all four here.
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Snow in August

Last month I posted a poem called “Winter Memory,” which was a finalist in the Wingless Dreamer winter poetry contest and published in Snowdrops. That title caught poet Mike Levin’s eye, and he sent me his own poem by that name:

Snowdrops
   Michael H. Levin

Who’d think
these slender stems
could pierce gunmetal snow
presenting arms through gusts
that polarize the hollows of my bones

yet here
they rise--demure
white caps, pure offerings
of spring: extended by
a netherworld whose darker invites

bide their time below.

It may be summer now, but when fall comes, winter won’t be far behind. Read more of Mike’s work here.
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Revise, Revise

On my bulletin board, the postcard from the Poetry Society of America reminds me daily to revise and then revise again. You know how it is. You write a poem one morning, then sit back and feel good about it. By evening, you see it’s not so good after all. And the next day … Well, let’s just say your terrific new poem needs some work. Maybe a lot of work.

Revision, in other words, is an integral part of poetry.

“Revision is my favorite part of the writing process,” writes poet Maggie Smith on that terrific blog Lit Hub. “I relish the creative problem-solving more than the rush of getting it down. If you’re like me, your poem might go through anywhere from two to two hundred drafts before you’re satisfied enough with it to call it ‘done’ and send it out. Each revision, ideally, gets us closer to the poem we sense is there, waiting. The poem that will do the psychic or spiritual work we want it to do.”

"But,” Smith continues, “each revision can also pull us farther away from the initial spark of the poem. This tension, this push and pull, is what makes revision dynamic and exciting: we are hunting something but are not quite clear about what it looks like or how to find it."

Smith goes on to compare her published poem “At the End of Our Marriage, in the Backyard” with an early draft and finds that the two are surprisingly similar. What has changed, she writes, is sound and rhythm. “I’m looking and listening for consonants and vowels as I draft,” she says, “but also the rhythms of sentences.”

The moral of the tale, in Smith’s words: “The first draft of a poem is almost always the not-right words in the not-right order.” Read her essay here.
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In Between

BaynaBaynaI was reading a news article about the fragile Israel-Gaza ceasefire when my friend’s book arrived. Bayna Bayna: In-Between, by poet and Palestinian activist Zeina Azzam, is a moving and powerful exploration of what it’s like to be an immigrant. “It reflects the feeling of being in-between identities,” Zeina writes, “between home and exile, between childhood and adulthood, between wholeness and loss, between living and dying … somehow always in-between.”

My family has been here for generations, so I’ve never had to feel the sad tug of a homeland left behind. But reading Zeina’s vivid, passionate poems, I feel a kinship with her and others who have been forced to leave the land they belong to, the land that once belonged to them.

Here is the first poem from Bayna Bayna: In-Between:

Colors for the Diaspora
by Zeina Azzam

Blue-green watery globe
tugging to a red core
we are a distant comet,
white cloud of unburnished rocks,
frisking the heavens
for an arc
to earth, sea, home.
Green-brown Palestine,
cactus fruit and wild thyme,
olive orchards, cypress trees…
we travel on your mountain tops
tethered by voices from suitcases
and the yaw of blackened keys.
Blue-black night
silver stars of ancestors
traveling a displaced orbit
around a lost sun, repeating:
when will we see the colors of our land,
when will we land….

I know Zeina didn’t time the publication of her book to coincide with the disheartening news of new fighting between Israel and Hamas. She’s been writing her memories in poems for years. But the book appears at a time when, as Washington, D.C., poet E. Ethelbert Miller writes of it, “we are all Palestinians. We are all people of the blue-green watery globe.”
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And Speaking of Memory

A little poem I wrote some years ago was kindly named a finalist in the Wingless Dreamer winter poetry contest and is published in Snowdrops. It’s spring now, verging rapidly into summer, but winter isn’t that far gone.

Winter Memory
by Sally Zakariya
     For my father

Snow silent, white blind
I grasp the immensity
the distance from then to now

There is room under the waiting sky
for all that used to be
for all we had and never had

     The smell of your pipe
     the strength of your arm
     the long life denied you

I summon them up
from the bleak expanse
as the snow falls .

My thanks to Wingless Dreamer. Now it’s time to think about summer poems.
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‘Something Like a Life’

Manna in the MorningPutting it out there. That’s what poets do, day after day, hoping someone, somewhere, will respond. I can’t count how many rejections I’ve received (well, I probably could, but I don’t really want to). But each rejection makes that out-of-the-blue acceptance all the more gratifying. Even thrilling.

That’s how I felt when one of my favorite online poetry journals, Gyroscope Review, accepted my chapbook “Something Like a Life,” due out the end of April. Like a lot of my writing, the poems in this chapbook are about family and love ... not exactly exciting subject matter, but themes I think many people can relate to. If you’re one of those people, you can order a copy here. Meanwhile, here’s the title poem:

Ode to Trash
by Sally Zakariya

Something like a life
spills from the bin
breakfast egg shells
yesterday’s junk mail
a torn glove and its mate
worthless alone
like many of us

We have the capacity
to love entirely, even
bits and pieces we’ve
discarded--outdated,
unneeded, unwanted
until it’s too late

Love is a process of loss
the off-hand see you
the tossed-out letters
the distance from the other
the final farewell

I take out the trash unsure
the bin is big enough
to hold it all--all the debris
and detritus, the mistakes
and missteps, unsure
if I can live without
what I’ve cast away

My thanks to Gyroscope editor Constance Brewer for her thoughtful work bringing this little book into being.
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A Friend Writes …

Perhaps I should say “an email friend.” And perhaps it’s presumptive of me to call a woman I’ve never met a friend. But that’s one of the wonders of our interconnected cyber-society. Put something out there online, and you never know who, if anyone, will read it. But recently I got an email that began: “Thanks, first of all, for existing! And thanks for offering to let us lonely poets share a poem. I live in France where it’s hard to get much feedback. I hope someone will have thoughts on the poem below…”

The writer was Julia Frey, and my thoughts on her poem are that it’s a strong and visual narrative that tells a moving story. Here it is:

For Ron, Dead Ten Years
   by Julia Frey

Today, I could swear I saw you crossing
the rue du Four a block ahead, in that black-visored cap
you wore before, and your worn bomber jacket
from the second-hand store in Trastevere market
complete with stab wound
and “Nicola” written in ballpoint pen on the label.

That summer we sublet in via Mamele,
though later we found a better Boob City, Jerusalem
breasting with cupolas. Rome too polluted to milk
for our long rambles. We came home coughing
from the catacombs.
Even then death hovered.

Today you looked just like you
before you were sick, confident profile
gangster chic, out of sync with the hesitant walk
you'd developed. When you took the last fall in New York
my shock, to come back to Paris and find
your letters kept coming, weeks after.

What on earth made you fall for
a nouveau pauvre Southern belle with worn-out
Persian rugs, an arm-long pedigree and a potty mouth?
Me the effete, you the resolute Bad Boy
from Brooklyn, bourgeois-hating, astoundingly reliable
in money matters. Always out to get laid.

You, who loved words too much to
defile with a one-night stand. To say fuck or shit
or read trash novels. You said it was the sex.
It kept us together
in beds and on beaches
for twenty-five years.

Now I'm a fresh fish drifting
in a different salt sea. I see France
from my bedroom. But beach-combing in Cannes I still watch
for a letter in a bottle. And I still go back to Paris
where certain days I
wear Nicola’s jacket.

When I asked Julia for a photo to accompany her poem, she sent this one, explaining it’s one she plans to use if/when she publishes a book of poetry and photos by her brother, a retired Associated Press photographer. “It’s not an illustration but a free association,” Julia wrote, “a photo showing a complex facet of disorientation in a foreign culture.” I couldn’t agree more.

Nolet

Nuns on an outing in Florence, photo by Cameron Bloch.

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Biblical Truths

Manna in the MorningPoetry plays many roles, not least of which are healing and connection. Consider Manna in the Morning, by Jacqueline Jules, just published by Kelsay Books. In 40-some graceful poems, Jules reaches back to the Old Testament to bring valuable lessons to herself and her readers. It’s a book you’ll want to read with a friend.

But don’t take my word for it. “Manna in the Morning is, quite simply, a lovely book,” says Erika Dreifus, author of Birthright: Poems and The Practicing Writer newsletter. “As she revisits holy texts, Jacqueline Jules gracefully connects ancient stories with modern times, gaining insights into her own quandaries and gently suggesting paths through which all of us may traverse our conflicts and crises.”

I grew up on the same Bible stories as my friend Jackie did (though through an Episcopalian, rather than a Jewish, lens), but it takes a special poet to gently tease out their meanings for modern-day life. What lesson might the parting of the Red Sea, for example, have for us today? Here’s Jackie’s trenchant take:

Crossing the Red Sea
   Jacqueline Jules

The rabbis say
Reuven and Shimon
crossed the Red Sea,
eyes down, grumbling,
so engrossed in grievances
they missed the miracle
of the waters parting.

Fleeing affliction,
I’ve been guilty, too,
of seeing only
the mud beneath my feet,
dwelling on the bricks
and burdened backs of Egypt,
ignoring outstretched arms
ready to hold me until
I reach the other side.

Jackie relates these ancient stories with nuance and sensitivity, but not without humor. In “Joseph’s Fortune and Mine,” a tale of “good fortune following calamity” she reassures us: “But no worries, [Joseph] found success as a slave / in Egypt. Appointed head of household / until Potiphar’s wife brazenly pursued / his beautiful biceps.”

These are poems of faith and hope, of grief and consolation. Observing the sky in the gorgeously titled “Consolation of Clouds,” Jules feels sunlight streaming through clouds as if it were “fingers / reaching down / to wipe the tears / from my cheeks.” To which I can only add Amen.

Learn more about Jacqueline Jules here and here.
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Poetry of Place

Written in ArliingtonLook at a map of Washington, D.C., and you’ll see what might have been a perfect square but with a good chunk of land cut off by the Potomac River. Part of that chunk, which was ceded back to Virginia some time after the city was founded, is Arlington County. It’s an almost-urban suburb that probably has as much in common with the District as it does with the state. And it’s full of poets.

One of the best known is Arlington Poet Laureate Emerita Katherine E. Young, who compiled an impressive collection of Arlington poems, Written in Arlington, published by Paycock Press. With its YouTube companion Spoken in Arlington, the anthology mirrors the county’s diversity in content as well as contributors. As Katherine puts it, “The poets whose work appears in Written in Arlington range from nationally known page poets to spoken word artists to high school students just beginning to write and perform, as well as a few ‘tourist’ poets who have written about Arlington while passing through.”

The bike trail, a local hardware store, the animal shelter, a pink house, hillbilly music, the cemetery, a couple of neighborhoods, a car covered with poetry magnets … these subjects and dozens more add up to a rich tapestry of place, add up to a community.

And yes (you knew this was coming), I do have a few poems in the collection, including this one:

September Song
   Sally Zakariya

It seemed like the ruination
of everything yet we went on
some things got better, some got worse
and we were left marveling
at what we could handle, wondering
what would come next

Three miles from the Pentagon
we saw a rain of objects, stuffing
from airplane seats, floating,
drifting, insubstantial yet
consequential, some landing
on the office roof while inside
we watched it all unfold
in real time on the screen

Years later we are still wondering
… wondering after a summer
of destruction overseas, disparity
at home, slaughter of innocents
in the streets, dreading now
what could come next

My thanks to Katherine, and to Arlington, for being part of such an endeavor, and such a place.

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Bees, AgainWhy I Do Not Trim My Mint

When I retired and started writing poetry instead of magazine articles, I joined a writers’ group sponsored by the county’s senior programs. A few months in, one woman asked why I kept writing poems about insects. Why indeed? It wasn’t on purpose, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that insects are not uninteresting. As I wrote in the intro to my resulting little book Insectomania, “… who can fail to be moved by a life cycle that starts with years of grubbing, followed by a short span of mating, and then death. Rather like our own lives, writ small.” The poems weren’t my best, but I had fun padding them with trenchant quotes on bugs and Victorian naturalists’ illustrations of the creatures. It seems I still write about insects every now and then, and I’m delighted to say a new literary journal called Mycorrhizae is publishing a poem of mine about bees in its very first issue, now on the press.

Why I Do Not Trim My Mint
              In the name of the bee--Emily Dickinson

In the herb garden the mint slants
north, each stalk its own compass needle

Finding their way, three bees hover over
the blossoms, drawn by the promise of pollen

Their busy buzz lulls me as I laze
here on the porch, dreaming of blooms

and of the world bees make possible
for us, a world of fields and fruitfulness

Cut the mint before it flowers, they say
but where would these three forage then?

Mycorrhizae, you ask? So did I. It turns out a mycorrihza is a symbiotic association between a fungus and a plant--a fit name for a journal that describes itself as exploring “our lived experiences of place, climate change, and nature.”

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Meter and Rhyme
But Not All the Time

As anyone can no doubt guess from the title of my blog, I’m not a big fan of strict meter and rhyme--especially when they force poets to twist syntax. Some writers handle this kind of poetry well; turns out I’m not one of them.

Turns out, too, that I’m not alone in noticing the lengths people can go to in slavish dedication to meter and rhyme. Recently, Patsy Anne Bickerstaff, a Virginia poet and author of Mrs. Noah's Journal, sent me a little poem she’s had fun with. She has used it, she says, “just to let everyone know what they didn't have to do!” And like me, she says she’s “not averse to verse by meter and rhyme … but not bound to it either.”

Autobiography, Chapter One
              By Patsy Anne Bickerstaff

A poet there was, once ‘pon a time,
Who verses forced to make them rhyme
Or into meter better fit;
Adept she did become at it.

Liberally she used, “you see,”
So well it went with “thou” and “thee.”
Adjectives beautiful and trite
And gay, she’d write with all her might.

Editors she oft appalled
With rhymes that did not rhyme at all.
When offered help, she cried, “Don’t start!”
“I do my writing from the heart!”

Tho’ she submitted, o’er and o’er,
Rejections she received galore.
To shock she tried, with language blue;
The S.O.B.’s sent that back, too:

“Sorry, we accept this not;
Can’t tell we you’re saying what?”

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Block PartyJuneteenth Words

June 19, of all days … the African-American girl across the street chalked some moving words from MLK on her family’s driveway and down onto the street, and a nameless neighbor complained. The county sent workers to power wash the words out. Most of our neighbors were outraged, and families descended on our block with chalk and paint and Black Lives Matter signs. Rains have washed some of the words away, but each time, the chalk team replaces them. The county, rightly, has apologized.

Juneteenth Words
              There comes a time when silence is
              betrayal.--Martin Luther King Jr.


Justice for all--wise words chalked
in bright yellow down the driveway
spilling onto sidewalk and street

Words we must heed in these days
of reckoning, of reassessment
of long-delayed reparations

Black lives matter--words washed
away by county workers with power
hoses on this day of all days

Saddened and outraged say neighbors
who grab chalk and paint to make
words bloom from house to house

Silence is betrayal--it’s time
for us all to speak up

My thanks to New Verse News for publishing my little poem the next day.

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‘The Literary Life’

How has the pandemic affected your work? Most writers no doubt have their own answers, but an interesting collection of responses to that question can be found in the July/August issue of Poets and Writers magazine. “What We Found in Writing: Authors on Creativity in Quarantine” includes essays from 13 writers. Here are brief excerpts from five poets:

  • “I think creating during these unfathomable times is both impossible and necessary for me. … There is some breath, some distance, maybe there is even a sense of possibility in despair.”--Ada Limon, author of “The Carrying “(Milkweed Editions)

  • I write now to tell off the pandemic, in a way. To prove that writing as an act can and will endure. It might not ‘save’ us, but I do know it will always be here for us.”--Victoria Chang, author of “Obit” (Copper Canyon Press)

  • “These days distractions drive my drafts. I’m easily distracted on the page and off--too close to the moment, too anxious about it, to write with any real intention.”--Nicole Sealey, author of “Ordinary Beast” (Ecco)

  •  “I feel lucky I think of poems as things that sometimes live on the page and sometimes just happen around me and never find the page.”--Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of “Rocket Fantastic” (Persea)

  • “If, when I return exhausted from a ride, I momentarily forget that I can weather through this, too, I remind myself of the words of one of my teachers, the late poet Philip Levine … ‘The process of writing poetry depends on being alone in a room and being comfortable being alone for long periods of time--amongst reveling in solitude and slow time.’”--Janine Joseph, author of “Driving Without a License” (Alice James Books)
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Writing While YoungInside Out

Calling all teachers and parents. In these strange new days of ours, a great way to engage bored and lonely young people is poetry … writing about themselves, about the world, about themselves in the world.

Just in time comes Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems, by Marjorie Maddox, a professor of English and creative writing at Lock Haven University who has published an impressive 20 collections of poetry and prose. Written for young writers, the book bristles with writing tools and ideas designed to show kids that “poetry” isn’t a bad word. “Chat with personification, dance with iambic, fish for sestinas, and text with a triolet,” Maddox writes on a welcome page. “In 27 poems plus Insider Exercises, this book will jump-start your writing.”

Chapters on how to see, hear, taste, smell, touch, and “befriend” a poem lure the reader into the poetry world, where Maddox provides a bevy of explanations and examples of such poetic elements as simile, alliteration, enjambment, and couplet. She then moves on to exercises designed to limber up the reader’s poetry muscles. Here’s an excerpt from one I like:

Exercise 7: The Short and Long of It

Here’s an experiment: Copy a poem that you like, twice, but take out the line and stanza breaks, so the poem appears as one big block of words. Give one copy to a friend.… Now, this part is secret. Without showing a friend what you are doing, each of you rewrite the poem with completely different line and stanza breaks.… How do the same words now seem a bit different? You may notice that you read a long line more quickly than a shorter one and that you tend to emphasize words at the beginning and the end of lines.… Next, take a poem that you wrote earlier and rewrite it with different line and stanza breaks. What happens? Which version do you like better? Why?

You don’t have to be a beginner in the poetry game to see how eye-opening an exercise like this can be. Try it. I did and was tempted to keep going in this useful and alluring book

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Pollack and Poetry

Poets are Zooming these days about their work in Heron Clan Poetry Anthology VIII, due out this month from Katherine James Books. The series, begun in 1999, features poets from all over North Carolina, as well as the United States and abroad. This year, editor Doug Stuber included one of my poems in the anthology:

Measured Flow

          Scientists reveal the physics of Jackson Pollack’s
          painting technique.-- Brown University, 10/30/19

Drizzling honey on my breakfast toast
I watch it pool in spiral like a snake.
Coiling instability scientists call it.

So, what did Jackson Pollack know
of fluid dynamics when he poured paint
on canvas to make art?

Did he experiment or did he just intuit
the way thick liquids tend to curl
when poured from up above?

You might think any kid could do it,
but no – no random swirls in Pollack’s
art, no mere splatters, drips, or drabs.

It’s measured flow, say physicists
who tried it. Instinct or intellect, Pollack
harnessed science for his art.

Toast in hand, I ponder how to harness
science for my poems, to taste creation
in the discipline and skill.

My thanks to Doug and all the herons in the clan!

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Poetry and PlaguePoetry

Can words heal? I’m not sure, but they can definitely help. As the world worries its way through the terrifying corona virus pandemic, I’m thankful that it’s National Poetry Month. Each day my email bursts with poetry, words that take me out of myself and give me comfort, meaning, and hope. Some poems bring wisdom and wit; some provide new perspective; all provide a way toward connection in a fractured world.

These are the daily poems I receive:

  • Poetry Daily, a partnership between the Daily Poetry Association and George Mason University

  • Poem-a-Day, from the Academy of American Poets, which offers lots of specials for Poetry Month

  • Knopf Poetry, a daily poem in April from the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

  • The Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith, poems “hand-picked” by former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith, from American Public Media in partnership with the Poetry Foundation

  • The Writer's Almanac, from Garrison Keillor

Closer to home, my friend Zeina Azzam, a poet and Palestinian activist, is posting her own selection of poems on Facebook, one each day during April. Her post so far have included wonderful pieces by Pablo Neruda, Jane Hirshfield, Wendell Berry, and others.

Another friend, Mike Maggio, Northern Regional Vice-President for the Poetry Society of Virginia, presents poetry each April day in a feature called 30 for 30, sponsored by Potomac Review. This year, which he’s calling Re(En)Vision, Mike has asked poets to take an original poem, delete every fifth word, and revise the poem, presenting it in stanzaic form (couplets, tercet, quatrains, etc.). The results are intriguing.

Finally, Katherine E. Young, former poet laureate of Arlington, Virginia, is posting a poem each day this month on Facebook. The poems are drawn from Written in Arlington, an anthology of Arlington poets edited by Katherine and forthcoming from Gargoyle Magazine/Paycock Press.

A daily dose of poetry may not cure covid 19, but don’t you feel better?

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Meanwhile, Somewhere in the Universe …

The latest issue of The Poeming Pigeon, an annual print journal brought to you by the wonderful folks at The Poetry Box, has taken the cosmos as its theme. The issue includes a poem of mine:

Immigrant Star

          Alien Asteroids Are Here, Scientists Say. Get
          Used to Them.--New York Times, 5/21/18

Spinning from the interstellar
nursery, it joined our solar system,
a foundling from another star, t
taking up residence with Jupiter,
sharing the planet’s orbit
but like a willful child circling
the wrong way.

Call it an immigrant, torn
from its mother, wandering
through space to find a home.
Linked now with our largest planet
in orbital resonance.

Now we can search beyond
our own sun to the far reaches
of the cosmos, track alien bodies
back to the big bang. If our solar system
can take in migrants, surely we can too,
welcoming them to join with us i
in synchronicity.

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 An eagle’s view

Minnesota and Other PoemsAcademic career, Army life, government positions, international consultant--Minnesota-born Daniel N. Nelson draws on a wide range of experience in his new book Minnesota and Other Poems. Published by Atmosphere Press, Dan’s collection spells out a full life in clear-cut, taut lines. “Dan’s spare poems leave you searching for the rest of the story: context, history, and future,” says Eric Forsbergh, author of Imagine Morning. “His poetry provides an eagle’s view of what seems like a Minnesota winter landscape, but on further examination often draws you in with observations of the fullness of living never quite realized, or intimacy lost.”


lucy

By Daniel N. Nelson

ok it was cheap chardonnay
but talking to you not
over miles
but within reach
and seeing your
eyes again

one san clemente evening
to tell listen
feel
touch
understand

never with you
but always near

if i whisper
you’d hear
far more

Minnesota is Dan’s second collection in 25 years (his first, “Performance and Other Poems,” is now out of print). Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another quarter-century for more.
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Goodbye to Mick’s

A while ago, my husband and I took a leisurely Sunday drive and stopped for lunch at a sports bar outside Fredericksburg, VA. We no longer drink, and we’re not big sports fans, but we loved Mick’s--a cheerful, handsome place with great food. Naturally, I wrote a poem. When my poetry group praised the piece, I thought briefly of sending it to the restaurant’s manager. Naturally, I didn’t, but then, when Toho Journal Online published the poem in its fall 2019 issue, I thought maybe I really should send it. But alas, it turns out Mick’s Sports Bar has closed up shop. So with thanks to Toho and a sad thought for the bar, here’s At Mick's:

At Mick’s
By Sally Zakariya

in a different life I’d work at Mick's
wait tables maybe tend bar
get myself a scatter of tattoos
I’d have to learn to drink again

serve loaded mac ’n’ cheese on a don’t-
touch-it sizzling platter--crisp bacon
and chives and triple cheese on top--
serve six-buck margaritas on Mondays
I could learn to drink again

know all the regulars hey howya doin’
goin’ someplace nice this summer
not quite in Fredericksburg but
hanging on the edge in one of those
nothing special strip malls

but Mick’s--Mick’s is special
with its halfway-up rock walls
its oblong shamrock bar in the center
its step-up booths and keyhole chairs
its TVs on every wall--well
maybe not for everyone but
you could feel like you belonged
and I could too--if I decided
to learn to drink again

The other day, I tasted decadently rich mac and cheese at another joint. Who knows what I’ll write next?
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After the Turkey

Even though the turkey and its leftovers have been dispatched, I’m still musing on the many things I’m grateful for. As I put it in an unfinished (and perhaps unfinishable poem) not long ago,

I’m grateful for the obvious
(family, friends, health
 but also the more obscure--
 for the difference between
what something is and what
it appears to be and the space
in between and the circuitous
routes we take in that space.
And for the space between words,
between music notes--pauses
that can say so much. .

But right now, I’m also especially grateful for the subjectivity we all bring to the poems we read. Good, not good, memorable, forgettable--depends on who’s reading the piece. That came home to me recently when The Poetry Box, which published my recent chapbook The Unknowable Mystery of Other People, kindly nominated Requiem for a Nobody for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. I can’t say I would have selected that particular poem for nomination myself, but thank you very much, Poetry Box.
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That Naked Country’

“Like Woody Guthrie one finds Philip Raisor holding back the end of the world,” writes E. Ethelbert Miller of Raisor’s new book That Naked Country. “His poems slow dance with the past, from the American Revolution to another black body lying on the ground.”

“Raisor reminds us that we have choices,” Miller continues. “History is still our home.” And it is history that confronts Raisor and his wife in Civil War photographs on a bedroom wall:

Under “The Dead of Antietam”:
photographs by Alexander Gardner (1862)

By Philip Raisor

On the walls of our bed-and-breakfast hang
stark images that lift us into yesterday’s dead.

We intended otherwise: naked play, late sleep,
a guided tour of the battlefield, aided by Podcast,

a weekend away from the timeless chores of living.
But history has its own way of waking up, if only

to turn with a groan. Do you know how hard it is
to outlive antiques? I see the boy, that’s all he is,

his gaping mouth praying its rebel yell, the body
ignored by its soul. I see, though I close hard

against my eyes, the vacant stare of mutilated
bones crisscrossed in a long gully of failure.

I hear--how do I hear?--the crenulated wave
of wounded black grass stacked against cannons,

and your hand on my chest falls away in defeat.
If we came to see maps and hills and fences

that peace has reclaimed, we have been shown
that sometimes nothing can be salvaged.

And we, my love, like light slanting across
these frames, born in thunder too far back

to be heard, wonder if what has been lit
burns eternally. Until now, I have never

doubted the routines of earth, the perfect
fall and rise through all that waste. Tonight,

as the moon eases past this window toward
its usual burned-out campfire, I will fear

the ghostly shadows, I will fear that before
dawn the sun could get lost in the dark.

Professor emeritus of English at Old Dominion University, where he initiated the creative writing program, Raisor is the author of nine books of poetry, as well as a memoir and a critical work on the poetry of W.D. Snodgrass. That Naked Country is available for pre-order from Standing Stone Books.
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A Rich Collection

After reading Marjorie Maddox’s extraordinary new book Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, I blushed to recall the poems I wrote after my own father’s death. Unlike her stunning descriptions of her father’s failed heart transplant, I realized my pieces were simplistic, verging on sentimental. Maddox, a professor of English and Creative Writing at Loch Haven University, no doubt could give lessons, and I could use them. But simply reading these pages is a tutorial in metaphor, line, sound, and the guts of poetics.

The five-part book concerns marriage, love, and spiritual matters as well as the transplant of the title. But to me, the heart of the book is its central section, “Body Parts,” a tour-de-force likening 39 organs and appendages to everything from a stingray (the lung) to a dog’s tongue (the pancreas). Here’s …

The Bladder

has had its bad days, but adjusts.
Empty, it’s a cup fit for a pint,
later, a dish rounding up liquid.
Filled to the brim, it’s the yellow belly of a chameleon
ready to burst.

Winner of the Yellowglen Prize, Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation bristles with memorable lines. Describing the hospital waiting room, for example, Maddox writes “… its stucco walls vacant / of the pain we hang upon the gray / and graying we soon become.” In “Ash Wednesday,” she speaks of the ash-cross on the forehead: “…to wear like a bindhi this medal of our not winning / each day we wake to the worlds / we are and are not.” And in the poem “Disconnected” is this moving stanza:

In the transplant waiting room,
a child asks her mother,
“Will Daddy love the same people?”
and I startle at the complications.

Among my favorites in this impressive collection is the poem “My Mother Gives Me a Tape of My Father’s Dance Band,” which ends with these lines:

… Joy cracks
his rhythm in notes too strong to stay
in the grave, too staccato to listen
to sounds good-daying
in the bass of a previous page,
two-stepping still, though long
since played

The eleventh book by the prolific Marjorie Maddox, this is a rich collection indeed.
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Muslim Wife

And now for something a little different: My chapbook “Muslim Wife” is due out momentarily, not as a stand-alone publication but as one of three poetry collections published together in Delphi Volume Seven. The brainchild of M.E. Silverman, founder of Blue Lyra Press, these three-in-one volumes are designed to widen the distribution of a poet’s work. “Our goal is to have each poet in the volume gain new audiences by being exposed to the other two poets’ readers,” says Silverman on the Blue Lyra website. Included in this volume, along with my chapbook, are “Grandmother Mountain,” by Martha McCollough and “Refuses to Suffocate,” by Marjorie Power.

It’s tempting to read the titles of these three chapbooks as a single sentence (Grandmother Mountain Refuses to Suffocate Muslim Wife), and once you do, it’s difficult to forget it. But these are three different collections, each with its own tone and message, each drawing (we hope) a new group of readers. As for me, I’m not a Muslim, but I’m married to one, which entitles me (I trust) to the title of my chapbook. This poem from “Muslim Wife” is about the reed pens used by my husband Mohamed Zakariya, a noted Arabic-script calligrapher:

Reed

It’s the right proportion of skin to meat
you say, holding the slender reed pen
then cutting the chisel point and opening
the slit that holds the ink

It grew somewhere in Egypt, where reeds
have always grown, where they sheltered
the baby Moses, where they were chosen
by Pharaoh’s scribes

to record the history of dusty dynasties
on papyrus, their wide eyes ringed with
kohl as they walked sideways on the
walls of the tomb

You hold the pen like a lover holds flesh
or the memory of flesh, with a quiet
resolve, touching ink to paper to record
a different history

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Not in Paris

If this were Paris, I’d be on vacation. (They say the city virtually empties out in August, you know.) I’m not in Paris, alas, but I’m still thinking about being elsewhere … somewhere away from the heat and humidity and hassle of Washington in the summer. I’d like to think my phantom twin is on vacation, somewhere on the continent perhaps. She’s often off somewhere, after all. Never here, though I sense her ghostly presence sometimes. Reading about the phenomenon known as chimerism ade her feel more real to me. I’m grateful to Contrary Magazine for publishing my poem on the subject in their Summer 2019 issue:

Chimera
By Sally Zakariya

            Recent advances in genetic analysis have revealed
            that chimerism is common.--Tim Flannery,
            New York Review of Books, March 7, 2019

Phantom twin who never was
X and Y alike in DNA
blood type both A and O
chimera--two eggs merged
and married in the womb

The Greeks imagined you
lion / goat / snake mingled
a mythical amalgamation

I sense you hovering
a distant, doubled being
an almost self, unseen
and out of reach

You murmur from afar
me / not me, same yet not
complex consciousness--
after all, which one of us
is a single thing alone

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Writing Promptly

I’ve never been much for writing from poetry prompts, but this summer, in lieu of going to San Marino or Southern France with my phantom twin, I signed up for something called Weekly Writes (poetry version) from The Common, an online journal that bills itself as “A Modern Sense of Place.” Five weeks in, I’ve been pleased and surprised by the writing prompts (three each week), exemplar poems, and insightful commentary from the editors. A prompt from Week One called for a poem “composed solely of, or dominated by, a series of questions.” Here’s one of the admittedly imperfect poems that resulted:

Questions about My Quartz Watch
By Sally Zakariya

            In a crystal we have the clear evidence of the existence
           of a formative life-principle.”--Nikola Tesla


How does the quartz make the watch

If the battery dies, can the secret vibration
in the quartz still give birth to a steady pulse?

When the crystal grows in the dark cave
does that constitute proof of life?

Is it true the movements of wave and wind
and celestial bodies exhibit natural vibration?

Can these movements be considered the breath
of the universe?

And is that why our thoughts hover in the air between us
vibrating to our natural frequencies, suspended
 on our shared breath?

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Under the Sea

A o ZMy super talented niece Paulina Berry, scientist and artist, has created a truly delicious children’s book: A to Z in the Deep Dark Sea, now available for pre-order as an e-book. Her illustrations of the denizens of the deep? Pure visual poetry.

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A Moving Journey

Sometimes you get the feeling you know a person you’ve never actually met. It’s like that with Sarah Russell. We “met” online some years ago, swapping poems and comments on Goodreads, and now that I’ve had a chance to read her moving collection I lost summer somewhere, I almost feel she’s been writing not just her life but mine. And other women’s too.

Published by Kelsay Books, Russell’s collection takes the reader on a deeply moving journey through childhood, marriage, motherhood, and on. Her often brief poems show a deft touch: “Our fights were a barrage of arrows / going to the softest places, / as if everything depended / on the outcome,” she says in “Early Marriage.” Just four short lines, but a volume of meaning.

Equally striking is her three-stanza “Choice,” which begins with the poet holding her daughter’s hand during what could only have been an abortion and ends, “ ‘The baby would be in college now,’ / she said to me the other day. / ‘I know,’ I said.”

A retired professor and editor, Russell has had a second life as an accomplished doll maker. In creating her dolls, she draws on her studies of myth and legend, imbuing her small sculptures (it seems almost a slight to call them merely “dolls”) with the same spirit and empathy she brings to her poetry.

Reflective, elegiac, powerful – the poems tell hard truths about hard topics like miscarriage, cancer, abortion, and divorce, and give gentle reminders of the soothing power of nature, the comfort of love. And the inevitable advance of age:

The novel in my head
has only time to be
a poem without last lines
to tell the reader
if she learned to love
the baby, if what the gypsy
said came true, if the letter
was from him.

So ends her poem “In my 70s.” And if the gypsy told Russell she would be a gifted poet, it did indeed come true.

See more of Russell’s work on her website.

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Mozart and Me

No, not the music (though I revel in it). What has brought me to feel a special kinship with the great composer is Mozart's Starling, an entrancing book by naturalist and ecophilosopher Lyanda Lynn Haupt, which tells the story of, yes, Mozart’s pet starling. I read a review of Haupt’s book one evening and quickly ordered a copy. Eying my wind-up tin songbird but imagining a real bird on my shoulder, I couldn’t wait to write a poem, which was published in the July 2019 issue of Burningwood Literary Journal:

Mozart’s Starling
By Sally Zakariya

I read somewhere that
Mozart had a pet starling

He called the starling singvogel
or was that an old German toy

He taught the bird to sing a song
or was it the other way around

And did the bird really come
when Mozart called or did it

secretly wish it belonged to
Constanze of the soft breast

nstead of Wolfie (Johannes
Chrysostomus Wolfgangus

Theophilus Mozart to give
the man his proper name)

If I had a starling I’d call it
Constanze and ask it to sing

a song about the brief musical
career of Mozart’s starling

an avian concerto from
one composer to another

Of course, it would have been wiser to read the book before writing the poem, but I’ve ordered Haupt’s Crow Planet and vow to read it through before dashing off any crow poems.

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Something SpecialMere Being

When the blurbs on the back of the book are by three former poets laureate, you know you’re in for something special. And Mere Being , by Barry D. Amis, is special indeed. Barry, long active in the Poetry Society of Virginia, brings a musician’s ear as well as an academic’s knowledge to his poems, which have fascinated and delighted me for years in the monthly poetry salon Barry chairs. And I’m not alone. Here’s what reviewers say:

  • “In poems well-honed and riveting, Barry Amis bears witness to the world’s struggles and enigmas.”--Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

  • “There is uncommon linguistic agility in Barry Amis’ work that brings words like ‘cradle’ and ‘cactus’ into insightful proximity …”--Sofia Starnes

  •  “One could do worse than trip in the tradition of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Charles Wright.”--Ron Wright

Barry’s nimble, sometimes almost puckish, way with words sets his work apart: “lovely of impossible architecture” he writes of Petra, the ancient Jordanian city carved into red rock. “Sailing between poetry and despair / the convocation of hazard chastens,” he begins his poem “Lost Horizon,” one of my favorites. Later in the piece he confesses “I tend toward improbable in the absence / of divine,” setting the reader up for the poem’s one-line concluding stanza: “We won’t be saved.”

Here is another from Mere Being :

Pensées
By Barry Amis

These are the hours
and we are the vessels.
Clothe me in the full
trappings of Paradiso
or comfort me in
measureless dark
places. Each day’s
suffering craves a
Beatrice. Each night’s
gathering offers milk
and pudding. Waiting
is irrational. Athens
and Jerusalem debate,
heaven and hell am I.
The last dwelling
place summons,
humility and love
are the threshold.
About us these bones
strip, innocence lost.
The terra mater
of canceled days
terrifies.

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Whitmania

In his brief “Poets to Come,” which Mark Francis called “a simple eloquent clarion call to arms for poets and artists,” Walt Whitman urged “a new brood” of “orators, singers, musicians” to look to the future, not the past, to look at possibilities, not problems. And this year, in honor of the bicentennial of Whitman’s birth, poets and poetry groups across the nation have been celebrating this great American voice. Among the celebrations: Poets to Come, a 495-page anthology published by Local Gems Poetry Press. Here’s my contribution to the volume:

Reading Walt Whitman at McDonald’s
By Sally Zakariya

McDonald’s afternoon … unexpected jazz
 … low sun slicing in on French fries
blooded with ketchup … two graying men
with coffee … young man by the window …
trio of teenage boys posing and preening …

Whitman wrote of these men, or men like them
in Memoranda During the War, wrote
of bringing pencils and paper and consolation
to the wounded of both sides, walking among
regiments of iron cots, a shaggy buffalo
of a man, a man of generous heart

All Nature so calm in itself … he wrote … yet
there the battle raging … Is this indeed
humanity—these butchers’ shambles?


Reading, I imagine the war-torn grief
buried beneath Walt’s bare ellipses

Closing my eyes, I am with him in a field
hospital here in Virginia … closing my eyes
I see a soldier so young he has hardly lived
at all lying limp on a stretcher, a farm boy
muddied with the red earth he once plowed
the earth where the bullet felled him
the earth he will lie in tomorrow and forever

I imagine we hold his hand … we wash his brow
we help wind bandages around him … the whitest
cloth … the tightest weave … folded thick against
the blood … folded thick to hold life in

The weak sun breaks through the smoke of war
trails pale fingers of light across his ravaged face

A wing of shadow passes and his eyelids flutter
and when he cries Mother we say
          She is here … she is coming

Walt Whitman SpeaksAnd because you can never have too much Whitman, let me recommend a new book: Walt Whitman Speaks. Subtitled “His Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America,” this inspiring collection is drawn from the nine volumes of commentary faithfully recorded in the last years of the poet’s life by his young friend Horace Traubel and selected for the Library of America by Brenda Wineapple. Not a book to read through start to finish, this volume is best dipped into from time to time to see what insights you’ll find. Quotes to remember: “The best writing has no lace on its sleeves.” “If America is not for freedom I do not see what it is for.”

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A Poet’s PoetHoly Door in the Ground

His first two books of poems were published in the 1960s by Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books. At around the same time, he created and directed a puppet theater called the Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company. And after he became a Sufi Muslim in 1970, Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore published an astonishing 40 more poetry books. Now this fine and luminous poet, this sweet spirit is no longer with us. After his death from cancer in 2016, his family has gathered his last poems in Holy Door in the Ground. Here is one from a series:

Aphorisms to Death, 1
by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

We must be patient with every
incapacity

for they are the machinery of Allah
taking us to a quietude

where yellow pastures slope down
to a cobalt sea

and sunlight glistens on the sliding
backs of its

slippery currents

Raised Episcopalian and married to a Muslim, I come to Abdal-Hayy’s work at a slight, but only a slight, remove. It doesn’t matter whether you say Allah, Jehovah, or Yahweh, God is God, and devotion to the Almighty is the heart of Abdal-Hayy’s writing. Not long after his death, my husband’s students gathered to read some of his poems, and I contributed one of my own:

To the Poet Who Is Not Here
for Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, 1940-2016

You are not here but you are not gone.
We read from your poems tonight in a room
of offerings, of seekers.

Light falls from the crystal chandelier
like beads of dew nurturing dry soil.
Your words lift winged from the page,
birds to the heavens.

You who have always had one foot
in the other world, we rejoice at your joy,
O singer of saints.

We linger on your lines, gather the gifts
of your wisdom, share in our mind’s eye,
if only for a moment, your sight
of the Beloved.

“For me the province of poetry is a private ecstasy made public,” Abdal-Hayy said, “and the social role of the poet is to display moments of shared universal epiphanies capable of healing our sense of mortal estrangement--from ourselves, from each other, from our source, from our destiny, from The Divine.”

We miss Abdal-Hayy, but he has left a treasure of writings to remember him by.

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Revision Revisited

The Poetry Society of America postcard on my bulletin board says, “Revise, revise”--words writers live by. The way we generally approach revision is to cut, cut, cut. But poet Diane Lockward suggests another approach.

“Too often we start revising and hacking away at the poem before it’s even fully written,” she writes in Some Revision Ideas for Poetry Month. “We quit before we’ve given the poem life, before we’ve discovered its full potential, before we’ve found its real material.”

Instead, Lockward says, consider expanding rather than cutting your poem. For example, take 10 words from a poem you admire and try to fit them into your poem. “Make them make sense within the context of your poem, adjusting your context as needed,” she says. “Or let the words introduce an element of the strange, a touch of the surreal.”

Lockward cites a number of other ways to approach expansion, such as inserting negative statements, adding color and metaphor, putting something in “that seemingly doesn’t belong,” or personifying an inanimate object.

It’s worth trying.

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The Magician’s WifeThe Magician’s Wife

Journalist, artist, student of spirituality--Charan Sue Wollard, like Walt Whitman, contains multitudes. In her new book, The Magician's Wife, the poems flow from whatever her eye falls on: a bicycle tour, a peach on the windowsill, a legless beggar in India, a beetle, a child who will not speak. The book is new off the press from Richer Resources Publications, which also published Wollard’s In My Other Life (and which sponsors But Does It Rhyme). Wollard, former poet laureate of Livermore, California, has a rare gift for telling stories with power and insight. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., unfolds from the perspective of a 17-year-old tending counter in a drugstore. A gas pipe explosion is recounted in what remains: a bowl of carrots, a broken clock, an unread newspaper. In other poems she captures the extraordinary behind the ordinary, the “small kindnesses … that separate any of us / from inconsequence,” the poet struck silent by the “loud clap of nothing / the thunderous void.” Perhaps Wollard’s “theory of everything” best describes her approach to her work: “eyes open / to every / impossibility.”

drowning
By Charan Sue Wollard

he wades into the water
despite warnings of danger
one instant raising his Nikon to capture
terrible roils charging the shore
perhaps to cast light
on how one thing leads
to another and another
without pause
a wave catches him by the ankle
drags him under its blue tide

a day before further
down the shoreline
at the South Tower
of the Golden Gate Bridge
a boy on a field trip glimpsed surfers
in the waves below
climbed the high rafters
took a reckless ecstatic leap

in the end--
if there is an end--
the man dies the boy emerges
dripping triumphant from the Bay

if I could ask them
one question
it would not be why
(I like anyone cannot fathom my own death)
if I could ask them one question
it would be what
what did you find
what did you find
in that dark cold deep

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Dancing AngelsWatching Angels Dance by Candlelight

My prolific friend Eric Johnson has come out with his fourth book of poems: Watching Angels Dance by Candlelight. To read these poems “is to waltz, tango, and two-step to the insights of a master poet,” says Loose Moose Publishing, and I couldn’t agree more. “Johnson brings the life experiences of Saigon, Berlin, and Indianapolis into his word craft. The world is his oyster and the streets are his theater.” One striking poem from the book is the response of Johnson, himself a Viet Nam veteran, to the memorial to that war in Washington, D.C.

'V'
By Richard Eric Johnson

Black rock shining
Fifty thousand and more names--
Monument or tombstone?

Frederick Hart’s soldiers
Stare and survey the V:
V for Viet Nam
Victory
Valor
Vengeance
Verisimilitude
Verification?

Why not ‘E’ for eternity.
Or an amazing maze of marble
With no way out?

A journey over there
For a pilgrimage here.

Names and memories
Etched black rock shining
Of their dreams.
We remain
Dreams of ourselves.

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The People PoemsUnknowable Mysteries of Other People

My good friend poet and children’s book author Jacqueline Jules and I meet every month to read and critique each other’s recent work. “Oh, another of your people poems,” Jackie would say as I handed over a few more poems about, well, people … some of whom I knew in childhood, some relatives and acquaintances, and some I had simply observed. (After all, in the old days before we were more carefully correct with language, British poet Alexander Pope famously said, “The proper study of mankind is man.”) I decided to gather some of my “people poems” together as a chapbook and shop the manuscript around. The result, The Unknowable Mystery of Other People, was a finalist in the 2018 Poetry Box. chapbook contest and is available until February 20 at a pre-release discount price of $10. Here’s one of the poems:

Requiem for a Nobody
By Sally Zakariya

Unknown, unsung, no obituary
to spell out the bare facts of his life,
just one of the many to perish alone
on the street, hand still outstretched
for help that would not come.

     Lord have mercy on his soul,
&nb     his nameless soul.


Death knew his name, called him by it,d
where he slipped by mostly unseen, /> wrapped in a tattered gray blanket.

Death found him where he waited,
cheeks fallen in, eyes dimmed,
invisible to people bustling by.

Once someone tied his shoes, held
his hand, kissed his baby cheek,
but there will be no Pieta for him.

   
 Lord have mercy on our souls,
     our oblivious souls.

Did I say discount? Did I say February 20? Here’s where to order: The Unknowable Mystery of Other People. Thanks for the idea, Jackie – and thanks, Poetry Box.  

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Words to Write By

“Sometimes the poems come so fast that certain words are actually placeholders for the real words that are supposed to be there,” said poet Li-Young Lee, “and the work is to go back and figure out which words are the placeholders and which words are destined.” In other words, as the postcards that come every year from the Poetry Society of America say, “Revise, revise.”

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The Fine Art of Blurbing

A poetry blog with the delightful name Blogalicious recently addressed the fraught business of writing blurbs that will, the idea goes, encourage people to buy and read a book. Written by poet and publisher Diane Lockward, the post points some stern fingers at bad blurbs – those that say too little, those that make wild claims, those that are little more than quotes from the book. “I like blurbs that tell me something specific about the collection, something that will let me know if it’s for me or not,” writes Lockward in The Blurbification of Poetry Books. “I intensely dislike generic blurbs that could have been pasted onto the back of any number of books and give no evidence that the blurber even read the book being blurbed.” Reading her post reminded me how much we poets support each other – and depend on each other. I’m enormously grateful for the good people who have written blurbs for my chapbooks and am ready to return the favor.

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Fish and ApplesLove Poems

It’s snowing as I write this, tiny flakes that mean business. I like watching snow but not being out in it, and my mind turns to other seasons. Summer canoeing on Pleasant Pond at my aunt’s old cabin in Maine. Fall in the backyard of my childhood, picking up apples and tossing them for our dog Dusty to fetch.

Maine brings me to a poem by my friend Eric Forsbergh, author of Imagine Morning and a frequent contributor here. Eric, by the way, is no rank amateur: Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, former poet laureate of Virginia, has called his poems “insightful, lyrical, and compassionate.” He’s writing mostly about DNA these days. (I sense another book of poems on the way.) Meanwhile, he’s made a few tweaks to a poem that first appeared in Imagine Morning and sent it here:

Of a Fish Laid Onto a Dock
By Eric Forsbergh

Disproportionate, the glass eyes
are fixed.
And what if
they could follow you
as you prepare to lift
the solemn texture of the flesh?

It flips against the boards,
rapid slapping dying down.
Nothing bleeds,
not slender articulations
of white bone lips
torn
to free the barb.
Gills in garnet fronds fan out
flexing open shut open shut:
the act of drowning.
Until you cup your hand prayer-like
behind its slippery head,
touch with your thin-honed knife
and push.Love Poems

And then there are apples … This morning I peeled and chunked a big batch of Fugis to make applesauce like my mother used to. As usual, I ended up with a pile of stems, which I swept into the trash. But I haven’t always done that, thinking how they reminded me of runes. The resulting poem appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of The Federal Poet, a publication of The Federal Poets. First convened in 1944, it’s the oldest continuously active poetry group on the Washington D.C. area.

Apple Augury

        “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
         -- Carl Sagan

Between the birds and worms back then,
we lost half the apples from our backyard
trees and rushed to gather the ripe ones
that survived.

We loved the trees, their branches spread
like open arms, their sweet and heavy fruit,
their sturdy trunks two stalwart sentinels
on the lawn.

We loved the applesauce and apple
goody Mother made each year, loved
helping her put up stewed apples
for the wintertime,

rows of jars lined up next to tomatoes
and corn and watermelon pickle on the
curved shelves beneath the cellar stairs --
homey cornucopia.

A is for apple, the alpha fruit, the first
one babies name. Apple primeval,
fruit of the tree. How many seeds, how
many sins.

Peeling apples for a pie these days, I scatter
the stems and look for answers in the runes,
a kind of apple augury, like casting the bones
to see what’s coming next.

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A Loss

Prominent Israeli writer, novelist, journalist, and intellectual Amos Oz died in late December. Even reading him in translation, you sense the spare beauty and tension in his words. The January 14 issue of The New Yorker includes a moving Oz story from 1963, “All Rivers.” The careful, almost clumsy, way the narrator tells his story, forever worrying about what came first, shows Oz at his most empathetic yet controlled. Read it. But what I will remember most about Oz is what he is said to have replied when asked why he wrote about sad people. “Happy people,” he said,” tell their own stories.”

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Mature LoveLove Poems

In the sweet heat of romance, young lovers may not realize how greatly their feelings for each other can endure and grow over time. But looking back on 40-some years of marriage, I know the love I feel for my husband now is not the same love I felt when we first married. It’s stronger, deeper, different … more mature. My Poetry Society of Virginia friend Pia Taavila-Borsheim comes to the idea of mature love from a different angle. After many years as a widow and single mother, Pia celebrates a late marriage in her new chapbook Love Poems, a clear-eyed, sensual homage to, yes, mature love. I recommend all the poems in this wise collection, but I especially like the many in which Pia turns her eye upward to the skies and the birds that fly in them. Here’s one of those poems:

Two Birds
By Pia Taavila-Borsheim

Across our northern skies, two birds
charge and wheel, the smaller sleek
in hot pursuit. Perhaps the larger

skulked to raid the newborn nest.
Perhaps a tuft of food its beaked
desire lured. Whatever the cause

of this flight's rage, they grapple, peck,
fall and swoop. The chaser nips
the other's tail, ignores the odds,

defying physics, brave in sheer
revenge, aloft. I watch them wing
throughout the morn, then turn to walk

long-rutted fields. Briars, hawthorn
rise to snag. Their gnarled beauty
hosts a single feather, black.

But perhaps my favorite poem in Pia’s collection is “Love Poem for Aging Couples,” which ends with these gently elegiac words: “You raise your hands to stroke / my head and start to sing: a paean, a lullaby, a dirge.”

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Telling the Truth

Epigrams succeed where epics fail, says a Persian proverb, and Egyptian-American poet and essayist Yahia Lababidi began taking those words to heart as a young boy. Before the days of Twitter and memes, Lababidi began distilling what he calls his soul’s dialogue with itself into aphorisms, pithy statements of principle or even truth. In Where Epics Fail., Lababidi’s second book of aphorisms, truths abound:

We cannot know ourselves without knowing the natural world.

You can’t bury pain and not expect it to grow roots.

They are not virtues if we are overly aware of them.

Our vices make a hell of solitude, our virtues a heaven.

Rebellion is adolescent; acceptance is maturity.

I’ve selected these aphorisms at random from the book’s 800 or so. In fact, that seems to me the best way to approach this collection, rather like the classical practice of sortes Virgilianae, or divining the future by opening one of Virgil’s works at random and interpreting the passage you find. Take, for example, the first aphorism in the book:

A poem arrives like a hand in the dark.

What poet has not felt that touch, has not yearned to feel it again?Where Epics Fail Or turn to page 204 and consider the first two aphorisms:

Maturity is to care more for a precious few things, and much less about much else.

Maturing is sweetening.

I’d like to think that Lababidi, like Pia Taavila-Borsheim, was contemplating mature love. But clearly the meaning goes further. As he has written elsewhere, “Aphorisms are headlines, yes, but they are also the entire stories, inviting readers of sensitivity and conscience to breathe life into them, by living at a higher level of consciousness.”

Can a few well-chosen words salve the wounds of our increasingly divided world? I’d like to think that, too. Lababidi’s words are a kind of peace offering, reminding us, as one reviewer said, of the strength and purpose of silence.

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MurmuringMurmuration

On my bucket list, if I had one, would definitely be watching a murmuration of starlings. That’s what it’s called when hundreds, sometimes thousands, of starlings fly in swooping, intricately coordinated patterns through the sky. Seeing a murmuration in person would be amazing, but meanwhile I’ve watched videos on YouTube, including one that’s especially mesmerizing.. And (you knew this was coming), I’ve written about the phenomenon, too. Here’s my poem, which appears in the current issue (volume 31) of riverSedge:

Murmuration of Starlings
By Sally Zakariya

Dancing in the eastern sky
a bird cloud pulses out
draws in, widening
and turning all together--
a swirl of starlings,
wings in synchrony,
each bird imperceptibly
invisibly, communing
with the birds nearby,
balancing uncertainty
and consensus

A rule of seven, science
says, and more a matter
of physics than biology--
each small group poised
on the edge of transformation,
like crystals forming, liquids
turning into gas, metals
becoming magnetized.

But what a wonder, this
murmuration--a ribbon
of flight unfurled against
the sky, eddy and churn
of a thousand wings
thrumming with life.

Many thanks to Dover’s clip-art book “Bewick’s Animal Woodcuts” for that handsome starling up there. And thanks as well to the lovely folks at the Creative Writing Program.at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which publishes riverSedge.

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At the Traffic Light

“Thanks for reading my poem,” the email began, but thanks really are due to Michigan poet Claire Weiner. “I’m a clinical social worker and mindfulness teacher when I’m not writing poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction,” she went on to say. You can see that thoughtful background in the little drama playing out at the traffic light in the poem she sent us:

A Cold Tuesday in Mid-March
By Claire Weiner

Today holds no mercy for her--
the woman with the bad dye job
who struggles across Carpenter Road
with a shopping cart of groceries in plastic bags.

She’s come from the discount food market
or maybe from CVS, using coupons
to buy groceries--cans of soup, crackers,
a small jar of peanut butter, an iridescent orange
rectangle of cheese, along with her cigarettes.

The cart isn’t supposed to leave
the parking lot, but she’d be doomed without it
As it is, she has barely enough time
to cross with the green light, the March wind blows
against her, her sweatshirt insufficient for the feeble sun
and occasional snowflake.

I wait at the light in my late model car with heated seats,
full of nonessential purchases from Target and wonder
what would happen if I offered her a ride.
But what would she do with the cart?
When the light changes, I step on the gas.

Weiner’s work has appeared in Tuck Magazine, After Hours, Burningwood Literary Journal, Muddy River Poetry Review, and other publications. We’re glad to be added to the list.

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Unknowable MysteryPersonal Astronomy

While my new chapbook Personal Astronomy was still at the printer, I got the exciting news that another chapbook manuscript, “The Unknowable Mystery of Other People,” was accepted for publication by The Poetry Box. A finalist in that publisher’s 2018 chapbook competition, this collection is all about various people … friends, family, strangers, and in between. It won’t be published until sometime this winter, but meanwhile, here’s one of the poems:

Hospital Lobby

I’ve been to all of them, he says,
rocking back and forth, arms
wrapped around himself, every
shelter in the city, naming
them one by one, intoning
like a Biblical prophet
in a B movie. All of them.

Everyone looks away,
away from this embarrassment
in frayed sweatpants and bedroom
slippers. Every single shelter,
rocking harder and deeper
like water coming to a boil.
All I want is money for the bus,
money and something to eat.

It takes a hospital official, brisk
in suit and badge, to lead him
away, promising a hot cafeteria
meal. Everyone is pleased.
Smiles of satisfaction. Problem
solved. Embarrassment gone.
I can’t make it on my own out
on the street, he says, but
now no one is listening.

Soon to be a motion picture? Well, no, but ordering info, etc., to come. While you’re waiting, you can still get a copy of Personal Astronomy.

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Ordinary/Extraordinary

I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the books about poetry that I might have read as an MFA student. I never was one, though, which explains why, in my 70s, I finally picked up A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry, by Gregory Orr, who is called by the Poetry Foundation “the master of the short, personal lyric.” The book is an absorbing guide to writing and reading poetry, from the interplay of order and disorder in a poem to the wonderful ways poets use rhythm, sound, and imagination to bring their works alive.

One section that struck me particularly was a passage on, of all things, syntax. Citing the “dislocations and deeper entanglements of the American poet Hart Crane,” Orr quotes a difficult passage of Crane’s “Voyages” and calls it “an extremely expressive use of syntax, one that mocks the skeletal parsing of sentence with an image of fleshly, ecstatic flowing.

I couldn’t really follow the Crane passage, I confess, so I felt better when I read on. ”I would add, just to be clear about this,” Orr writes, that I’m not really able to make any ordinary sense out of these lines, even though I think they’re rather amazing.”

Exactly. I have a friend who writes poems that are striking for their sounds and images, but I can’t always make “ordinary sense” out of them. Even so, I think they’re extraordinary.

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Between Storms

Randall Jarrell once described a poet as someone who “manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times.” Most of us who try to be poets check the weather reports regularly, hoping for inspirational lightning. Things can sometimes be pretty uninspiring between storms, though, and that’s where I find myself right now. In a lull.

Yes, my chapbook Personal Astronomy is imminent (yay), and yes, I have another one coming this winter (more on that later). But now, in that aforementioned lull, I’d like to feature work by a couple of other, more inspired, poets.

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Open DoorsLiving with the Doors Wide Open

One such poet is my friend Rebecca Leet, whose new book, Living with the Doors Wide Open, is now available on Amazon. In this collection, Rebecca brings her journalist’s skills of observation and her experience of a life well lived to a collection of engaging and accessible poetry. Her poems touch the universal behind the everyday, the sometimes difficult truth behind fallen leaves, a remembered piano composition, the burial of a beloved dog. Rebecca’s tone ranges from the bemused to the elegiac: “Time has tattooed itself / across my flesh,” she writes in one poem; in another, she hopes to “yield” one day with the grace of a falling leaf. “Stay facing the sun that warms you,” she whispers to a rose that, like many of us, is “a few petals toward autumn.”

Mothering Backwards
By Rebecca King Leet

I’m sorry, she says, what
are your daughters’ names?
Those, twenty-five and twenty-six,
for whom she’d drawn down
Social Security each month

to ensure they’d go to college. And
whose University of Virginia sweatshirt
and William and Mary tee she’d worn
proudly. She’d sit stone still, listening
to each story Caitlin and Kristin shared.

I don’t remember – what
are your daughters’ names –
asks the woman who was my mother
of the woman who is her mother now

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‘The Body that Smiles’

“I heard the owls tonight,” my friend Janet Dinsmore emailed me recently. Janet, who has attended a series of poetry classes with me, told me she has been looking for her voice in poetry for many years. She was standing outside her cottage near the Chesapeake Bay one evening when she heard the owls.

Gift
By Janet Dinsmore

Owls are communing
in the soft dark
wooh wooh, a soprano
then an alto                and another

I smile on the gravel road

actually I am inside the body that smiles,
the body smiling with my face
mouth curved happy up
unbidden, unintended…

          the independent inner one
          on its private
          unpredictable
          purer path

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Trifecta

Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. It’s hard to keep submitting work for publication when everything comes back “thanks but no thanks.” And then suddenly comes acceptance of not one but three poems at the same time! In the same journal! Thank you, thank you Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. for publishing “Artic Fever,” “Still With Us,” and “Bathtub Buddha” in your May issue. It’s enough to make me keep on writing, keep on submitting.

Bathtub Buddha
By Sally Zakariya

Watching the water swirl down
     the drain
I think of Australia –
does it really circle the other way
in the southern hemisphere
left hand one way, right hand
the other?

Do the gyres cancel each other out
when they collide at the equator
clogging the drain
     bathwater rising
a flood of soap and bubbles
bathing the earth?

No it can’t be – the world
is too steeped in dirt and grime
to be cleansed so easily.
Even the rain that showers down
     from Heaven
can’t wash the stains clean

without help from our tears.

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Speaking of submission …

What was good advice in 2014 is still good advice today. Cruising through calls for submission recently, I happened on a piece by poet Katie Manning , who, when she’s not writing herself is teaching others to write at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. Manning’s good advice is straightforwardly titled How to Submit Poems for Publication.

In sections called 1) find literary journals, 2) follow directions, 3) cover letters matter [sort of], 4) keep good records, and 5) keep submitting, Manning gives a quick course in the art of getting your poems out there and in print or online.

“If you’re not one of those rare, lucky poets who have poems accepted on the first try, don’t worry,” she writes. “Most of us took a long time to get a first poem published, and sometimes even well-published poets have dry spells. Submitting poetry can be discouraging, but keep doing it.” Words to live by. After all, as Manning observes, it’s a numbers game. The more you submit, the more likely you’ll get one of those good-news acceptance emails.

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There’s still time

If you’ve been meaning to order my forthcoming chapbook Personal Astronomy but haven’t gotten around to it, never fear. The chapbook is slated for publication in mid-August, and there’s still time to reserve your copy. The poems “express a stargazer’s wonderment, doubt and acceptance of the extraordinary grounded in an ordinary life,” says one reviewer. Another calls the collection “a poetic journey into the microcosm of love and relationship juxtaposed against the backdrop of the universe in poems that are as lucid and ordered as the constellations they invoke.” Buy a copy and the stars will shine on you.

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Coming Soon(ish)

My forthcoming chapbook “Personal Astronomy” is now available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press. I’d like to think people will enjoy the poems inside, and I’m hoping they’ll like the cover illustration as well. It’s a detail from a star chart by Johann Elert Bode (1747-1826) showing the constellation Andromeda. (That’s her, reclining among the stars.) When I first mentioned "Personal Astronomy". here a couple of months ago, I included a poem that will be in the chapbook, “Constellations.” Poet Dianne Silvestri responded with a poem of her own. (Dianne, by the way, wrote the charming “Summer Treasure” in Joys of the Table..) “Since you invited correspondence,” she wrote me, “I am drawn to send you a poem of mine I recently resurrected which I thought of as I read your ‘Constellations.’”

August Midnight
By Dianne Silvestri

The ranger locked the gate
at sundown, our group inside
to camp at Bluffton Game Preserve.

We unrolled sleeping bags
like planks to bridge the road,
lay wide-eyed to observe

unobstructed midnight sky
of August set to astound us
with one shooting star after another,

all sites on the map overhead
firing meteors in rapid succession.
No one died while asleep

in the middle of that asphalt.
When we awoke the next morning,
in fact, we were all more alive. 

Dianne Silvestri, author of the chapbook Necessary Sentiments, has poems published in Zingara Poetry Review, Poetry South, The Main Street Rag, The Examined Life Journal, The Worcester Review, The Healing Muse, Inscape, THEMA, American Journal of Nursing, and elsewhere. A past Pushcart nominee, she is copyeditor of the journal Dermatitis and leads the Morse Poetry Group in Massachusetts.

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Ten Words

Dianne writes that she “resurrected” her poem, which got me thinking of all the old, dead lines I’ve buried in the depths of my computer. Once, for a while, two friends and I played a poetry game involving ten words. We’d take turns each month choosing words at random from whatever book or magazine lay nearby and then we’d each come up with a poem that included at least seven of the words in some form or other. Here’s one I wrote more than a decade ago, drawing from the following words: lantern, drag, dimension, scowl, thaw, reserve, inquiry, docent, copper, and capillary.

Insomnia, 4 AM

The end of the world comes when you’re awake
the dark clamor, the rush of wings,
the taste of copper in your throat,
the jagged wire of dread dragged
through your veins and capillaries.

You don’t get to sleep through this.
The moon may hang a jaunty lantern
outside your window, but you see the scowl
on its face, you grasp the sheer dimension
of the final freeze.

No welcome thaw to come. No cozy sleep.
Not even dreams of sleep.
When the end of the world comes
you will still be awake.

We didn’t come up with great stuff, but it was interesting to see what different directions the same batch of words inspired us to take. Try it and you’ll see.

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From the Recipe Box

A recipe box is a little history not just of dishes you love but also of the people who taught you how to make them. Take dessert: Even though I try to stay away from cakes and pies these days, that wasn’t always the case. Flipping through the recipes in my box brings family members and old friends sweetly to mind. My thanks to the Mississippi University for Women for including this poem in the Fall 2017 issue of Ponder Review:

Their Desserts
By Sally Zakariya

Robin, who couldn’t hide her innocence, maker of poppy
seed cake, unhappy in love, leaning toward the nunnery
last I heard

Jeanne of the freckles and flaming orange hair, never quite
one of our group and remembered mostly for her
carrot cake

Willie, practical Midwesterner who did it all a year ahead
and better, who served flaky almond pastry from her
Dutch forebears

friends and family all filed together in the old recipe box
under Cakes and Cookies along with others -- Mother’s
there of course

no baker, still we relished her peach skillet pie and apple
goodie, sweet memories neatly recorded in her own left-
leaning hand

Nancy, too, big sister who settled into a domesticity I envied
but failed to emulate (I never make her pecan pie but savor
the recipe)

and you, Aunt Betty, your spice cake topped with tangy lemon
sauce deserves a poem of its own, warm and pungent, starting
with the same

simple stuff as all the rest -- flour, butter, sugar, eggs
-- but how various the cooks, how various their desserts

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Man Overboard

I’m always delighted to see new work by poets I know, even if I only know them through publishing. Case in point: Michael H. Levin, whose delicious poem “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (after the movie by the same name) appeared in Joys of the Table. Levin’s new collection, Man Overboard, is now available for preorder from Finishing Line Press.

“Michael Levin’s poems are a captivating collection of dramatic slices of life netted over the course of decades,” writes one critic, and another adds, “Levin’s poetry circumnavigates the globe like a time-traveling Indiana Jones and sticks a shiny fork deep into earth’s volcanic heart.”

The title poem, which first appeared in Poetica Magazine, tells a tragic story with Levin’s characteristic economy and Imagination

Man Overboard
(C.G.R., d. 2004)

By Michael H. Levin

Dark head bobbing in a chevron wake
disconnected as the space surged
you slipped through the O
of our grasp.

Cool as Wisconsin, you forgot
safe dreams are toxic, that fear is how we fly --
stood off, maneuvering. We scan your log now
seeking its theme.

Cold virtues are an ancient curse --
they reek of Artemis and Mimë.
To wall one’s heart with denial, is to
starve the self away.

Our saving grace is to open
like glories; for openness is all
the earth we have, we dots on the
sliding gray plates

of a following sea.

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Bon Appetit

Don’t forget to “Like” our Joys of the Table Facebook page. And check back often! We’re adding poems and recipes from time to time and would love to hear from you.

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What Are You Writing?

Why should we get all the bylines? Submit your latest poem—just one for now—and we’ll publish the poems we like best in an upcoming blog post. Simultaneous submissions are fine, but please let us know if the poem is accepted or published elsewhere. Send your poem, plus a few lines about yourself, in the body of an e-mail message to:
poetryeditor@RicherResourcesPublications.com

 

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Welcome to But Does it Rhyme?
We're a small, but hopefully growing, band of poets who like to talk about our craft and share what we've written. We'll highlight favorite poets, review new books, and explore the process of writing poetry from inspiration to conclusion. (We might venture into essays and short fiction, too.) We hope you'll like our blog — and contribute your own thought and poems.

Sally Zakariya, Poetry Editor
Richer Resources Publications

Charan Sue Wollard (LivermoreLit)
Kevin Taylor (Poet-ch'i)
Sherry Weaver Smith (SherrysKnowledgeQuest)

books
Richer Resources Publications/em>

 

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