Cyclamens and Swords Publishing
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Poetry December 2015_1
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Poetry December 2012_2
Poetry December 2012_2
On this page: poems by Helen Bar-Lev, Henri Bensussen, Hanna Amit, Birgit Talmon, Ina G. Perlmuter, Irene Mitchell, Iris Dan, Jessica Goody, Anne Ranasinghe, Joan Gerstein, John B. Lee, Mary Feagen
The following works are copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the authors.

Helen Bar-Lev

Helen Bar-Lev was born New York 1942, She has a B.A. in Anthropology. She has lived in Israel for 40 years and has had over 90 exhibitions of her landscapes, 32 of which were one-person shows. Her poems and artwork appear in numerous online and print anthologies and on her website Collections: Cyclamens and Swords and other poems about the land of Israel, and The Muse in the Suitcase, both with Johnmichael Simon, illustrated by Helen, In Moonlight the Sky Will Slide with Katherine L. Gordon.
Newest collection: Everything Today, poems and illustrations about colours.  Helen is Senior Editor of Cyclamens and Swords Publishing, former editor-in-chief of Voices Israel Annual Anthology, current secretary of Voices Israel  and global correspondent and contributing editor for SKETCHBOOK, A Journal for Eastern and Western Short Forms.

North on Road #90

a boar, like a car,
is large and dark,
retreats to a ditch
between road and forest
becoming boulder

a jackal bays
shies away,
a mongoose scurries
silent as a submarine
a hare hurries,
always prey

almost home
a fox bolts,
like arrow from bow
a blur of fur

on a moonless midnight
looking for a bit to eat
a bed to sleep

Serving the Guests Watermelon

We were watermelon-ready
for the contingent of relatives
keen to see the new house,
the new dog, the new wife

and we, we were agitated to palpitations
thrived on tranquilizers
practiced egg-treading
chose appropriate clothing
bought food for every mood,
the house was gleaming clean

for these were not regular visitors,
oh no, you were married once
to their daughter/sister/aunt
fathered her child and they are due to arrive,
thirteen of them, noses on the ground like bloodhounds
swords poised in solemn Solomon-judgment,
alert antennae tasting our relationship,
noting if we are fit for another visit

oh the tension, the apprehension
the nail-biting, knee-shaking suspense;
would we survive the scrutiny of their eyes?
would we find favour in their appraisal?

The visit went quickly: they were out in an hour
but a lovely interlude of oohing and aahing,
greeting hugs, parting kisses,
difficult to imagine this was not DNA family

After they left we cleared up the pear cores
the melon rinds, the candy wrappers,
washed dishes and rested,
reflecting on a simply perfect visit
but of course, now in the kindness of hindsight,
and the blessedness of senior amnesia,
we entirely deny
we were at all preoccupied
with it

For Pie

In the house
a hollow
a vacuum
a shadow
that follows me around,
startles me sometimes,
an invisible spirit,
with a meow, a purr, audible,
who died a little while ago,
reluctant now to leave me

Sweet calico creature,
rescued fifteen years ago,
in all those years,
there was never a moment
I didn’t love you

A Fine Summer Day

You have left me
holding a fine summer day
in the warmth of my palm

in the course of the ensuing week
I will have cleaned the dishes
done the laundry
eaten the food you brought
and left for me

it is as though there did not exist a prior time
when you were not here
warming this home
by several soothing degrees
by virtue of the nature
of your positive presence

and then the house reverts subtly back
to its independent existence
and it is good, the tranquility of being at my own pace
and to be in a home devoid of thoughts save my own,
to hear their echo resonating easily
through the now still and two-dimensional reality
surrounding me

yet that part of you
that stubborn three-dimensional apparition remains
sleeps solid on your pillow
waits with peaceful patience
for your return

Henri Bensussen

Henri Bensussen has published poems and stories in various journals and anthologies, including Blue Mesa Review, Eclipse, Sinister Wisdom, and Common Ground Review. Born and raised in L.A., she has moved as far north of it as she can. She is concerned with the idea of home, trying to come to terms with both its draw and its repulsion, and these two themes counterbalance each other in her writing.

Closing Time at the Library

I sat on the library steps, which meant
flat on the cement walk, in front of doors
that wouldn’t open till the following day.
I had no books to return, the night was still,
and streetlights at such far intervals I depended
on moonlight to discern the edges of my world.

Alone with the sow bugs, avoiding conflicts
by staying outdoors and out of touch. Leaves
of a rhododendron hung nearby, outlined in silver.
I removed sunglasses to trace a word in dew
forming on the lawn. “Story” appeared,
its requirements many—flashy, conflicted,
noir enough to fit the hour.

A long walk home in the dark. I didn’t stumble
or fall off a curb and arrived as “Jeopardy”
returned from a commercial break. My absence
had not been registered. As long as nothing
was said conflict would not ensue, though needed
for the assignment. I wanted to climb into bed
and read a book until my eyes closed and my feet
warmed, to enjoy a sound sleep without waking.

Conflict would develop as soon as the sun
appeared. I’d rise, make coffee, check the weather.
We’d argue, fulfilling our obligations. I’d leave
for the library, sanctuary of tortured bookworms
living on magic, mayhem and mystery, its doors
unlocked, lights on, books flipping their covers open
a chorus line of burlesque queens, a peepshow
of scripture. Pushover for battered survivors, I’d grab
the shy one with the dented face before being hustled
past a busy librarian and booted out at closing time.

L.A. Lamentation

Mom hangs laundry while I etch pictures with a stick
in hard driveway dirt what does she know prince holds
princess hostage, witch in a tower mumbles incantations.
Magic action on a Saturday morning. Mom pins wet sheets
to the line, makes a tent for me to hide in. Let’s Pretend.

L.A. is always warm, hot in summer, lightning storms
shadow people, palms, orange roses, ants busy on the patio.
Years pass, I’m in trouble, French, Art, Geometry.
Can one follow individual not collective
reality? Not an elective. Biology lab. Sun pierces
distended water drops leaking one by one
from an iron faucet into a black sink.
Prism spreads across the wall timing the clock.

There is no going back

Yellow is my color, flames, bare earth
ancient shelves of rock
vibrations of air, lifetimes caught
in washed down arroyos
elephant mountains circling
thumbprints of salt lakes. No camels.

The rain comes once yearly

Cacti grow roots and water storage cells.
Ground squirrels, snakes, tortoises
what do they drink? Thirst
a function of the throat.

Black basalt, spent volcanics
valleys of gravel, glitz and sand
the dead, their stark and shattered bones
our bodies, our unforgiving homes.

Hanna Amit

Hannah Amit has lived in Israel since 1974. She has authored several collections of poetry, a novel and is published in anthologies in Israel and abroad. She presently works as an educator and as a hasbara writer for a humanitarian aid organization based in Jerusalem. She is the Mother of five children.


There is house
A wild sea one -
Surrounded by pines
With a nearby apple tree
Sturdy enough
To embrace children
And for a swing.

Laundry lines
Play on the wind
While in frost
A hearth burns
In three places;
The nursery,
A sitting room,
And not too far
From the library window.

Flame needs
No more nooks
In the kitchen
Where the table is long
And always being set,
In the bedroom
Where a young
Master and his wife recline,
Or in the attic
Where the old grandmother
Dreams each night in heaven.

We see the path
On which we arrived
Near the doorstep

But it halts in the fog
Where we yet mill about
And ponder the way here.

With No Moon and No Stars

The darkness
Was so extended,
To my shame
I thought I had lost you,
That no kingdom of God
Had been built within.

When match lit a lantern
The gates were crystal,
Containing a park
With foot paths and arbors,
And a mansion
Inlaid with precious stones.

Secure in the harbor below
A small wooden craft
Bobbed and glistened -
The hour was late,
Your hand held my own,
We were Home.

He Helps Me to Reside

He helps me to reside
Where lilacs bloom

Long-side the pine,
Where yellow stairs
Flow down the dale,
And looping
From veiled pot of gold
Are elfin vines
And a sun trail.

My King and my Desire,
There too abides,
And silence -
But lutes
On a windy twilight
Sing leafy songs
To moon ponds,
Sail moods of naiad harmony
Through the firefly night.

It matters not
If cities scowl,
Utensils clank,
Or what smells rank
By the hot sidewalk -
He draws me
To our forest glade,
Where a soothing stream therein,
Removes the repelling jade.

Birgit Talmon

Birgit Talmon is Danish-born. While living in Beer-Sheva she worked as a licensed desert guide as well as at the Ben-Gurion University. A soprano, she has participated in several opera with the Philharmonic Choir of Tel-Aviv. Works as translator: Danish, English and Hebrew. Has studied prose and poetry with eminent writers in Israel and writes in the above mentioned languages. She publishes poetry and short stories in all three languages in anthologies and literary magazines both in Israel and abroad. Has served on Voices Israel Editorial Board. Her works may be seen on her website

(Word sonnet)


Ina G. Perlmuter

Ina G. Perlmuter, wife, mother and bubster to a double strand of pearls.  Three married children and their families live in Israel. I was a dyslexic child who spent painful hours with tutors and teachers who just felt one was lazy if they did not grasp reading skills back in the late forties. Credit for my writing goes to many, a Mother who worked laboriously to encourage me in my efforts, a husband who understands how important my writing is to me and children who were at the ready whenever I had an inspiration driving carpool. Though an atrocious speller I believe I have a message to get out. Published in Poetica Magazine, Illinois Poetry Society, Bina Magazine and Voices Israel and participated in a reading at Brewed Awakening Coffee House in Westmont, IL.

Two Suitcases

I’m leaving a suitcase in each hand
We’ve sold the house our homestead for years
We’ve sorted through the tangible compartments
Of our parent’s lives
We’ve lingered over each item
Giving it the respect it was due
Dad taught us “it’s courage that counts”
And mother taught us to be moderate in all we did
She was a grand lady our mom
The times were many
The times were great
Zip the last suitcase
Remove the key from the chain
Tears flow unabashed, unrestrained
It’s oh so hard to say good-bye
But I’m leaving a suitcase in each hand
My heart beats heavy it plays no saraband

A House That Became A Home

I drive by the house
we lived in
The desire to visit is gone
You were the reason
that house became home
Something of you
made each room special
The polished brass
on the mantel
carried in steerage
from russia
Great grandmother’s
candelabra on the sideboy
and gram’s yellow linen cloth
with hand embroidery
laid with dried fruit and nuts
Yes our home
filled with aroma of
fresh baked goodies
where children could roam
still remains dear and
memories come alive
each time I drive by
of a house that became a home

Coffee Table Book

flashing pictures
of war’s brutality
A war that had been far
far away from my America
The haven people escaped to
after hate persuaded them
to leave their beloved homelands
It seemed imppossible
that war might come to my America
my parent’s home
the chicken soup of my existence
so simply decorated
yet so warmly inviting
A place
where religion is practiced and
differences invited
Where heated discussions
ended with a cup of tea
and maybe a new friendship
Was it possible
that in my America the beautiful
there would be blackened sunsets
and torched trees
That Napom bombed children
would run in its streets
and mothers caress
a lifeless child
Where fractured skulls and limbless bodies
would grace once bustling shopping malls
and God would hide his face in mourning
because again His people hesitated to act

Irene Mitchell

Irene Mitchell, a long-time teacher of writing, is the author of A Study of Extremes in Six Suites (Cherry Grove, 2012), and Sea Wind on the White Pillow (Axes Mundi, 2009). Formerly poetry editor of Hudson River Art Journal, Mitchell serves as poetry contest juror, and facilitator of poetry workshops.

Light Lesson

The shadow of my house
falls on the lawn.
It looks like the shadow
of a barn
but it is the shadow of my house falling
on the lawn.
There never was a barn
and this can be proven by the shadow
of a chimney on the roof
of the house’s shadow.

the upper lode of sky
has spun a shadow
between the door and kitchen floor
but it’s not my checkered floor,
it’s not my kitchen from which a yellow curtain flutters,
though the idea of a yellow curtain fluttering
takes hold like a stark new city of implausibles
serving to minimize
the cozy shadow of my house.

It’s clear that light (so loud when near,
ear stands in for eye)
obliterates obscurity
as light is meant to do;
and clear
(footfalls on the checkered floor,
the curtain waving near)
that though home is where the light is —
intimacy with shadow
makes one free to walk the world.

Mapping the Home Territory

Before you can say Addis Ababa
or Haile Selassie, once fond Emperor
of that grassland biome, Ethiopia,
she had disappeared
into a thicket of moss and myrtle,
to which place I was to follow

in the morning vapors
to pick up her intermittent signals
and trace her wanderings
as I would with any precious map
of Africa
or the hills of Austerlitz, New York.

Before you can say Noho, Soho,
or Dumbo,
I picked up her scent, for she had trampled
wild oregano in the aforementioned hills.
When morning vapors vaporized
and cirrus overpowered cumulus,

I rode all afternoon, not very merry,
in hope of sighting her
on the Staten Island ferry.
A lead played out in Camden, Maine.
By then, I had assumed the identity
of a pickpocket navigating his plunder.

On the third day I rested.

I will pause to mention the simple affection
I have for my work,
for the tension that comes as a right
with every mission.

Maps may wear, umbrellas wither.
Yet, I lumber on,
resisting arrest,
explaining, pointing
to the red lines on the map’s code,
the green boxes at the center of a sphere.

Am I near?

Iris Dan

Iris Dan was born in Bukowina, Romania, in a family of Holocaust survivors. She grew up bilingual (German and Romanian), then studied Romance languages at the University of Bucharest, graduating with an M.A. in linguistics. She has been living in Israel since 1980. She is married, has a grown daughter, and works (quite happily) as a translator from and into a number of languages. From her (existential and professional) Babel Tower she sees the Mediterranean. She has written poetry for as long as she can remember, never publishing any, in the last 15 or 20 years, in English only. Recently she has begun to send her poems on their own way and has been published or is forthcoming in the Voices Israel Anthology, Magnapoets, Poetic Portal, Subtletea, and Poetic Diversity.


Standing on the threshold
Janus Bifrons
the two-faced god

One face, they say
is turned to the past
the other to the future

I think
he's the child
who cannot grow up

Half of him wants
to run away from home
the other to run back

He will do neither
he's sentenced to stand
forever on the threshold

Six Definitions of Home

Home is a china shop
with someone or other
in the role of the bull

Home is a place
where the floors are strewn
with invisible shards
where held on the fridge by magnets
are conflicting writs of complaint

Home is a place
where they claim to know
your worth exactly
and do not let you
engage in prophecy

Home is where the phone
may ring at any moment
with catastrophic news
where the secret police
may come for you at dawn

Home is the place where
they have to take you in
(Is your passport still valid?
Does your key still fit?)

Home is where your body
knows the place of things
before your mind
so much as begins to remember

Jessica Goody

Jessica Goody’s work has appeared in the anthologies Timepieces, Seasons of Change, Moonlight Café’s Poetry By Moonlight, The Sun Magazine, the blogs Getting Along with Grief, Addictive Fiction, Riot Grrl Online, and Poetica Magazine. She was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2011 Lucidity Poetry Journal International Competition, was a Quarter-Finalist in the 2012 Mary Ballard Poetry Prize Competition, and a Featured Poetess of She has written two volumes of poetry and a mystery novella and is currently seeking their publication.


My soul place.
Please don’t let it go.
Even if it remains empty, waiting with its open arms
I know that if it no longer existed,
Something vital would be lost.

We need the option of a haven,
A refuge, a place to run to.
Cool tile floors and
Serene sunlight whitening the day,
And relaxing simplicity.

The old yellow stove-range,
The wooden furniture, the bedroom set
carved with wheat-sheaves,
A symbol of renewal, rebirth
Just as we do every morning.

I want the luminous moon
Floating outside my window
Like a child’s gilded balloon,
Its reflection smearing the night-black water.
I want the moon on the river
To be the last thing I see
before sleep numbs me.
I want to turn your bedroom
Into the library,
stuffed with books and a fat armchair,
An old desk where I will strike the keys
like a woodpecker,
tapping out each opus.

I want to rise in the morning, turn the stereo on
And make my omelet in the narrow kitchen
to the sounds of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald.
In my old T-shirt I cannot match
their jazz-baby glamour,
Ella’s eyeglasses, Billie’s gardenias
Tucked behind the ear
Like the hibiscus of a Tahitian bride.

Defining Moments

These are the things I am made of:
The cupboard of dishes
Accrued by each successive generation:
The monogrammed wedding glasses;
Soup plates at every Seder
Fiesta-festive with color,
Wreathed with exotically plumed birds.

The kitchen table scarred with age,
Paint rubbed off by shoulders
Long slouched against aged seat backs.
And my rainbow mug, the purple stripe fading
from each sore-throat tea and honey,
Each winter cocoa, each cup of
homemade chicken soup.

These are the things I am made of:
Afghans crocheted by three generations
In many different houses.
The carved wooden Moses
bearing staff and sandals,
Carefully traveled from Israel.

The wedding menorah,
Clumps of wax dug from candleabra stems
With dutiful scrutiny;
cocktail toothpicks and aluminum foil.
The ritual as familiar, if not as revered
As the candle-lighting itself.

The old cookbooks,
Grandmother’s, great-grandmother’s,
both maternal and paternal,
Wedding gifts for setting up house.
Book jackets fraying and torn,
Pages brown and cracked
As the old hands who turned them,
Stained with succulence
From favorite recipes.

The grand piano, a Steinway,
Gone now, admired and ignored,
Ivories chipped, lacquer scratched
By four generations,
To whom a respect for music
came more readily
Than a talent for playing it.

These are the things I am made of:
The photo albums from before my time,
The adhesive pages brittle and no longer sticky;
The label-tape peeling off.

The rank saltiness
of the Atlantic at high tide;
and gnarled trees with tumorous roots,
their withered knotholes like dried fruit.

Anne Ranasinghe

Anne Ranasinghe has published 14 books (poems, short stories, essays, translations, plays). Some of her work has been translated into 13 languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. Has won a number of prizes, national (Sri Lankan) and international: awarded 2005 a Presidential Honour (Kala Suri) “for Services to the Literature of the Country”, 2007 the State Literary Award “for her immense contribution in the field of Sri Lankan English Literature, the highest honour of “Sahithya Rathna”, 2011 “The Godage National Literary Award for lifelong contributions to Sri Lankan Literature in English”.

Born in Essen 2.10.1925
Left Germany January 1939
Returned to Germany November 1983

The song has died from the lips of the King

After the dispersal and my wanderings
it was the return that caused the confrontation:
With the reality of stone —
The stone that did not burn but had endured
The scourging fire — endured so well
That on approaching it appeared unchanged ...

A teasing mirage. I enter the forecourt
That once was enclosed by shadowy arches
And paved with stone untouched by hammer and adze.
I climb the curving stairs that flow like waves
Towards the sacred portals. God
Dwelled here for me until the flames consumed
Juda and Ruben, Simon and Isachar
Sebulon, Levy, Naphtali and Assar,
Joseph and Gad, Benjamin, Dan.
Twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve plaques
In bronze and topaz, saphire, amethyst

Only the stone remains. It did not burn.

The portals no longer give entrance
To the Temple of the Lord,
And the glowing, decorated crowns
No longer soar in welcome.
"There are three crowns", the Rabbi taught,
"That of the kingdom, of priesthood and of
Knowledge. And knowledge
Is the crown of attainment, for the strong of the world must yield
A crown to the wise" longer
The bronze-cast fountain, enriched with mosaic and enamel
And above it the solemn inscription
Destroyed as all else by the flames:
"We the Jews of this City
Place a sanctuary in the midst of this busy Town
As a towering sign of reverence, and eternal proof
That man does not live by bread alone, but from all
That springs from God's creative genius ...."

No longer
The innermost hall with its magnificent cupola
Floating over the dim grey-blue expanse
Of golden mosaics, precious emblems and ornaments
Which signify th; mysticism of Jewish tradition:
The eagle protecting its young with wide-spread wings,
And birds that quench their thirst at the sacred fountain.
Deer: "As the deer thirsteth for fresh water
So my soul thirsteth after God". — Lions
Which carry the tablets of Moses. A star
Glimmers above a chalice, and two candles
On either side. The eagle
Soaring towards light, or battling
With serpent or dragon. Great golden bowls
Brimming with consecrated water. Paradise
And its four rivers: Gehon and Phison,
Euphrat and Tigris. And exotic birds
That pluck at succulent grapes.

Above the pews the lamps of alabaster
Joined in a circlet of beaten bronze.
Before them, the Holy of Holies, the sacred shrine
Draped in its garment of silk and velvet, and
Lit by the flickering Eternal Light.
It contains the books of law as given by God —
"Da liwne mi ata omed": know before whom you are standing,
Know Him and honour Him. The altar
Is flanked by the golden-armed menorah.

And surrounding all the six great soaring windows
In glowing coloured glass, from floor to ceiling,
Depicting both custom and Jewish tradition.
The first one symbol of Shabbath: the lamp
And Kiddush cup, candle and plaited bread: remember
How God sent Manna in the desert
In double measure on the sixth day of the week
So we could eat on Shabbath ?
The wife in her home greets the Shabbath like a bride
Praising God for the gift of light.
"Remember Shabbath that you may sanctify it." — Light,
Meaning trust and help, festiveness
And purity in pious endeavour. Kiddush
Is the sanctification:" I raise the chalice of the Lord
And praise His name". The Box
Of spices and plaited candles: the end of Shabbath —
"You lighten my darkness with this feeble lamp".

The second window is for New Year — planets and stars
Encircle the world: today is the day the world was created.
The ram's horn, the shofar, awakens all sinning souls
To warn them: time is short before the final judgment.
The shofar, blown only by God and the priesthood
Sounded when God gave Moses the Tablets
On Mount Sinai: each new king was hailed by its sound.
Wars were fought, it announced advance of the enemy,
Was a dreaded symbol of danger and terror.
The scale of God is the sign of justice and duty,
And a balanced world rests on three rules:
Justice, Truth and Peace — Brotherhood of Man
In closely entwined hands ....

The third window is devoted to the Day of Atonement:
The priestly diadem, the altar with glowing flames
And the shield of Aaron, the priestly tribe.
Day of Atonement: I am alone with my Lord.
Cleanse me of my misdeeds. Purify me after sinning.
Rosh Haschanna is the time of inscription
But on Yom Kippur our fate is sealed:
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall fulfil his quota of years and who shall not,
Who shall perish by fire and who by water,
Who by beast, by hunger and who by thirst.
Who by earthquake, the plague or by strangling
And who by stoning.
Who shall rest and who shall wander,
Who shall be at peace and who tormented,
Who shall be impoverished and who shall become rich,
Who shall be lowered and who shall be raised.
Uteshuva utefila uzedaka ma'avirim et roa hagezara
Only penitence, prayer and charity
Can avert the severity of the decree ...

The fourth window holds the symbols of Passover
When the Lord led us from slavery in Egypt.
Broken chains and the resurgence of nature
Spring flowers, does, and two engagement rings.
The time has come for the singing of songs
And the turtle dove is heard cooing in the land.
Spring is the time for love, the bridegroom is Jehova
And the bride Israel. Ripening of the grain, and
A tree bent with the weight of its fruit —
Tree of life and knowledge.

Symbol of the law, eternal youth, immortality. The
Law is Thora, a tree given by Heaven, and
Entrusted to Israel for succour and care.
The last windows: they remind us of Succoth,
The tents of Israel, and David's harp adorned with palms
Lulav and ethrog — signs of unity and harmony —
North, South, East and West — God is everywhere.
The Succoth hut reminds us of the tents of our wandering
When God went before us, in a pillar of cloud by day,
By night in a pillar of fire, to show the way.
Harvest of fruit, of the grape and the pomegranate,
And the singing of psalms composed by King David.
As the first cool morning wind played through the strings of the harp
The King would awaken and rise from his bed
To greet the morning with song ....

The song faded from the lips of the King
When the window cracked in the heat of the flames.
And I stand before the stone that did not burn
Stand in the sunlight of a winter morning
Listen to the sleep of the persecuted
To the deathly stillness of this monument.

Forgive me for living, you who are dead.

There is only silence. Time has consumed all.

And soon when I too will be lost beyond memory
Death will have accomplished the evil dream.

Joan Gerstein

Joan began writing poetry in elementary school, but it has only been since she retired as a psychotherapist and educator that she has had time to hone her craft. Born and raised in New York, Joan has lived in California since 1969 and brings experiences from both coasts to her writing. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous California periodicals.


From the rafters to the basement, pantry
to the plumbing, it’s time to clean house.
Toss the dated dresses, shrinking shoes;
hats no longer shield the truth. Scrub away
stifling grime that claims the calm.

Eliminate the strangling noise of grief,
polish, prune, unpollute each chamber,
blast gate hinges that hide the chaos.
Starve the dust bunnies, strip the linen.

Gems have lost their glitter, ribbons their glean
No longer do I want yellowing albums
filled with ancient family, unknown people.
Brilliance of my college papers is dulled.
Corners curls on certificates, diplomas.
I have a license to let go; my purpose
as strong as Antigone, swift as Iris.

I sweep the space with a glance.
I dust and scour the house so well
my closest friends, the ghosts, are hardly here.

John B. Lee

John B. Lee's work has appeared internationally in over 500 publications. He has over 60 prestigious awards to his credit including being the only two-time winner of the People's Poetry Award and winner of the prestigious $10,000 Canadian Literary Award for poetry (CBC Radio/Saturday Night Magazine). He has over 40 books in print. A recipient of letters of praise from both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, he was made Poet Laureate of Brantford in perpetuity in 2005.

The Way it Melts Away, The Way it Stays

We walk in the false season
of cottonwood snow
the verdant
and tufted grass-pierced white
lay its downy drift on the world
like a worn-out bed
this late-in-the-spring
fecundity of weather
the old wind aches
with age
though the ground is everywhere
like a killed bird
who knows
the reasons for the night
its reconfigured stars
breathing through this swirl and prick of light
the seeding
earth has lifted once more its
greensick garden
to the moonless dawn
that barely ever
remembers itself
under these
busy as an anthill heavens
I hold my wife’s hand
linger at the dog-squat
of an over-familiar corner
where everything
is brand new
here in the cottonwood faith
where even the trees
believe in loving
the way it melts away
the way it stays

What is this thing I’ve found …

the previous owners of our last house
painted over the Mezuzah
affixed to the doorpost
of the back entrance
swathing it in thick oils
as if it were nothing
but a left-over latch
and they did not notice it leaning
at a slant
toward the room
they did not touch it passing
nor say a prayer
where its case clung
like the thorax of a dragonfly
caught in cold colour
and swaddled in the hardened shine
of each subsequent
chemical coat
the sacred parchment concealed
like the winter death
of a desiccated larvae
oh Deuteronomy
who sees your secret ink
the sad and learnèd sofer stam
what’s coiled in the small scroll
commands these hands
the very ones that cross this page to leave this shade
like shadows of the sun on chalk-white wood
the hint beneath
that thinning darkness
of the bashful blushing of a ghostly wing

Working the Land

in my mind’s eye
I see it still
in the harrow dark of the day
the swath in the wake of my work
all shadow-damp
and brown smooth
as brushed backwards nap
the line to the left
drying, to the left of that
drier, to the left of that—dried
the little ridges
at the stump swerve
quieted like waves that find an island
to fade against
and then those green seasons
and after that, the oat force
of the grown-yellow field
in the bountiful whisper
of a drop-voiced heat
the fever breath and tall beard
of summer
then turning the grain
on the floor

the same dust that fell once, rising
in the ghost grass
of old rivers
the humbled fertility
of the deep-ground dead
all cow-fat winters to come

and I am
remembering, how
long ago in my youth
bracing the mow
the barn groaning
like a great ship
tethered to the water-broken shores
of the world

my grandfather—gone, my father
gone, my uncle
gone—and the grief of it

slacking a sack in the wind


two gentle songbirds
our Cuban friends
Miriam and Manuel
smiling and singing simple Spanish verses
remembered from childhood
and he who sings
is holding the tour-bus microphone
and charming us all
with what a schoolboy
recalls as a man
those words recollected
from lessons learned long ago
and she lifts the thin thread end
of the melody
each word like a button weight
on the silver follow after
and trailing away
of the melancholy timbre of an
aging voice
as pulled through light
by breath

and then today
I paused
where an oriole played
in the tangled branches
of dogwood an hour’s walk from home
and it stayed where I lingered
like a beautiful transfiguration
in the orange-breasted vestments
of a feathered bird
and I realized
it was the same song
the one Manuel and Miriam
had sung in Cuba
learned from the great invisible bird
of the wind
that holds aloft
the heavy burden of an
all-too-often world-weary human heart

Mary Feagen

Mary Feagan’s childhood home was St. Louis, Mo., where she was raised Catholic. After high school she became a nun, found homes in Kansas City, Atlanta and Chicago as a high school English teacher/Catholic sister. When she left the convent she returned to Atlanta, where she earned a masters in art and made her home for almost 40 years. Now retired, she is living again in St. Louis near her family, writing poems, teaching drawing and creating computer illustrations. She says that she is back home.


I am home.
Well, yes, here I am at home.
But I mean more than that.
I’ll say it again, see what else I mean.
“I am home.”
Ah, I mean I am content
breathing in my own satisfied body.
I am a safe haven for myself.
I welcome myself, hold myself in a secure embrace.
I sit settled in my stillness as in my own nest.
I nestle in myself as though I’ve sprouted twigs
that hold bits of soft moss and downy feathers.
But I mean more than that, too.
I’ll say it again, see what else I mean.
“I am home.”
I say, ”I am,” and what follows is about my essence
as in “I am Irish” or “I am creative.”
So home is part of my essential nature.
But I mean even more than that.
I’ll say it one last time.
“I am home.” Oh.
The word home is just "om" with a breath before it.
Om is the sound of the universe humming.
It is the sound of all beings together.
It is the sound of life, of love, of God.
That is what I mean when I say
“I am home.”