Marcus Bales, ‘Lighthouse’

She needed constant, searching light
And some firm continent
From which to dive into the night
To find what darkness meant.

She fought the horses of the tides
And they her urgency.
She caught their lunar reins and rides
Triumphant out to sea.

And now she knows the powers of
The dark sea’s character,
And scorns the note her former love
Moans out, moans out to her.


Marcus Bales writes: “Probably poets ought not tell this sort of story about their work. I found a stash of very old poems, carefully typed out on now-yellowed paper in a metal file box amid 5” Tandy floppy discs, and printed on a dot-matrix printer, a little faded, some months ago, and have started the often painful task of retyping them into my little electronic library of my work. Many of them are obviously student stuff, but this one seemed a little less studious than the rest. It brought back its context in my mind pretty clearly.
This is a very early poem, maybe sophomore year. I’d read someone’s comment that Yeats wrote about his friends as if they were characters in a Greek myth, and it had struck me as a sudden truth — to me, anyway. Nothing would do, of course, except to try the thing on my friends. Then a woman I knew gave me a copy of Adrienne Rich’s ‘Transformations’, which tells the stories of ancient myths about women, mostly, as if they had much more contemporary attitudes, and that seemed like a much better model than the Yeats tone and manner — and besides, Yeats had already done that tone and manner. So though the idea originated in Yeats, it is really Rich’s idea that I tried to follow, trying for the tone of metaphor in a contemporary voice. And Larkin was in there somewhere too, as I recall, having discovered him when asked to write a paper contrasting and comparing one of his poems to one of Wilbur’s. The Larkin was the one starting:
Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
As epitaph:
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,

And that led me to many others, notably ‘The Trees’, with its amazingly unlarkinish  repetition at the end.
Steal from the best has long been my motto.”

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘Form in Formless Times’).

Photo: “my father was the keeper of the eddystone light” by sammydavisdog is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Kipling Boom, 1890

“Rudyard Kipling, gifted stripling”… a lot of his work is superb: the voices caught in his poems and short stories, the endlessly rereadable Just So Stories with his own lush illustrations and catchy peripheral poems, his novels. It’s more than just the verse that has lasting strength.

Great War Fiction

Researching (i.e. idly Googling) Kipling, I came across this rather good bit of verse printed in the San Francisco Examiner of 1890. It’s a reaction to the sudden and seemingly unstoppable vogue for the works of Kipling. The Examiner credits it to the Saturday Review, but since the references are mostly American, I don’t think this would be the London Saturday.

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Poem: ‘Milking the Stars’

My Milky Way muse
Is spread through the skies.
I’ll tickle and tweak
Those nipples the stars,
Till, teased and engorged,
They fill out and stretch;
I milk them to books
To leather-bound books,
To leather-bound buckets of books.
A two-handed milking,
Steady and rhythmic,
As generations
Before me have milked them.
Then when the pail’s full,
Star needs being met,
Stars twinkle and glow.
The Milky Way muse
Thrives on such use.
I drink and give thanks,
Bound to give thanks,
Leather-bound star-shining thanks.


Published in this month’s Snakeskin (No. 307, June 2023). Thanks, George Simmers!

Photo: “Milky Way” by be creator is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

John Beaton, ‘A Many-Splendoured Thing?’

Is love a beaming, eye to eye? An oath—you-only-till-I-die?
A U that comes before an I? A hullabaloo-cum-lullaby?
A flirt? A tilting of the neck? An art? A Machu Picchu trek
back in time to that valiant peck on virgin cheek, that what-the-heck?

A brace of lovebirds who embrace instead of pecking cheeks, a plaice
whose eyes achieve a state of grace—as one on one side of its face?
A willing ear we learn to ration between soliloquies? A fashion?
The winning chips we hope to cash in from laying on the wheel of passion?

A bridle? Or a bridal dress? An if-you-love-me-you’ll… duress?
A scandal in the gutter press? A touch-me-there-uh-huh caress?
A smile without the crow’s-feet creases? A summer fling that never ceases?
A joining of two jigsaw pieces? A joke? A yoke with quick-releases?

Love grins with its beret askew, climbs up the sky and paints it blue
then turns the sun to shine on you and says, “You’re puzzled? Hey, me too!”


John Beaton writes: “This started with recollection of a joke by British comedian, Benny Hill: there’s quite a difference between ‘What is this thing called love?’ and ‘What is this thing called, love?’ I decided to come up with humorous answers and they started occurring to me in pairs of rhymed pairs.
I want this to be light and playful. I cobbled the answers together in octameter lines, each with two rhymed tetrameter halves, and configured the lines in three quatrains (aabb) and a rhymed couplet. The result has elements of the sonnet form—fourteen lines and a turn at the end of line twelve. I’ve also played with alliteration and internal rhyme.”

John Beaton’s metrical poetry has been widely published and has won numerous awards. He recites from memory as a spoken word performer and is author of Leaving Camustianavaig published by Word Galaxy Press, which includes this poem. (It is also in the Potcake Chapbook Rogues and Roses.) Raised in the Scottish Highlands, John lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.

What do you see through love?” by TW Chang is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Susan McLean, ‘Loving Mr. Spock’

At sixteen I was hooked on Mr. Spock,
not knowing why his cool control disarmed me,
while Kirk’s grand passions seemed a laughingstock—
each week another loved and left. What charmed me
was not, I think, Spock’s coldness, but my guess
that hidden urges gnawed at his resistance,
as mine gnawed me, his stoic loneliness
a shield against the claws of loss and distance.
I now know passion only lasts on ice.
Nothing attracts like those who do not want us—
or do, but can’t be had. The paradise
we own we do not see. It cannot haunt us
like that tall figure, silent and apart,
still burning in the black hole of my heart.


Susan McLean writes: “The world of the crush has laws more bizarre than any world of science fiction. The more impossible of fulfillment the crush is, the longer it lasts. If exposed to real contact, most crushes wither and are quickly forgotten, or are remembered only as some weird aberration in the past. But crushes that exist only in the mind can live on there forever. When I first wrote this poem, another poet tried to convince me that Leonard Nimoy was not very likeable in person. He didn’t understand: the crush was on Spock, not the actor who played him. And, even odder than that, the crush was on that character as filtered through my own mind at the time, part reflection, part projection. The alternating masculine and feminine rhymes that run through the first twelve lines of the poem mirror the union between the individual psyche and the animus/anima of its own creation.”

Susan McLean has two books of poetry, The Best Disguise and The Whetstone Misses the Knife, and one book of translations of Martial, Selected Epigrams. Her poems have appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, Measure, Able Muse, and elsewhere. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

Photo: “A bicycle wheel as a musical instrument?! The future is crazy. Rock out with your Spock out.” by Walnut Studiolo is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Marcus Bales, ‘Helpless’

Life is one long horrible disease.
As victim or as witness it’s the same:
There are no opportunities to seize,
And helplessness leaves no one left to blame.
The path ahead seems only downward, slick
As running water on a plastic slide,
And pausing seems to be a magic trick
That never works however hard you’ve tried.
Eventually of course that blame gets laid,
No matter what you want. A gap, a fault,
A wall, some outside force that can’t be stayed,
And you become at one with the gestalt.
Some love, some fear, some cry, some laugh to death.
You cannot talk to addicts. Save your breath.


Marcus Bales writes: “This sonnet began as a set-up for a re-write of one of the terrible-pun-spoonerism poems from February 2023, and it sort of got away from me. It happens sometimes — you start out with one idea of what a poem is about and then the poem just won’t cooperate. At every line i was trying to tell the story of the alcoholic swami with cirrhosis who had been unfortunate enough to have married a woman who was impatient of inheriting, and who finally killed him when she weighed down upon the swami’s liver. As you can see, the poem was determined to have none of that, and went its own way, cleverly taking all the addiction and death for itself and leaving me with nothing I could use for my purposes. So to punish it I let it sit for a few months, hoping it would come to its senses and realize that the only way to see the light of day was to accept the purposes I had had in mind for it, but even there it was too smart for me, and kept quietly to itself until a day came when I hadn’t finished anything else. With a sigh and a shake of my head I posted it. So here it is.”

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘Form in Formless Times’).

Helpless” by Scarlizz is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Richard Fleming, ‘Memento Mori’

An ambulance howls like a hurt cat;
parts traffic as Moses did the waves.
Worms burrow in awaiting graves.
A police car buzzes like a gnat.

Stuck in a jam of steaming cars,
I contemplate how life transforms
in moments. How they wait, those worms,
so patiently, for us, for ours.


Richard Fleming writes: “Ambulance sirens have been part of the soundtrack of my adult life, from the troubled years in Belfast to, more recently, my relatively tranquil life on the island of Guernsey.
There’s something about the sound, like that of a modern-day banshee, that chills the blood like no other. In common with all those who love unreservedly, I live with a constant fear of loss and a keen awareness of the terrible fragility of those things that we hold dear. This short poem attempts to articulate that fear.”

Richard Fleming is an Irish-born poet currently living in Guernsey, a small island midway between Britain and France. His work has appeared in various magazines, most recently Snakeskin, Bewildering Stories, Lighten Up Online, the Taj Mahal Review and the Potcake Chapbook ‘Lost Love’, and has been broadcast on BBC radio. He has performed at several literary festivals and his latest collection of verse, Stone Witness, features the titular poem commissioned by the BBC for National Poetry Day. He writes in various genres and can be found at or Facebook

Photo: “Ambulance” by gwire is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Gail White, ‘Money Song’

Money won’t buy you the moon and stars,
but trips abroad and enormous cars
and fancy drinks in exclusive bars,
can all be purchased with money.

Money won’t buy you wisdom and truth
or permanent beauty or lasting youth,
but it makes a very good substituth,
which makes it nice to have money.

The dog and the cat that you adore–
money won’t make them love you more,
but it keeps the wolf away from the door,
which is why I wish I had money.

I’d have a fabulous London flat,
a house in Provence and a Persian cat,
and I’d give up being a Democrat,
if only I had enough money.

When all the sins of excessive wealth
had left me ruined, by speed or stealth,
I’d still have memories of my health,
and the fun I had with my money.


Gail White writes: “I wrote the poem as a sort of updating of Arthur Clough’s ‘Spectator ab Extra‘, which has the refrain line ‘How pleasant it is to have money.’ Some things never change.”

Gail White is the resident poet and cat lady of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Her books ASPERITY STREET and CATECHISM are available on Amazon. She is a contributing editor to Light Poetry Magazine. “Tourist in India” won the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award for 2013. Her poems have appeared in the Potcake Chapbooks ‘Tourists and Cannibals’, ‘Rogues and Roses’, ‘Families and Other Fiascoes’, ‘Strip Down’ and ‘Lost Love’. ‘Money Song’ is collected in ‘Asperity Street‘. Her new light verse chapbook, ‘Paper Cuts‘, is now available on Amazon.

Photo: “Crowne-Gold-Silver-Bullion” by digitalmoneyworld is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Avalanche’

I wandered nowhere special in my past,
just drifted, looking, lonelyish, half-arsed.
Nor in my present is there brilliant light–
I drift, doze, dream, enjoy the day and night.
What then will help me through a magic door?
Sensing the future’s avalanche downroar.


This was published a couple of months ago in Snakeskin. Thanks, George Simmers!

The Magic Door” by h.koppdelaney is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Poem: ‘And, If I Could’

And, if I could, I’d sing my love with unicorns in chains of flowers,
With endless oceans greyly battering by misty moors,
With joyful hunting dogs with muddy paws,
With soft spring showers –
With anything eternal, wistful, happy, sad.
But all my dogs inside are snapping, yapping, mad,
My showers are wintry, my sea-shores are lined
With unkind tourists drinking bourbon,
And unicorns are dead, and flowers suburban.

And, if I could, I’d steal my love on midnight horse and overseas,
To city-sacking buccaneering round the reckless earth,
Settle at last to farm some quiet firth:
Goats, orchards, bees;
Explosive starts, wild-beating hearts, and peace at last.
But ungeared fantasies spin lies torn from the past:
I’m a slum-quarter city-sprouting weed,
My planted seeds die in deserted gardens,
My wandering’s my weak will; and my heart hardens.

And, if I could, I’d love my love with wayside flowers, fresh fruit, a kiss,
With secondhand-in-hand shops’ dazzling, puzzling oddities,
With evening at the theater or a fair,
With wordless stare,
With dreams and smiles, and laughter at my foolishness.
But all my city streets are drizzle and drains, not bliss;
Traipsing to shows and shops is soul-destroying,
And, toying with my rural lie,
Commitment-scared, I flee the searching Eye.

And, if I could, I’d give my love all children, chosen and our own:
Their love – their moody silences – their smiles like wind and sun –
Their seashell searching – riots – sense of fun –
Pregnant to grown
We’d share kaleidoscope Life’s spectrum-brilliant rays.
But I drift unfamiliar down decaying days
Where trees are concrete and the ground is stone,
Bemoan I knew but left that love…
And, if I could, you know I’d have my love.


This is a poem from my 20s, when I was more skilled at the creation of nonce forms. Formal poetry was essentially unpublishable at the time; decades later, this poem has just been published in David Stephenson’s Pulsebeat Poetry Journal.

File:Philadelphia Flower Show 2011 Unicorn of flowers HPIM4354.jpg” by Mary Mark Ockerbloom is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.