I see the waitress cock her head to try to figure out what I just said. Across the booth my husband will not meet my eye until she leaves to place our order. Sauce for goose and gander holds that I will get a turn to laugh (or not) at him. Neither of us can hide where we are from. I let him think his accent less than mine—either of us can drawl a syllable into a sentence. Fine. Most locals here speak plain Midwestern as they welcome others who seek remedies for matters inhumane. How I may talk does not mean one iota when visiting Rochester, Minnesota.
Jane Blanchard writes: “The Kahler Grand Hotel appeared in Third Wednesday (Winter 2020) right before COVID-19 changed all of our lives. This sonnet discloses how Jimmy and I tried to cope with a different medical crisis several years earlier. A little humor can go a long way when dealing with a scary situation. To this day we appreciate the many kindnesses shown to us when we were very vulnerable and very far from home.”
A native Virginian, Jane Blanchard lives and writes in Georgia. Her latest collection with Kelsay Books is Never Enough Already (2021).
Amidst a sere Midwestern winter night December 1917, she’s born, A staunch Germanic woman’s child. Bedight In dearth and loss, she learns too young to mourn A mother’s death. She knows a woman must Prepare the meals, evoke good cheer, and thrust Her bitter tears inside where no one sees. She weds a Coast Guard vet and oversees His household — bears three girls, subsists on grace. And steadfast ‘til succumbing to disease, Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.
Unwanted infant hurtles toward the light In 1944, her mam too worn And poor to greet her daughter with delight. The wealthy gent who claims the babe has sworn To sate her whims, exchange her doubts for trust. But Virgin-named, she’s Snake incarnate, trussed In greed. She flaunts her swindling expertise, Yet knows that costly baubles won’t unfreeze Her heart, or fill an absent mother’s space. And void, despite full coffers overseas, Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.
She’s born in 1945, clasped tight Within her mother’s arms. And ne’er forlorn, This nurtured daughter dreams she’ll wed a knight Who’ll grant her nuptial bliss, and — fast foresworn To loyalty — a doe-eyed child who’ll just Love her. When falseness renders faith to dust And pregnant prayers produce no guarantees, She nonetheless adheres to memories Of Mother’s happy tales. She weighs her case, Then smiling, phones adoption agencies. Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.
From birth, a target of her small town’s spite, She sprints through cornfields, fleeing bullies’ scorn, Hurled stones, and taunts of “freak”! Wisconsinite In ragtag 1980s garb, she’s borne Her share of tyranny. Her heart’s robust Enough to weather gibes, but grief’s the gust She can’t withstand. At forty-one, she frees Herself and downs the sleeping pills that squeeze Her breath away. Her mother deems her base Look odd, but with some rouge — an eyebrow tweeze — Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.
Abandoned infant left upon a white Korean orphanage’s stoop, she’s shorn Of roots upon her trans-Pacific flight To Heartland serendipity. She’s torn Between identities, but must adjust: Refute all claims of foreignness. Nonplussed, Her heart aligns to these: Wisconsin cheese And apple pie. She’d always deemed “Chinese” A slight, but now she sees each buried trace Of her within her children’s eyes. And pleased, Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.
A steadfast matron, serpent quick to tease, She’s part Korean, one-eighth Japanese, Idealist, rebel geek without a place — My post-millennial, she’s all of these. Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.
Mindy Watson writes: “I’m probably most proud of this chant royal titled ‘Her Mother’s Face’ that narratively links the most influential women in my life, ultimately culminating in my daughter’s overall connection to her (mostly unknown) maternal lineage. It was an unconventional topic for me (as my go-to inspirations are normally bugs, science, mythology, etc. and I’ve a hard-wired aversion to delving into my lost cultural roots—Midwestern U.S. white Protestant upbringing and all that), but it just intuitively sprang from the 11-line stanza/repeated refrain/converging envoi-type structure. Humorously, the poem’s impetus was a poet e-friend of mine mentioning that this form (I’d never heard of) was the most difficult he’d ever tried and hadn’t ever conquered—so of course I took that as a dare/challenge, lol… but I ended up unexpectedly enjoying the composition process (and reminiscing about a few souls lost too soon. Also I disagree with my friend—I personally think pantoums are among the most vexing forms…”
Mindy Watson is a formal verse poet and federal writer who holds an MA in Nonfiction Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry has appeared in venues including Snakeskin, Think Journal, the Poetry Porch (where ‘Her Mother’s Face’ was first published, April 2018), Orchards Poetry Journal, Better Than Starbucks, Eastern Structures, the Quarterday Review, and Star*Line. She’s also appeared in Sampson Low’s Potcake Poets: Form in Formless Times chapbook series and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association’s 2019 Dwarf Stars Anthology. You may read her work at: https://mindywatson.wixsite.com/poetryprosesite.
What am I doing here with all these Greeks? Hoping, perhaps, at midnight Christmas Eve, the unintelligible tongue God speaks will summon even those who don’t believe to Mary’s manger. Now the Virgin bears the Master in the cave. As light through glass he passes from her body. Joseph dares believe the story; I can let it pass. The incense rises like the church’s breath into a frosty world. This night of birth swells to a tide that tosses me past death. But tides recede: I know this moment’s worth. If love of beauty were the same as faith, I’d walk in heaven with my feet on earth.
Gail White writes: “I love this poem and always secretly hoped it would become a classic, so I welcome the chance to bring it out again. The to-and-fro of faith and doubt is typical for me, as is the creeping into faith by way of aesthetics. But at this time of year faith wins, and I never let the day pass without listening to the King’s College choir singing ‘Once in Royal David’s City‘.”
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 (lightpoetrymagazine.com). “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’ and ‘Strip Down’. https://www.amazon.com/Asperity-Street-Gail-White/dp/1927409543
My looming silhouette, obese and bald, As well as my distinctive semi-slur Still resonate, and even now I’m called The cinema’s preeminent auteur, Epitomising what François Truffaut Revered: a moviemaker in control Of everything on screen. I ran the show: Finessing scripts and casting every role, Selecting music and the mise-en-scène. Unwilling as I was to look beyond Simplistic plots that featured guiltless men Plus pretty women (preferably blonde) Entangled in intrigues, they all had doubt, Not payoffs, situated at their heart: Set bombs a-ticking, tension builds throughout, Explode them and you blow it all apart.
Rob Stuart writes: “This poem was previously published in ‘Snakeskin’ although I have revised it since.
“Is this my best poem? Probably not, but it’s certainly the fiddliest I’ve ever written and consequently the most satisfying to have (perhaps) finished. A rhymed acrostic gives one very limited room for manoeuvre as it imposes constraints at both the beginning and end of each line, and this led to all manner of contrived rhymes and clunky word choices in my early drafts, including the version that was originally published a few years ago, and I have literally spent hours poring over lists of verbs beginning with a ‘u’ and synonyms for ‘suspense’ in the search for suitable replacements. I may yet go on to revise the poem further (I’m still not sure that the second to last line quite works), but I think it reads pretty damned well now. It’s a dinky little lesson in film history, too.”
Rob Stuart’s poems and short stories have been published in numerous magazines, newspapers and webzines including Ink Sweat and Tears, Light, Lighten Up Online, M58, Magma, New Statesman, The Oldie, Otoliths, Popshot, The Projectionist’s Playground, Snakeskin, The Spectator and The Washington Post. His work appears in the Potcake Chapbooks ‘Careers and Other Catastrophes‘ and ‘Wordplayful‘. He lives in Surrey, England with his family.
It’s easy to forget they’d fought a war: his father drowned, half-brother bayoneted; her kilted sibling captured at Dunkirk, locked up for five long years. But yes they met
in uniform, lost half their friends, before the normal world re-started when they wed: mortgage; children; grinding office work – all I suppose they wanted when they set
out as a couple. We must have been a shock: busting their rulebook; scornful of sacrifice; mocking their past and their belief in ‘progress’;
too young, too smashed, too angry to unlock their silence, or to understand the price they’d paid for what they’d still call happiness.
Tom Vaughan writes: “I chose Happiness it because I hope it gets right not just my own retrospective feelings about my parents, but also something more general about the generational shift between those who went through WW2 in their youth, and their less-tested offspring.
Secondly, because it’s a sonnet (a favourite form of mine), but in what I call a ‘roller’ rhyming (not always full rhymes) pattern, which tries to pull the reader down to the final line with a lurch which I hope is also of the emotions.
It was published in Dream Catcher in 2016, but has been picked up a couple of times elsewhere since then, including in your Families and Other Fiascoes chapbook.”
Tom Vaughan is not the real name of a poet whose previous publications include a novel and two poetry pamphlets (A Sampler, 2010, and Envoy, 2013, both published by HappenStance). His poems have been published in a range of poetry magazines, including several of the Potcake Chapbooks: Careers and Other Catastrophes Familes and Other Fiascoes Strip Down Houses and Homes Forever Travels and Travails. He currently lives and works in London. https://tomvaughan.website
Along a sylvan lane, you spy a critter creeping with a mission, a woolly bear fattened on autumn flora. So you crouch, noting her triple stripes: the middle ginger, each end as black as space. Her destination is some unnoticed nook, a sanctuary to settle in, greet the fangs of frost, then freeze, wait winter out—lingering, lost in dreams of summer, milkweed, huckleberry. Though she’s in danger of obliteration by wheel or boot, your fingers now unhinge her. She bends into a ball of steel. No “ouch” from bristles on your palm as you prepare to toss her lightly to the forest litter.
She flies in a parabola, and lands in leaves. Though she has vanished, both your hands hold myriad tiny hairs, a souvenir scattered like petals. When this hemisphere turns warm again, she’ll waken, thaw, and feast on shrubs and weeds (the bitterer the better) then, by some wondrous conjuring, be released from larval life. At length she will appear a moth with coral wings—they’ll bravely bear her through a night of bats or headlight glare, be pulverized like paper in a shredder, or briefly flare in a world that will forget her.
Martin Elster writes: “In the New England autumn, the leaves aren’t the only colorful feature in the landscape. Caterpillars are on the move, so they are more easily chanced on. A few years ago I lived briefly in a mainly rural and hilly town called New Hartford in the state of Connecticut. On my daily walks, I encountered many kinds of animals, including numerous lepidopterans (moths and butterflies), one species of which inspired this poem, an appropriate poem, I think, for late autumn or early winter. The Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia isabella) in its larval form is called the “banded woolly bear” (or “woolly bear” or “woolly worm”). The most remarkable attribute about the little critter is this (from Wikipedia): “The banded woolly bear larva emerges from the egg in the fall and overwinters in its caterpillar form, when it literally freezes solid. First its heart stops beating, then its gut freezes, then its blood, followed by the rest of the body. It survives being frozen by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues. In the spring it thaws.” Covered in thick, fluffy-looking hair, the woolly bear sports bands of black and reddish-brown. There’s an age-old belief that the amount of brown on this critter can predict the severity of the coming winter. The more brown, the milder winter will be. For the geeks: the rhyme scheme of the first stanza of the poem, similar to the bands on a woolly bear (ABA), is a chiasmus: ABC . . . CBA.“
Martin Elster, who never misses a beat, was for many years a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (now retired). He finds contentment in long woodland walks and writing poetry, often alluding to the creatures and plants he encounters. His honors include Rhymezone’s poetry contest (2016) co-winner, the Thomas Gray Anniversary Poetry Competition (2014) winner, the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s poetry contest (2015) third place, and four Pushcart nominations. A full-length collection, Celestial Euphony, was published by Plum White Press in 2019. This poem has appeared in The Road Not Taken, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, and The HyperTexts. His work has appeared in the Potcake Chapbooks ‘Careers and Other Catastrophes‘ and ‘Robots and Rockets‘.
On the funeral road, five miles beyond the farm it looms still, like a silo, then diminishes as you get close. Your sound won’t raise alarm out here. There’s none but you. The wishes of no one left alive will keep you out, or let you in. The door is probably locked anyway, closed upon itself, redoubt for certainties. Surrounding it the block foundations — reservoirs of ice and weed — still cluster, like white holes around the heart. You will not try the door — where it might lead, you cannot say. The dead have done their part, for here you are among them once again, between the legacies of grief — the snow, the boxes of white quiet, the leaving, then the watching it loom larger as you go.
Brian Gavin writes: “I like this piece because the church-image haunted (or taunted!) me for several years before I got around to giving it some context in a poem. When it finally came to the page it felt like I had paid off a debt — like I had finally given the image a chance to tell its story. The fact that this story turned out to be no story at all — just a bunch of hints and implications — seemed to fit the image.“
How cool is Heaven? Where do I begin here? The nightlife’s hipper than pre-war Berlin here, Yet wholesome as a cozy country inn here. I’m suave as Cary Grant or Errol Flynn here. I’ve got broad shoulders and a dazzling grin here, Plus perfect hair, flat abs and strong, cleft chin here. (We all look like some sexy film star’s twin here.) Nobody hates the color of your skin here. Yang enjoys perfect harmony with yin here. The food is rich, yet all of us stay thin here. Nobody has to lose for me to win here. We’re all on friendly terms with all our kin here. No politicians practice crooked spin here. I never get hung over from the gin here. None of my favorite vices is a sin here. Damned if I can tell how I got in here.
Chis O’Carroll writes: “I set out to write a matched pair of afterlife poems, assuming that the message from Hell would be inherently funnier.
The Internet’s top bloggers, your ex-lovers, Share details of how bad you were in bed. All books, despite the titles on their covers, Are Dianetics or The Fountainhead.
That sort of stuff. Eternal bliss struck me as less promising comedy material somehow. But my lack of saintliness is pretty hilarious, and one of my many sins is loving monorhyme way more than I should, so the Paradise poem worked out OK after all. I’m often indebted to my wife or to various poet friends as I polish and fine-tune a poem. In this case, it was my late father who read an early draft and helped me punch the thing up. Naturally, this blog is available in Heaven, so he knows I’m giving him a shout-out.“
Chris O’Carroll, author of The Joke’s on Me and Abracadabratude(both from Kelsay Books’ White Violet Press), is a Light magazine featured poet as well as a contributor to the Potcake Chapbooks series (Rogues and Roses, Families and Other Fiascoes, Wordplayful and Murder!) and The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology. His poems appear in An Amaranthine Summer (published in memory of Kim Bridgford), Extreme Sonnets, Love Affairs at the Villa Nelle, and New York City Haiku, among other collections. Chris is a member of Actors Equity and has performed widely as a stand-up comedian. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, historian Karen Manners Smith.
‘Postcard from the Afterlife‘ was originally published in The Spectator.
I must go back to the mall again for the holidays are nigh and all I ask is a parking space with direction posts nearby in a covered lot, or a shoveled spot with room for a Chevy van. There are two more days till the 25th and I have no Christmas plan.
I must go down to the mall again for the lure of the discount sale. There’s just empty space ‘neath my Christmas tree, and I simply cannot fail. And all I ask is some helpful clerk and ample stock for buying. If there’s nothing left or the cost too dear, there will be a lot of crying.
I must go back to the mall again for the twinkling Christmas lights that bedeck the trees and storefront shows of holiday delights. I have had it with the crowds and lines, I’m no happy shopping rover I can’t wait till the 26th when the holidays are over.
Paula Mahon writes: “I have just the timely thing for your blog… a holiday parody poem of John Masefield’s Sea-Fever. This was originally published in Light.”
Paula Mahon is a practicing family physician and medical director of Health Care for Homeless in Manchester, NH. Her essays, poems and stories have been published in the Boston Globe, Light, The Lyric, The Road Not Taken, Pulse and the Potcake Chapbook ‘Strip Down – poems of modern life‘; she won The Lyric’s 2020 New England Prize for a poem called Two Points of View. She is married to Robert d’Entremont and mother to a son, Raymond, adopted from Kazakhstan.
Among the hide-and-canvas lace-ups made For some poor elephant’s giant tender feet And leathery minutiae of trade In boots, dissected or complete,
Mint Army-issue, every shade of bruise, With Tudor scraps from trenches workmen dig, You find a case containing John Clare’s shoes, Asylum-worn, and very big.
Jerome Betts writes: ”In Northampton Museum, published in Angle and The Hypertexts, is for me one of those pieces in which some lines just seem to arrive fully formed. In 1969-70 I lived for eighteen months in Northampton and sometimes visited its Shoe Museum whose displays reflected the traditional local industry. The town also still had the former Northampton County Asylum (now a private psychiatric hospital) where John Clare spent his last years. Somehow, the military footwear, the curious elephant boots and Clare’s shoes all seemed to come together. Oddly enough, nearly two years ago I received a Lighten Up Online contribution about elephants from someone in the USA who, it turned out, knew another contributor who knew the American leader of the expedition in 1950, testing some theory about Hannibal’s’ crossing of the Alps, for which the elephant boots had been made.”
Jerome Betts was born and brought up on the Welsh border, but now lives in South Devon, where he edits the quarterly Lighten Up Online. In addition to articles and verse in consumer and specialist magazines his work has appeared in Pennine Platform, Staple and The Guardian, as well as anthologies like The Iron Book of New Humorous Verse, Limerick Nation, Love Affairs At The Villa Nelle, Extreme Sonnets, Extreme Formal Poems and The Potcake Chapbooks 1 & 2, and online at Amsterdam Quarterly, Angle, The Asses of Parnassus, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better Than Starbucks, The Hypertexts, Light, The New Verse News, Parody, The Rotary Dial, Snakeskin, and other sites.