Tag Archives: Martin Elster

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Martin Elster, ‘The Woolly Bear’

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 TakenAutumn Sky Poetry Daily, and The HyperTexts. His work has appeared in the Potcake ChapbooksCareers and Other Catastrophes‘ and ‘Robots and Rockets‘.

“Banded Woolly Bear (Isabella Tiger Moth) Caterpillar, Virginia” by Dave Govoni is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 9, ‘Robots and Rockets’

I’m very happy to announce that the ninth in the series of Potcake Chapbooks has been launched into orbit: ‘Robots and Rockets’ is an SF issue (could you guess?) and has poems by five newcomers to the series: Bruce McGuffin, Juleigh Howard-Hobson, F.J. Bergmann, Julia Griffin and Geoffrey A. Landis – many already known outside SF through Light poetry magazine and other places. Returning poets are Maryann Corbett, Nina Parmenter, Marcus Bales, A.E. Stallings, Martin Elster and myself.

Copies can be ordered from Sampson Low for four or five Pounds or Dollars, including postage worldwide. Enjoy it! It is, of course, a blast(-off)!

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Martin Elster, “The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills”

The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills
will tip its head to howl,
yet not a woof nor a whimper spills
from him, not one faint growl.

He savors human company
and charms you with sad eyes;
but when those orbs turn fiery,
they herald your demise.

He leaves no prints in sand or snow,
appears when the sun is bright,
or at dusk on a crest in the full moon’s glow—
ethereal as night.

It’s said that long ago a pup
that wandered with its master
en route to rugged heights trudged up
a path, straight to disaster.

On the loftiest ledge its keeper lurched
and plunged from ridge to gorge.
The mongrel, lost and restless, searched
the woods for broken George,

but never found the man who’d reared
and steered him through those wilds.
I’d hiked there once, and a dog appeared;
it tagged along some miles,

beguiling me as it larked and leapt,
then bounded off like a buck.
The next time it appeared, it crept
in shadow. Terror-struck,

I lost my footing, nearly tumbled
into a gulch; discerned
a phantom’s gaze. My courage crumbled.
Unruffled, I returned

one early April dawn to climb
those treacherous traprock trails
where copperheads and deer kill time
with toads and cottontails.

Hawks wheeled and whistled, corvids clamored,
thrushes thrilled to fill
the ears of Earth, woodpeckers hammered—
when all went suddenly still.

The cursed cur, his eyes cerise,
materialized anew.
I free-fell, easy as the breeze.
My backbone cracked in two.

My eyes flew open: there I saw
the milky fangs of death,
watched venom dribbling from its maw,
although I felt no breath.

Way up above us hung the cliff
I fell from. Then I stirred
and rose, refreshed; I wondered if
a time warp had occurred.

My steps, as light as a lunar cricket’s,
drew me toward the summit
far from the mass of tangled thickets.
Flying! Soaring from it!

Now night and day and all year round
I hike here with a breed
as black as ravens, hushed—a hound
I never have to feed.

Martin Elster writes: “I used to occasionally hike in the hills above the town of Meriden, Connecticut with my friend, Joe Z., who grew up in that town. We were always accompanied by one or two of my dogs. For the last few years, however, my friend has been in a nursing home (in a different town) and recently tested positive for COVID-19.

I called him up to ask him if he could name his favorite poem in my new book, Celestial Euphony, thinking his feedback might help me pick a poem for the Potcake Poet’s Choice. Without hesitation, he said, ‘The Black Dog’. It didn’t surprise me since my poem was inspired by and is loosely based on a local Meriden legend about a ghost dog that is said to haunt those ‘Hanging Hills’.

My friend couldn’t talk anymore, as he was coughing a lot. But I thanked him and knew then and there which poem I would submit. Incidentally, neither Joe nor I have ever encountered that supernatural canine—which is a good thing!”

Martin Elster, who never misses a beat, is a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Aside from playing and composing music, he finds contentment in long walks in the woods or the city and, most of all, writing poetry, often alluding to the creatures and plants he encounters.
His career in music has influenced his fondness for writing metrical verse, which has appeared in 14 by 14, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better than Starbucks, Cahoodaloodaling, Eye to the Telescope, Lighten Up Online, The Centrifugal Eye, The Chimaera, The Flea, The Speculative Edge, THEMA, and numerous other journals, e-zines, and anthologies including of course Sampson Low’s Potcake Chapbooks.
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. His new book Celestial Euphony is available from Amazon.

Formal Launch: Potcake Chapbook 3 – Careers and Other Catastrophes

The launch of the third Potcake Chapbook brings us a passel of fresh Potcake Poets into the Sampson Low list, a couple of returning friends, and a slew of new art from Alban Low. Good news all round!

Careers! We’ve all had one or several of them, for better or worse. Marcus Bales and Daniel Galef review the frustrations of shopfloor sales and professions, while Annie Drysdale gives an exhilarating view of farmwork. From the newcomers (Gerry Cambridge, Martin Elster, Brian Gavin, Susan McLean, Rob Stuart, Tom Vaughan and Mindy Watson) we have everything from office workers and cafe proprietors to a madame ageing out of her profession and a hangman lamenting his obsolescence.

But really, there are no “newcomers” here. As always, the chapbook features poets who are very well-known as well as extremely skillful and experienced with formal verse.

And whether the writing of verse should be considered a career, or merely another catastrophe… well, that’s for future discussion.

Meanwhile, enjoy this for a couple of quid or have a copy mailed to someone who needs a fresh perspective on life.