I. What Might Be Outside
DARKNESS WILL NOT OVERTAKE US*
though so much rain upon heavy rain
has blackened the full maple leaves
and now they drop down this way, that,
littering bricks and cherished gardens
as August has just begun…
though once again we must wear masks
because the virus has eagerly changed
and laughs at us with our vaccines
in what became complacency
in a war we thought we’d won…
though love holds back for fear of death
from random touch and unguarded breath
as doors stay closed and visits cease
and nightmares vanquish dreams of peace
for there’s nowhere to run…
still we cook and eat and sleep,
still we watch as summer wanes,
still we feed wild birds sweet seeds
believing we’ll again see nests
next year in April sun
— Katharyn Howd Machan
*last line of a poem by Barbara Crooker
ON THE WINDOWSILL
Our basil plant,
still alive and well.
But it likes direct light—
shouldn't it be on the window sill?—
and should I —
Well, a lot is still out of place
even if one places oneself among the vaccinated.
Our sage plant,
reigning star of three Thanksgiving sauces,
despite its name it ignored social distancing
and died. Or maybe just rested on its laurels,
predicting fears of Delta would force us to cancel
the next Thanksgiving feast.
Our chive plant,
determined to overlook
its brown shoots,
wanting to make its owners grateful,
and planning to make it into the topping of their soups,
and hoping to make it into a poem too.
Our aloe plant,
long tended by our dear neighbor,
then tendered to us by her mourning son,
thrives and grows quickly enough
to make the neighboring chive a little jealous.
And it cured our burns
when we didn’t dare venture to the drugstore.
Sticky ointment? plants, unlike predictions, thrive on sticky.
Our plants look through the window
and we look through them
at what might be outside of
and beyond the pandemic.
— Heather Dubrow
I will return to the Aegean, the sea
Of my youth where dolphins raced
After our boat in swathes of lucent arcs
Breaching, jumping, leaping into myriad
Rainbows. The Aegean hides its carnage
Of flesh below its waves yet diminishes
The virulence of the virus that censures
Our tattered world. I will now return
To the Aegean to watch its cerulean
Waves mingle with the Mediterranean
The navy-blue and teal mother-sea
Wave-ripples and tides swell the surface
And a plankton-filled potency conducts the currents
Through perennial sun-cycles, our earths warrants.
— Emily Bilman
On the evening of 27 Heshvan, 5782
AFTER THE FIRST YAHRTZEIT OF AVI Z”L
The lemon tree bears fruit
You planted with your own hands.
Lines of aliveness
Give pulse to the quiet,
A loving gaze
Revives the heart,
A lucid word
Still brings wisdom,
Continues to echo.
Waves upon waves
The stone closes the grave-mouth,
Tziporah Faiga Lifshitz
FIRST FRUITS, MAINE GARDEN
Once, in a garden
in a country to the north
where the growing season is short─
several warm days, fragile hours
pressed between storms,
I brought forth a cantaloupe
out of my great, green thumb
when it should have been impossible.
I was as full of disbelief
as Sarah was with Isaac, and I laughed.
But I bent to touch it every day,
and watched it ripening.
I felt it fill my fingers, one by one,
imagined how it was satin smooth inside─
plump and orange as the harvest moon at night,
the seeds like stars in the sweet, deep dark.
So day after day, I believed
we had been smiled upon.
And yet like dream notes carried
garden to garden, place to place,
knowing that grains of earth become
bread, bones, parts of speech,
the difference between life and death
before becoming cantaloupe,
I remembered hearing
They are not ours to keep.
Consider them gifts that must be sacrificed,
in exchange for grace.
— Roberta Chester
KANSAS, OLD ABANDONED HOUSE
House, weathered, bashed in grays, spiders,
homespun surrounding yellows and pinks
on a Kansas, prairie appears lonely tonight.
The human theater lives once lived here
inside are gone now,
buried in the back, dark trail
behind that old outhouse.
Old wood chipper in the shed, rustic, worn, no gas, no thunder, no sound.
Remember the old coal bin, now open to the wind,
but no one left to shovel the coal.
Pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hayrides all gone.
Deserted ghostly children still swing abandoned in the prairie wind.
All unheated rooms no longer have children
to fret about, cheerleaders have long gone,
the banal house chills once again, it is winter,
three lone skinny crows perched out of sight
on barren branched trees silhouetted in early morning
hints of pink, those blues, wait with hunger strikes as winter
that snow starts to settle in against moonlight skies.
Kansas becomes a quiet place when those first snowfalls.
There is the dancing of the crows−
that lonely wind, that creaking of the doors, no oil in the joints.
— Michael Lee Johnson
inspired by a mural by Ernest Doty
Not quite a homestead,
Not quite a morning vigil site,
But it’s there, perched on
Another East Bay
Oak tree branch.
With a beak
Dressed in yellow, brown, grey,
Borrowed from the spectrum
On its feathers,
Stripes of ivory
Tip its long tail.
Small bird face veers left,
Distant western stare,
Attention averted from
The eastern sun slowly rising
Over Oakland Hills.
Gradual change from night to day.
Thick wisps of white post-dawn fog
Float over the vibrant
Of the nearby trees.
— Dee Allen.
This time there is no beak,
no little bloody head, no bony
claw, no loose wing—only a small
pile of feathers without substance
or center. The cats dig through
the leaves, they stare at each other
in surprise. They look carefully over
their shoulders, they touch the same
feathers again and again. They have
been totally cheated of the body,
the body with its veins and its fat
and the red bones has escaped them.
All that’s left is a kind of spirit.
A slipped shadow. A trace of wind.
— Constance Rowell Mastores
IT IS STARDUST
September in the arroyo and a Great Horned slumbers in the cottonwood.
September’s owl is a singularity. His skeptic eye is a singularity.
When we pass along the mumbling ditch the winged helmet swivels, a languid
shuttering awake awakens the landscape whole, imploding into his mercuric
September and we tumble over the roiling event horizon of his gilded onyx
into its moonless midnight lake, into a world like this one but much, much
We tumble headlong into another world where owls also roost in the tall
and call to one another just as here with lonely voices to disturb the
This is our abstraction in the world concrete where the fur, the flame, the
know no spirit, where the dear dangerous earth’s own mud and flesh flash out
To scar the retina and draw us heart and bone into its downy savage breast,
into the fulgurations of the stone, the tangled vascularities, into the
Of mountain and cloud and the sloshing bucket’s transient flare, from which
our several songs are drawn,
from which we startle
into the presocratic sky.
— D.B. Jonas
BEFORE AND AFTER
Rather the flight of the bird passing and
leaving no trace
Fernando Pessoa, The Keeper of Sheep XLIII
Sea rears and smashes as shore trembles, its
sand dunes stripped and sucked into tidal claim.
And afterward the great silence that gathers above the
now sleeping waters like a mother calming her child.
Silence the forgotten one that lived long before the
swarm of sounds in their rage their kinship of blood.
As the primal darkness in its infinite reach
refusing all light, the intrusions the beggary.
As nighttime taking away the scatter shots of day,
quietude restoring breath to heaving flesh.
I imagine a false plenitude and the truth of
absence long denied.
I think of a beautiful nothingness
I watch twilight nearing as overhead
a single sea gull rises and vanishes.
— Doug Bolling
The loon is gone
the game of peek-a-boo on water is over
along with the morning hymns of choristers in puffed up robes
their own compositions sent to the endless sky
I slip on a nut and then another
it’s neither hot nor cold
holding its breath to a coming loneliness
of sound and color
a melancholy of memories
and I fill the emptiness with farewells
I’ll pick a leaf and carry it all winter
a red one, like a drying heart
for autumn is an old friend I met long ago
it always means time to part.
— Susan Oleferuk
Autumn’s whirling winds
make trembling prayer flags
of leaves pleading for
a last nod to summer;
as the wan light leans westward
chipmunks burrow in mossy nests
while mice make their musty beds.
In the long shadows of late day
I am called to grasp my favorite pen
with hopeful hand to weave
the wool of word and tone
a drifting melody
while autumn petals tumble
with shimmering rhythmic purpose
towards soon and still
and frozen earth—
the withering winter and its cool pale sun.
My candle flickers
and its wick is bent
as summer cedes
what was too briefly lent
There is a very small woods I walk in on cool mornings
a doe lives there who looks like Jane Austen
long lashes, a curly cap, gentle aspect and very observant
I feel like a clod as I slide down the trail
and she looks up from her morning sips of water
and I feel her disapproval for my general demeanor
No doubt she has a diary in the upper hill she is fond of
I never see her with the other does
but I assume she knows them well and there is congeniality
and much sensible advice on the weather and such trifling
and then a fleeting run to her own sanctuary
to work on her writing
What narration though can she find in this small wood
this I wondered till one day I took myself
at a different hour and in the middle of the trail stood
snorting and chest heaving like in a tight jacket, a huge buck
his antlers in magnificent display and legs finely formed
I turned around and ran , but wondered his yearly income and how many acres
— Susan Oleferuk
THE CIRCLE OF LIFE
Pin oaks, lindens and maple trees
are stripped bare, their limbs
seem to be touching the sky,
their naked strength and beauty,
their branches stretching out
as if they were lifting a weight
we cannot fathom, with so much
grace, and a deeper kind of knowing,
and in the distance, the pin oak
is holding just a few last leaves,
its gleaming gems. The air is filled
with cascades of falling leaves
that are liberated as if they were
unwrapping themselves from
flesh and bone, flying is so many
different directions, and my long
gone Cherokee friend, Awiakta,
is still singing in the seeds,
the many dimensions of being,
the turning of time.
The cold that warms my heart- this snow
in soft drifts, swans sleeping
reflects the moonlight. Feathers glow-
gifts in starlight keeping
me at watch, at least for now,
quiet winds stirring.
Bare branched trees on woodland’s brow
call to me assuring
of pond side rhyme, note by note
in song. There’s no mistaking.
My Winter muse begins to float.
A swan is now awakening.
STARING OUT THE WINDOW ON A STORMY EVENING
I wonder what
I’ll do tonight,
although I’m sure I know:
I’ll feed the cat,
put the kettle on,
and watch the falling snow.
— Frank William Finney
The good news I could
mourners as if droplets of
at my best Zoom the
six feet apart Hebrew like
friend’s funeral: Gallery View, in cyber pews
the rabbi’s housing his
I could also
square a mutable
ceased in a box virtual ark
Kaddish. the hearse
its picture as it crept
where a pair distanced the
a shaky dash- from shul
of masked coffin from
board cam to gravesite
Better yet, if I heeded pleas
but just went of everything
I could leave not to distract
to the sink to and everyone
when I wanted the bereaved wash my
hands I had touched.
— Richard Krohn
A YEAR GONE WRONG
a year gone wrong — a year turned with feet up in the air.
all hope and promise vanquished to some forbidden place.
caged like some poor animal,
gone wild with torment and fear.
where are the deeds that have gone undone?
are they hiding deep within a shadow?
the plague has raged, gathering its reward.
many have fallen prey to its hunger.
we wait and watch, we hope and pray.
we do not ask for more than the gods are willing to give.
all we want is a little light, a little breath,
so we can live again.
time plays cruel tricks on us, as we walk into the sun,
searching for that glimmer of hope to reappear.
we peek around the corner to find a path of truth.
counting moments, until this year is done.
— Christine Tabaka
THE SEA THAT CALLS
There’s a sea that calls beyond the door
to one whose heart craves want of more…
the crash of waves, the sifting sands
and thoughts of new and foreign lands.
There are steps to take. One must decide
to board the ship or gaze cliff side —
to dream or leave to find new shores
beyond the distant fields and moors —
to stand your ground or ponder breadth
and contemplate from deeper depths
as though the very ocean’s core.
There’s a sea that calls beyond a door.
— Lucia Haase