photo by Harry Rajchgot, 2014
I wouldn’t recommend the roadside.
And not on such a desert straightaway
where every passing car
kicks up a cloud of dust.
In a ditch of all places
and so small,
your roots get by
on water memory,
a sun-scorched pebble.
But plants – not even cactus –
ask me the best place to prosper.
Seeds nestle down where they are blown
and try to make the best of it.
Besides, why else would an Australian be
on this highway in New Mexico?
A seed – an adaptation –
you have to believe
you can bear fruit anywhere.
photo by Harry Rajchgot, 2010
This chaotic jazz suits my mood
after the frenetic day I had
Heavy on the drums
Brassy cymbals clashing
Piano pounding and lively
Scaling up and down
trying to keep up
with the beat
A lone horn sings out
Edgy and soulful
Leading the session several
golden shimmering moments
before backing off
To allow a bebop
walking bass line solo
Notes wrap around one another
Entwined in a dance
for the auditory sense
Jazz beat lines up with heart beat
I relinquish myself to
the new pulse
photo by Harry Rajchgot, Montreal Jazz Festival, 2016
Sown from the teeth of a birch tree
lashed together she
lives in a graveyard
paints a poem after Auschwitz
using Zyklon B gas
with a bundle under her arms
never took that photograph
the ghost plaint: here
remember the crematoria
living inside barbed wire
armed SS guards.
“Where are we going?”
Those feared as the other.
Those who rode in cattle cars.
Those whose voices silenced
fifty kilometres west of Kraków
Rajiya in the work camp.
Her only possession
a red knitted cardigan,
made by her Bubbe.
photo credit: Dr. Fred Leitner, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, 2012
Iris observes a sparrow at the apex and remembers
Today, cold December sun streamingly rushes –
bright radiant light downpours the stone wall,
where a sparrow clings in the mist and Iris
wonders what it is holding onto. A flat wall?
No, not entirely, there is a high raised relief
an embossed concrete line which it clings to
in mourning light – much like a Mycenaean
stele marking the borderline between the
world of the living and the world of the dead.
Dark-cloud eyes flashed thunder; and lightning
must have struck open her chest because a sparrow
was pecking through the bloodworms of death.
Humble print of the Pietà hung and from
Madonna’s eyes tear-shaped garnets fell like
a broken string of pearls spreading hopelessness
all over the Carrara marble corridor.
Over-stretched leather covering of her heart
drummed out a faint death-beat march. Not shaking
of a rattler’s tail, but a dull-weakening beat.
The line on the monitor’s screen flattening.
And there was nothing for Iris to hold onto.
One large lethal tear slid dangerously down
rode over the high horseshoe cliff of her chin
the way a black and white movie once shown
a man inside a barrel riding over Niagara’s rushing
white waters shattering into the sudsy
foaming jaws of splintering death.
The shivering sparrow pressed against stone – Gone
photo by Harry Rajchgot, 2017
M. A. Istvan Jr.
She would masturbate to the magazines
that she found behind her father’s workbench.
Shaved bald, the females seemed as young as her.
That made her okay with fantasizing about them.
It was easy—and helpful—to be unclear
about whether she was lusting for those bodies
or was imagining herself to be one of them.
photo by Harry Rajchgot, 2017
Strange how a tree heals, its cells diverging,
creating a different path around the wound
for water to flow from the roots to the leaves,
the wound covering over with sap,
becoming a dark knot.
When I remove limbs from these wild trees,
I want them to heal into a dark knot,
but I never know where to make my cut.
Too close to the trunk, the wounds will not heal,
not close enough and new limbs will grow next summer.
Wild trees lined both sides of Ridgeview Road,
the shortcut Bryan and I walked to and from school
to avoid the older kids and their bullying.
We’d talk about our favorite kung fu movies
and attempt their kicks,
feeling we were hard to see in the shade of those trees,
and not thinking how someone could hide behind them.
But my son thinks about that, these trees outside his bedroom,
their branches smacking his window as he tries to sleep,
and for him I trim and cut them.
I hold a limb and work the saw and tell myself
I am holding one of his nightmares
and try to imagine its shadow,
the creature it becomes at night
as I tell myself again I am holding his nightmare.
In the shadows of the trees, walking home,
Bryan and I were arguing about a kung fu movie
and the hero’s amazing kick, one foot rooted to the ground,
the other smack up against the bad guy’s head,
an impossible act for any man, yet one we believed.
Bryan stopped by a large, white mailbox and tried it,
kicking the air beneath the mailbox.
I said, No, higher, and kicked the air above the mailbox,
neither of us seeing at the far end of the gravel driveway
the old man in the doorway of his garage.
He yelled at us, stood up, and raised his shotgun.
We ran, clearing the tree on the other side,
the wind from the shot breezing past my back,
bits of bark and wood hitting my jacket.
One could see the damage done,
a chunk of tree level with our heads, missing,
the wood blonde and bleeding, sticky with sap.
We used to laugh at the idea of anything being dangerous,
would want to touch and explore any wound,
study how it would heal, wait for the crusty darkness of a scab.
My trees now trimmed, I hope for healing,
hope for sunlight to fill my son’s window,
the shadows now dead limbs piled on the ground,
the naked space opened above them among the leaves
an emptiness only memory can fill.
photo by Harry Rajchgot, Montreal, 2017
10 below zero in the first
blinding light of a sunday morning and
they are slaughtering prophets
down on main street
air freezes in your lungs
when you try to scream
woman i love sleeps and
dreams of all the
days before we met
i am too goddamned old to keep
laughing off this pain
that has come to define us
image by Harry Rajchgot, 2017
Under the Eaves
Out there on the edge,
under the eaves
of mind’s fringes –
icicle of the past hangs
piercing through the present
a stuck scene re-playing itself,
a record’s needle skipping:
I need money, money to study.
She is speaking to someone whom
only she can see in the curtained
off rafters behind mind’s eye.
The blown out candles, or maybe
there is one, whose solitary flickering
refuses to be extinguished
in the webbed-wing lining of memory.
Late into her 80s, the present
lost as a blackout, yet
clear as a camera lens focusing on
a phantom apparition, her haunting –
tongue caught in ghostly protestations:
I need money, money to study Latin and French
with the instructor, who lives in the big beautiful
house on the overlooking hill –
then the added moaning of letter “o,”
she cannot let go of: O let me have money.
Again and again: O please, I need money,
money to study Latin and French…
as she presses wringing hot hands
along thighs, as if trying to iron out
the wrinkles of her own despair.
The seeing of someone not really here.
But there, where misfired thoughts live on
in the occupancy of haunted rooms.
This place – vacant to everyone, except
she – she who needs money,
money to study…
O’ please let me…
O’ let me study Latin and French
Voice drifting off into summer’s haze
flapping into cave of eternal night
exhausted she sleeps upside down, wings
curling in around, a delicate and boney body.
Off the Track
At Creel we paid the two pesos
to see the woman living in a cave
the way her ancestors did,
soot on the walls, darkness and wood smoke,
newborn in arms and the older boy
running and running in circles.
We caught the train west,
saw the chasm at Barranca del Cobre
through the charcoal smoke of taco vendors,
bought a basket made from branches,
as supple and fierce as human thighs.
Back on the rails, we stretched
our heads from the platform between cars,
the wind remaking our faces
into shapes we could only imagine.
We thought of the Tarahumara,
somehow immune to the heat
running barefoot through the desert,
scaling the hot clay inclines,
keeping up with the deer.
Approaching the trestle we slowed
as if coming upon an accident,
but below, among the pines,
near the bottom of a vertical world,
the coach cars had lain for years,
positioned like disjointed limbs,
undergrowth pushing through their frames.
The Sister Between
She is like a strong
breeze layered in
sheets over old shale
& even when free to
flow she’s still brittle
& though young she’s
strung between her
head in the sky & her
feet on a line drawn
in the middle of a
road laid over a land
not yet geologically
dead to make it real
she needs to feel she’s
more solid than air yet
lighter than secrets
she’s stashed deeper
down in the strata.
Ruth Z. Deming
To please Dr Cynthia
I said I’d get a
though it is.
The Mary Sachs Breast
Center right around the
corner fit me in
like a lost library book
assuming its rightful
place on the shelf.
Judy was my dark-haired
host. The all plastic
machine was a marvel
with Plexiglass shelves
that lovingly bore
down on each breast.
They seem to get bigger
with time, I said, making
polite conversation, to her
I helped her lay each
appendage on the
shelf, arm clasping
and chin held high
like a Tolstoy princess
Then held my breath
one two three
one two three
until Judy, who
Febreze, told me
to relax, like a
stiff soldier, and
finally bade me go
Come round to my
house on the upward
slope of Cowbell Road.
No one feels my breasts
anymore. Let’s get
acquainted. What kind
of foods shall I
pleasure you with.
Perhaps later on
you’ll make me feel
like a college kid
on my first date.
So I’ve Heard
It was fated that we meet
that we stop and speak in passing
that I reveal to you the softness
of my velvet wounds of sorrow
my mirror eyes.
And I came to dwell with you
and you showered me with jewels
you fed me what I did not know I hungered for
As you learned to dodge my mirrors, as you disciplined
your hooded eyes.
In return I showed my sign
then extracted vital essences from arteries unopened
finally caught you
in elaborate deception.
This is the way they say you’re telling it.
she loved punk rock
on her arm
was drunk or bored
usually was on Tuesdays
in her flat
a kale salad
Perhaps she should have been
an actor – shyness not
uncommon in that profession,
so expressive is her beauty:
That sober furrow between her brows
A coy wink,
Fireworks of joy.
But never self-pity
Not even when she told me
“I guess we were too happy” he said
Words still solace then
He could summon none
That day I called
After the treatments had begun
She upstairs in the dollhouse cabin
The girl and boy playing some quiet game
At the table
Beside their empty soup bowls
And never on those Friday nights
Her face bleached tight
The week of chemo in Halifax,
The four hours in the car,
And still ahead, that long hill home
Only once did I see her cry
Her hair was as thick gold again
As long, as straight
As the perfect rows of her garden
Shiny as the pale scar
Below her neck
Our house was cold that day the floors muddy
The furniture in the truck
We were leaving her and she was late
Almost too late
To say goodbye
artwork by Adrienne Carrier
new york city
a hot summer day
crowding the streets
museums shops restaurants
all the sidewalks
bulging with tourists
cameras always at ready
logging their future memories
on this day
I play the visitor
in a very cool coach
gliding down fifth avenue
gawking at the store windows
bursting with sightseers
jostling for breathing spaces
expropriating my stomping grounds
my gilded carriage an air conditioned city bus
ALEXANDRA IN ISTANBUL
New to the city,
she spends afternoons
rehearsing the shapes of clouds.
One day, they’ll reappear
in a notebook
with names of friends
she’ll have forgotten.
She swears the city
won’t swallow her, leave her
unconcerned if she’s the will
to get up, go home. I was
Alexandra, and walked
through Taksim Square
in the rain in November.
They sold me poison sandwiches,
seats for movies
that never played.
I am waiting to go home.
But the tangerines this fall
on Ergenekon Street
have just begun to sweeten,
and the bonito for sale
on the Bostanci sea-road
glisten in the morning.
Alexandra will put these away
for later, images of a lost world
when the calm of Gdansk
grinds her and the Long Market
on the Baltic becomes shadow.
-photo from creative commons zero
Cowell Ranch State Beach,
south of Half Moon Bay, California
Once an entrance to Aldo Giusti’s
many-acred field of brussel sprouts. Now
the twelve-foot metal gate’s chained shut, holds
back the headland fennel, canes
clawing damp air, rising lumpy with snails
climbing in slow, mute panic.
It couldn’t open anyway, without the chain:
bumpy ox-tongue thistle
and frilly poison hemlock clog
the gate’s swing-arc. On its face, wrought
in iron, a huge blue whale painted white, not blue
—rusted iron spoiling through,
flaking. From his blowhole he spews
an iron fountain, dribbling rust, raises
his curly fluke high into stylized waves
that surge along the upper rail, his tiny
dorsal fin submerged below them.
His throat grooves are
what I like best, rendered by the welder
like a Caddy Eldorado’s grille—rods of iron
parallel, criss-crossed by plowed crop rows
you see between them. Like me,
the whale heads seaward, ocean
half a mile out the gravel track.
An information plaque, pulpit-wide, erupts
right there in hemlock, pedestal flecked
with delicate wild-radish flowers.
It tells, though, about agriculture, how Italians
brought the artichokes, how brussel sprouts
began in 1909, now the coast’s
most lucrative crop.
What I wanted, of course,
was a whale story, perhaps a story
of a particular whale who liked
to breach, whose lobtailing fluke
inspired the gate, how he filtered krill
through his comb-like baleen and didn’t
need teeth, how he was warm-blooded
and had a four-chambered heart.
Michael Lee Johnson
like a stagnant
rain water with moss
floating on top-
Oh, it’s not such
a bad deal,
chilled in the
middle of a sentence
like an old grandfather clock,
hands stretched straight in the air
like a final
-photo Harry Rajchgot
When a night is named
This is how I will keep you,
wrapped in Christmas lights.
Above me, you shiver like kite skin.
My young body is vanity
I thought I could be a home for anyone
But you, like light, are swelling
in a place I can’t touch,
you are rolling like the shadow
of a cloud.
-photo Harry Rajchgot
I know your skin,
the bitten place behind
your knee. I know
from being peeled,
from being cleaned
in your small room,
moulding like pleated skirts,
a place I can fall to
when I need to be anyone.
Leaving Your Bed
When the quiet is silenced by sunlight
Stretching itself languidly over your skin
I see morning, unmasked.
A murderer! A criminal who sneak
On pointed toe into this bedroom to take last night.
When I fell to sleep upon your lips.
Morning was loud of envy. Morning, the inevitable nuisance
Policing laze and comfort. Calls me aside
And pats me down. Morning bathes us in false heat, false
Light and heralds the interruption of day. The fiend is unrelenting.
He comes with the sun and swears to be a soldier of
Good. Know, lover, that the badge he presents is
Morning is a jealous thief. Me from You, You from Me.
You are taken from me upon the contract of day.
Taken away, your blush, your smile draped like silk upon your lips.
Taken away, the arm resting above your
Hair. Fingers telling me to move forward. Too hot for covers,
Your body is embraced by lecherous Morning.
The bastard winking at me as he touches you.
What is Morning
But a thief in the day, masquerading as a new beginning
When it is but an end.
For I must leave your bed.
I have been to Babi Yar
a silent, sad earth
leafless chestnut trees, poplars, roses
inscribed in the sand of skulls
Symphony No 13 adagio
I couldn’t even ask:
Who is the bass soloist?
Baritone of speech song.
Fenced in with barbed wire
on the outskirts of Kiev
and Dokhturova Street
beyond the Jewish cemetery.
A male chorus.
Cellist on this recording
cordoned off by SS soldiers
you couldn’t hear the shooting
September 29 1941
in a ravine at Babi Yar and there, I don’t know
a child. I touched her face.
Reservations are suggested with changes
except most of us are unaware
that we have travelled on a
one way journey until
we have reached its destination.
And whether suddenly or,
through insipid pace,
no desired accommodation
awaits our arrival.
It would be best to book in advance
a fortress to steel oneself against
any damages, loss or theft
and then affix a DO NOT DISTURB sign on
Seeds encased in jack pine cones
require fire to release their kernels
and spur new growth to an aging forest.
But restoration has no confirmed date.
tangle against each other
and in successive days,
block out more light.
Changes can betray you.
They have a life of their own,
that intersect our itinerary
and shove us against time.
We grasp past moments
to regain balance,
but remain all the while,
the startled tourist.
“The only journey is the one within.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke
To know what it is
to be cracked open
wide as the world –
Heart open as the sky,
and part the path for
that kind of space.
To uncover the buried blessings
of your pain;
To know that you will never again
be the same –
Your borders, boundless.
To feel the earth collapse
under your feet
your ability to fall,
To no longer run
from the wounds
of your past.
into the darkness
and mine the gems.
To arrive, again
to further journeying,
To face unafraid
the plans that you’ve made
and to know
your plans are traced
To make peace with this.
To slide back
into your story,
become its hero.
To celebrate the pulse of Life
here, now, this –
Arriving home gently
with loving welcome.
Marlena “Zen” Johns
Glass shards fall.
Like the leaves of an autumn tree,
Baubles cover the ground.
Hands deflect a shower of
Splintering, slicing slivers,
Like threads of insulation.
My tiny paper cut scars
Staining maroon seat covers.
My husband continues,
Smashing car windows with fist and club.
Bloody marriage knows no laws.
Vows protect heinous crimes.
Degradation follows destruction,
And police watch, bystanding pedestrians
As a stream of broken lives pass Go,
And no one sits in Jail,
The community chest’s gift-
Get out of jail, scot-free.
Lawrence William Berggoetz
I have arrived from an ancient city named for a nomad, bruised with black blood. I have not followed a star, my journey moves me in arcs, not in lines, as I study how sunlight changes once it reaches the shelter of June leaves in a young tree.
I would travel on roads, but I seek the echoes and mystery of caves, none of which are found along worn paths or marked by stone trails.
I stir when song arrives like dawn emblazoned in the blossom of the twilight world that is slipping away just as it appears. At night, I alight like a small bird upon its favorite branch as soon as rainfall ends.
I close my eyes and enter a field of wildflowers and clover, filling the air like breeze willing to carry the fragrance of summer across the lake to children who still see their guides, and know that inside each tree is a heartbeat’s vibration.
In silence, I see a child sitting as perfectly as a stone Buddha. I can observe my life from behind his folded body, in communion with the universe; I can see my back, my head quietly observant as my other body dances to each sound. Suddenly, I understand why I long to speak in colors, not in words, while my dreams bleed without the cost of wet blood, fallen like waves that cleanse the beach in the night.
Stepping toward a window, I peer beyond the North Star wondering how the dark side of the moon would appear to a comet thrown into a sudden orbit around the sun.
We know, we strangers, we
who stand on the platform
to each other.
Her mother’s breast aches—
in the morning, especially.
Perhaps it’s how she sleeps,
or the fall breeze,
the crack where the window
won’t close. But we’ve foreseen
the issue already, the tender
flesh spidery and weak.
Or the man whose wife
disappears most Wednesdays,
the breakfast plates
in the sink, her best pants
specially creased. She’s not
going for the sale on sheets
at the English Home Boutique.
She’s desiring another latte
with the man with nice hair.
These people speak to us
with glances, as we listen
for our trains and wait.
-photo Harry Rajchgot