Editor's Note Section

Winter Issue 2021 Volume 1 Issue 1

 

Editor's Note

 
 

Welcome to the premiere issue of ൪uartet, an online journal of poetry by women

age 50 and over. We hope the work collected here can serve as a medium of

exploration and expression for both permanent and changing dynamics of what it

means to be female in this world as we reach full bloom.

We editors of ൪uartet are four women enjoying what are in many ways our best

years. We met and became friends through the small world of poetry-writing in

the small state of Delaware. What started as occasional online critique exchanges

developed into biannual writing retreats at a family farm on the Eastern Shore of

Maryland. These ten years of gatherings, which we call The Muse, not only have

produced hundreds of poems from the four of us, but recently a compilation titled

Walking the Sunken Boards (Pond Road Press, 2019), in which all the poems were

begun, revised and/or finalized at our retreats. We have had such satisfaction and

just plain fun on this collaboration, and so many other women writers have

expressed pleasure at the idea, that the inspiration budded and blossomed to create

a poetry journal for all women poets our age.   

We four vigorously thank our contributors for their work, and our readers, of all

ages and genders, for their interest and support.

   

Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll

Poetry

 
 

Mary Jo Balistreri


 

On the Way to Rochester, Minnesota

 

Early Sunday, February cold, we begin our drive

to Mayo Clinic. My husband curls up beside me.

A large white pillow cuddles his head.

Fields flash by patched with snow,

trees bare of leaves, a low hung sky.

 

He’d become so familiar I’d ceased 

to see him. Now everything is changed.

We’re together in a way we’ve never been. 

He was always the driver, the person in charge,

head of our home. Sick, his role had frayed.

 

In the quiet there’s an urgency to memorize him:

his old cotton shirt, the faint smell of sun and air,

an ink stain on the pocket,

his hand wrinkled and veined. The gray curls.

But no—they’ve been cut away.

 

Moving toward uncertainty, my hands clench

the steering wheel, the metal taste of fear in my mouth.

We come with no offerings of frankincense or myrrh,

but only a desperate plea to heal what can be healed

in our long knowing of love.


 

 

Reprieve

 

Deep in the forest, a ladder of sunlight appears

as my eyes open in this place of shelter. After the dark

and restful quiet of meditation, its brilliance startles.

 

It reminds me of mother’s dying, rising

to a rapturous light she reached for, then falling

back upon her pillow. In that brief moment of pause

the grief of her life became the grief of her death. 

Like the summer solstice, that irreversible turn:

longest light turns toward shortest night.

 

Leaning back against my favorite cedar, I look

around. Everything that was cool and dark glows—

stream, rocks, lichened logs. 

The forest’s light reminds me of the last blaze

of fire before the sun drops over the edge.

 

I’d made this secluded place my sanctuary even before

the coronavirus.  Now more than ever, I need

nature’s simplicity.

 

As I walk home through the setting sun’s afterglow, 

the forest’s silence tags along. Almost there, I realize

my anxiety has dissipated. A skein of crows winds in and out

between buildings, a flock of egrets 

nudged by impending darkness head home to roost.

 

 

Poetry was not a part of my life when my youngest grandson died, but my lifelong profession of music could not help me transcend his loss. Healing came through the words of poets—Jane Kenyon, Mary Oliver, Linda Pastan. Their poetry became the bridge from music to  the music of words. I still go back to these poets for their simplicity, honesty, and love of the world. Along with Rilke, Levertov, and Hopkins, they are my "go to poets" when I get stuck or forget why I came to poetry in the first place. Right now, I am reading journals,  Poetry East,  Modern Haiku, and  Drifting Sands along with Selected Poems by Hahmoud Darwish. A favorite line that comes back to me time and again, is the last line from the Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back endlessly into the past.”

 

— Mary Jo Balistreri

 

 

Fleda Brown


 

Ode on the Nine Things I Didn’t Understand

 

First, the first black kids in Fayetteville High, 

             who no longer had to be bussed an hour over 

the mountains to the colored school. How could

             I know anything? Second, black poets’ voices: 

thunder out of airlessness. Third, the airlessness 

             behind the courthouse where the blacks lived. 

Fourth, Nikki Giovanni’s hatred of me, not me, but, 

             you know, white people. Fifth, Gwendolyn Brooks, 

and Maya Angelou, their restrained graciousness. 

             What was underneath. Underneath the two black

men on a stone bridge in Hughie Lee Smith’s painting, 

             “Home,” I see the dark caverns of arches. 

I see one man almost losing a big red ball in the wind, 

             multicolored streamers flying like joy, 

the other’s muscular back turned slightly away, 

             gaze slightly down, a wariness, something 

coming, something (sixth) I would never get, under 

             blue sky and clouds. I was walking home 

from school hugging my stack of books, balanced 

             and slipping. Walking home through the tunnel

of my youth along the only route I knew 

             the men animal-wary, somewhere on bridges. 

In Little Rock our governor held his ground until 

             the troops came; this was our state and this was 

the cracked sidewalk I walked home from school on, 

             I was so small I can’t see myself any more, except 

for the rumbling of change that was me, always me 

             changing, the buds of breasts and all. Come to think 

of it, I cannot find anything that holds still, except 

             the photos. And that painting like a monument,

that wary back turned away, high on the massive 

             stones of the bridge. Seventh, how an arch 

can hold up heavy things. How cathedrals depend

             on them. How before there was steel there were 

stones leaning, one on the next until the central one 

             at the top. The arch will collapse unless there’s 

something to restrain it, like a buttress or a wall. 

             Then you can run a train through, you can sing 

or say poems loudly inside and the sound will push 

             out the ends, you can stand on top and be sentinel 

while all manner of locomotion slides under. 

             The kids lived behind the courthouse.  All manner 

of beings were there then, as all things are contingent 

             (eighth) and the story of me was based 

on location, dependent upon location, Whitham Street, 

             home, where I was walking, that remained 

home only a while. Ninth, separation is only a perception 

             whereas reality is unchanged as stone, 

and changing, as if a camera were moving along 

             the bridge, stealthily, like a drone.

 

൪            

 

After all these years, I have a pretty strong sense of what’s honest and what’s posturing in a poem. There’s a fine line between language gloriously used and language that’s self-conscious. I look for the glorious. I was nurtured on Hopkins, Rilke, Bishop, and Whitman, and I still turn to them. As for contemporary poets, I read Ellen Bass, Ross Gay, Ada Limon, and many others, but I also read poets I don’t particularly like because I learn things from them as well. 

 

I like to write about trees and birds and flowers, yes I do, even in this terrible time when larger world events are at our throats, literally. I like the small, nearly unseen, beings because they are just themselves, and they are in a way the other part of ourselves. They keep us sane. I am all for sanity these days. 

 

—Fleda Brown


 

 

Laura Brylawski-Miller


 

EPITAPH FOR A PAINTER

 

I shall never now gather the stars

you said I resembled in the living

flesh (quoting some poet). And maybe

I did, then: at seventeen, my callow

green unawareness that you were

falling in love could have lent a touch

of astral distance to the space between us,

those winter afternoons in the studio.

 

You would recite Esenin and Eluard,

explain Cezanne -- a tide of words

flowing into an unexplored beach--

while on the canvas an archetypal figure

I vaguely resembled  would emerge,

violet and brown and yellow, an incarnate

totem, familiar and unknown, my much-

praised face slashed by enigmatic lines, your

famous “wounds” as critics called them.

 

I didn’t understand, then. And now

those wounds have come, your fame

somewhat has dimmed, but none of it

really matters, you know: those winter

afternoons, the dead poets, the colors, are

what endures. I can bathe forever in the deep,

mysterious blues of your “Night Fishing”,

that summer you worked with Picasso

at Antibes, circles of lamp-lit waters

luring groupers to death. And your

weighty black-greens still hold the fields

of our Lombard days, my naïve years

and the wisdom of your peasant roots.

 

From my library wall I now look down

at myself through your eyes. We have both

gone outside time, like those distant stars.
 

 

D’Annunzio once said that color is the struggle of matter to become light. I equally believe that poetry is the attempt of words to break out from their everyday meaning, and to reveal themselves for what they can be: doors to subterranean connections of feelings and images, triggers of buried experiences, adventures in a terra incognita. And in the end, poetry to me is the pleasure words give. Pleasure in their sound, in their shape, and most of all in the challenge they present: having to use words to say what we do not know how to say with words.

 

—Laura Brylawski-Miller

 

 

Sherry Chappelle


 

Take the Pearl

             Leave the Shell Behind

                                      ~ Rumi

 

She keeps a baton at ready, tabled by her chair

to conduct – as if she was - as if she were –

 

in charge of all the music she hears

while waiting for the Big Crunch

 

when her universe stops expanding

when she no longer can warm in a beam

 

of light the size of a piece of toast or

paint the wilderness of stillborn moments

 

her mind no longer running up and down the chords

of the B minor scale, searching for resolution.

 

 

Poetry combines all the things I love best. There’s the way words can tell stories in so many ways. There is the gorgeous feel of them in your mouth – round and jagged, sweet and sour. And the way poems can be thunderstorms lighting up your inner and outer worlds. This Garden of Earthly Delights can be explored endlessly and returned to again and again.

 

—Sherry Chappelle


 

 

Anne Colwell


 

This is a travel poem

 

Because as it begins, I’m driving.

             Two hours ‘til daybreak.

             Full moon in the rearview –

             Bright coin, blank eye –

             Balanced on two spit-shine clouds

             That dip and rise – like a check-mark

             Bird drawn by the four-year-old boy

             Who had feather blonde hair, bad headaches

             Who would have been nine this year.

 

Because as it goes on, I’ve turned

             On to Route 9 past the Methodist 

             Graveyard headed toward the sleepless ocean.

             To my right, in the dark,

             Is the stone that squares his name, and the two

             Numbers that add up to eighteen years.

 

Because when I finally turn onto the highway, 

             Venus, the morning star, ghosts beside me. 

             My lights fading as last night’s neon 

             Winks out, and Venus whispers

             In the voice of my mother and grandmother

             That this is a travel poem. 

 

Because although it is hemmed by loss,

             The trajectory is plain. Trouble

             Stays tangled in the margins. “There’s no way

             To stand firm on both feet and slip trouble,”

             Homer says. But there’s nowhere to go either.

 

 

* In memory of my student, Cory Burton.

 

One of the many things that keeps me writing poetry is the way poems connect me to the here and now, to my own senses and experiences. What keeps me reading is the transcendence beyond my own experience that those words bring. Reading poems connects me to the senses and experiences in some other writer's world even as it heightens my awareness of my own. This fall, I've been reciting Denise Levertov's poem "The Avowal" over and over to myself, wishing I could live in the effortless and grace-filled way that she calls forth in this poem: 

   As swimmers dare

to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them.

 

— Anne Colwell

 

 

 

Molly Fisk


 

August

 

Smoke makes the air true, gruesome,

hangs thick between trees, curdles 

noon light to a pink-orange-otherworldly 

 

hue as if doom were visible and not just 

a grinding in the solar plexus.

We can taste the pines, the ceanothus,

 

on our tongues, every incendiary twig 

and sap-filled branch that has exploded

into ravenous flame. It's only our blaze 

 

now in the river canyon boiling up but 

a north wind is due that will lift fumes 

from valley fires, spin them with those 

 

beside the salt bay and bring new weather 

to sear our throats. The whole state 

is lightning-stunned, lit up and burning — 

 

eucalyptus oils, laurel, black oak, coast 

redwood, apricot and prune-plum, garlic 

stems, cypress, artichokes charred 

 

in their silver-green leaves, the heavy, staked 

grapevines, harvest-laden. All ash 

and memory. Mandarins, lemon groves.

 

 

 

It’s a cliché now, but I began writing in 1990 having read, a few years before, Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese,” which someone handed me as a conciliatory measure after we’d had a fight. I wasn’t a writer at the time. The poem moved from one icebox door in Cambridge, MA to another in Stinson Beach, CA, and someone gave me Oliver’s American Primitive for Christmas, which I read, and promptly thought, “Oh, I could do that.” Which is of course not true in any way. But it got me writing, and Oliver’s undeclared at the time history of child abuse, which was evident in the poems, kept me going through my own traumatic amnesia recovery. I can return to Oliver to jumpstart myself when I’m really stalled, but I also turn to Carolyn Forché, Jack Gilbert, Frank X. Gaspar, Sharon Olds, Robert Frost, Robert Hass, Dorianne Laux, and any number of others for inspiration and to continue the conversation poets have had with each other for centuries, which I am so grateful to be a part of.

 

— Molly Fisk

 

 

Diana Goetsch


 

POINTILLISM

 

Eating shredded wheat, I see my brother

on the back of the milk carton. Not 

the clearest picture, but here’s his name 

beneath. That’s fairly strange because 

he’s also sitting at the table next to me 

eating Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, 

crunching like a slob with his mouth open, 

milk dribbling, holding his spoon like a club. 

(Grandma worries he’ll never find a wife,

eating like that.) In the picture he looks 

to be about fifty-five, eyes half-lidded, 

shirtless, reclining in a hot tub in California, 

bald and fat, and apparently “Lost.”

If I look closely all I see is dots, like 

the Seurat painting we studied in art class. 

“It’s okay I guess,” I said to Mrs. Rowe, 

“but who cares about random Parisians 

in a park, stiff guys in silly hats, and women 

with parasols and porch-like derrieres?” 

I guess you could say the same for a fifty-five

-year-old fat guy in a hot tub—who cares? 

We don’t mind the smell of peanut butter 

on our own breath, but it reeks on others, 

and he was my first other, the prototype 

of everyone who will steal the last slice, 

steal my work and claim it for his own, 

steal my life. Purple nurple, deadleg, punch 

on the nose, and that wet flash of nausea—

smell of pure hate. He taught me hate 

and my parents called it love, which is as weird 

as a ghost eating breakfast next to you, a ghost 

on a milk carton, red dots in blue shadow.  

 

I’ve been largely absent from Poetryland for a couple of years, ensconced in a memoir, though the memoir includes how I began to write poetry, in the 1980s, at a time when I was addicted to shooting pool. After playing straight pool all night in Manhattan, while waiting in a deserted subway station, lines of poetry would float up to me. They weren’t lines of Frost or Eliot or anyone else, so they must have been mine. I’d get home to Brooklyn just before dawn, sit in my tiny kitchen, and write down those lines. The lyric phrases would start to take on the flesh of a narrative, and these would become my first published poems. It’s a strange way to begin a life of writing poetry, but I think something needed to be discharged, or otherwise exhausted, clearing the way for words. I also think I needed the feeling of being the only one awake among millions of sleeping people—giving me a strange and elevated privacy, as though I were standing guard over consciousness, or treading the afterlife—in order to write.

 

— Diana Goetsch

 

(Both of Diana Goetsch’s poems in this issue of ൪uartet appear in different form in her chapbook, In America, a Rattle Chapbook Prize selection.)

 

Meredith Davies Hadaway


 

LEAVES

 

             Marcescent leaves may be retained indefinitely…

 

The way we hold on to the dead through 

long months of winter. We keep a jacket 

 

and a pair of shoes, a scarf that wears 

their scent. An empty envelope slips from 

 

a book. Your name is on it, but you don’t 

remember what the letter said. 

 

Torn edge along the top, flattened by the press 

of pages, nearly dust, your name 

 

in a familiar looping script. The ink 

has blurred into the paper now a waxy sheen. 

 

A vein. A stem. A name—

with no return address.

 

 

“My life in poetry began with the narrative poems of my childhood and the Highway Man and has been tapping at my shutters ever since. My own writing carries me deeper into a daily discovery of birds, tides, trees—the watery landscape of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  As far as inspiration, I read Rumi every day for some spiritual caffeine. I turn to Elizabeth Bishop for resonant description, to Lorine Neidecker for floating imagery, and to Jane Hirshfield for lessons in the zen of paradox.  And, oh yes, who doesn’t love Mary Oliver?”

 

— Meredith Davies Hadaway

 

Luisa A. Igloria


 

Shaker

 

You knew as soon as we climbed 

into the mezzanine’s upturned 

square of yellow light—

 

Mostly because a chair had been left there 

in the middle of the floor: accoutrement of blond

wood, upright back, the kind that might be hung

by one rung along with others of the same

make on a wall.

 

                                Evidence, you said, 

of another idea of pioneer. Could this be 

a place to let down baggage, allow the head 

to tilt toward the trees and their barges

filled with powdered snow?

 

There are those who cultivate 

a certain look as soon as they feel they’ve fled

their moorings— 

 

Their appraisal washes over you 

when elevator doors slide open 

and you step in. 

 

But you don’t know

how to be that kind of sleek

animal or machine; 

 

                                       where to put

your carved idol face, your brass

inlays, each hand-pressed layer

of mahogany veneer. 

 

 

 

In my work, I write about recurring themes: place, displacement, my (our) place in and connection to histories that precede us and that determine experience as well as possibility in the current moment. And for many years now, before I became aware of the term, I’ve been writing ecopoetry— Not merely because of the importance of preserving the natural world which is in precarity from climate change effects, among other things, but because growing up in Baguio City in the Philippines, I was raised with the awareness of the interconnectedness of all forms of life. My identities as an immigrant writer, a woman, a poet of color, have an influence on my writing as well as my pedagogy and art-making. www.luisaigloria.com

 

— Luisa A. Igloria

 

Mary Ann Larkin


 

THE STORY

 

Each year, the nuns

unfolded the story anew for us,

a holiday cloth they’d hidden away

at the bottom of a drawer.

They showed us

how hard it is to be born,

hung the tale like a star

in those sooty Pittsburgh skies.

 

In our cavernous schoolroom, smelling 

of chalk dust, paste and chocolate milk

the sisters assembled their cast:

the mean king

the humble working man

the acquiescent girl,

and the animals, of course.

The Babe still unborn.

No one yet forsaken.

 

Rubber boots stood in puddles

in the steamy cloakroom,

as the donkey jolted along,

and the camels unfolded

first one leg then another.

The innkeepers were cruel

but the lambs and the ox made room 

in the sweet-smelling straw

that banished all the odors

from our starless classroom.

 

Though we know many stories now

the nuns were the first to tell us 

of betrayal and cruelty

stars and love

the adoration of the flesh

the warm close breath of the dumb.

 

Though I wrote my first poem as a freshman in high school, I began writing poetry seriously in my thirties after the sorrow of a divorce set free the sorrow I had buried when my mother died. I have been writing regularly ever since--for more than forty years. It's what I do and can't stop doing. Some of my favorite poets are Jack Gilbert, Muriel Rukeyser, Adam Zagajewski, and Wislawa Symborska.

 

— Mary Ann Larkin

 

Franetta McMillian


 

Cosmonaut

for my father

 

I remember when we used

to take the telescope out on the Green.

Lots of folks were staring

at the moon back then.

Some men even landed on it --

dug around, played golf,

planted a flag.

One giant leap for humankind.

 

Later, armed with a cheap mic

and an old cassette recorder,

I would plot my own fantastic voyages.

And me, Spock, Scotty, 

and Josie and the Pussycats,

didn’t just settle for the moon.

We zoomed right past Saturn’s rings

beyond Pluto

columbusing the final frontier.

 

We are fallen stars

staring up at the sky,

billion year old flecks of light,

mired in gravity,

who spend our whole lives

aching for home.

 

Well, you’ve made it, Cosmonaut.

Cut the silver cord

and spread your wings.

Take one final bow

and boldly go.

 

Euthanasia

My sister called to say Mom

was seriously considering the feeding tube.

Dad had been in hospital for three days.

The prognosis wasn’t good.

“What’s his fever?” I asked.

“104.7,” she said. “What should we do?”

 

Dad hadn’t spoken for a week.

Even if he survived this,

he was never really coming back.

During lunch I sent a text:

“Treat 12 more hours.

If no improvement, hospice.”

With those eight words,

I sealed my father’s fate.

 

I was reminded of that time

I was stuck in traffic

and there was a deer

on the side of the road, 

legs mangled and bleeding,

stubbornly clinging to life.

A dapper gray-haired stranger

left his car to do

what needed to be done:

two shots -- head and heart -- pop! pop!

And it was over.

 

Sometimes an act of mercy

leaves a yawning silence

and a hole in your heart

deeper than time.

Sometimes love

can feel like murder --

or is that what

they mean by letting go?


 

 

Probably my biggest poetic influences have been song lyrics: Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Peter Sinfield (of King Crimson), Michael Timmins (of the Cowboy Junkies.) I also like rap lyrics when they actually have something coherent to say.

 

I like reading or listening to writers for whom English is not their first language because they transform English in interesting ways. (Examples: Bjork, Gabriel Okara)

 

I believe in the poetic value of everyday speech. If you listen to people, they say the damndest things. A couple of days ago a little girl yelled in the parking lot, “I’m so bored, I wish a bear would kiss me!” I thought: “That’s going in a poem one day.”

 

Most poetry I read is either not revised enough or revised to death. You want the proper balance between emotional resonance and technique. 

 

— Franetta McMillian 
 

 

Kristina Morgan


 

Alberta of Sandia Unit B, Behavioral Health

 

I cry myself awake to the florescent bulbs

in the room, Alberta’s booming voice

from the hall—raw, brassy, authentic,

saying don’t you despair.

I am pulled from my bed.

 

She is a large woman heavy on her feet

preferring the ride of a wheelchair

to the movement of her own brown legs.

 

Alberta asked for peanut M & M’s. 

They settled her, acting 

as hands to a clock and breeze to a bird.

 

I dreamt of revolution to be a step toward peace.

Thought that it would ignite in me, tear me down,

allow me to rebuild--my body tall and reed like, 

my mind a platter of beads, a kaleidoscope of God.

 

Alberta did not need a revolution.  She was one

who blazed outside herself, kindled fire in others, 

her mouth filled with fierce words and sad pleas,

Help me. I hate it here. Won’t you all fuck off.

Prison is filled with stained toilets and broken showers.

This. Is. Prison.

 

Medication did not tame her belligerence.  

She was the iron ball of a catapult 

who would launch herself onto the patio of smokers,

smelling of rancid unwashed people,

interfering with their chatter,

asking for a cigarette, being offered none.

 

Staff brushed her corn rows out 

and washed her house coat

the morning the Marshall and two security guards 

came from the State Hospital.

They were unprepared for her size. 

She was not able to fit into the back

of the police car.  Even thin

she would not have been able to fit into the seat.

She was no criminal.  She was a suffering woman 

whose rage stole the best of her

and scared other patients into wishing 

she would be taken away.

 

I could spend hours watching Alberta 

with a glance from my chair

in front of the staff’s station. We don’t interact.

She is truth without language.

Getting to know her would strip the mystery

I’ve come to dwell in like a detective searching

for a missing woman, a dog leaving muddy 

paw prints in a home that is not his,

then disappearing, unnoticed, 

back through the doggy door.

 

Alberta is in me.  I too see with the unbroken gaze   

of psychosis. I too dialogue with people 

no one else sees.  

Medication helps. Brings me back  

to palm trees and swimming pools, 

conversation and chicken, the smell

of barbeque making itself known.

I like washing dishes

and returning to a bed dressed 

in flowered sheets, sleeping in dreams

of eating chocolate, 

reading mail sent to my home.

 

Alberta doesn’t know that I am in her.  

I am in her like dust in a tornado,

night in a star, ice in a glacier.  

Too small to be felt by her heart. Too small 

to pull her out of illness.

Staff gives her a chocolate bar 

she eats while she waits for the van.

She will live at the State Hospital for at least a year.

I watch her delight over the candy.

Her mouth carves its way into a smile.

I wonder if the moment is as significant to her

as it is to me. I taste her pleasure.

 

I will go grocery shopping with my boyfriend,

will pick from many chocolate bars, thank God for the quiet

that comes after the revolution where people like Alberta

can storm if they like, blowing fire into rivers,

their revolt safe. The pavement is hot.

I have shoes that prevent me from blistering

as I walk easily to our car.

 

 

The Snow Cone Machine is Large

 

its size forces the family to stand one at a time in the kitchen.

I ask my sister, Emily, why she keeps it.  She says the kids

want to remember snow cones with their father in the summer

how the syrup painted their tongue and made their smile bright blue.

 

There is a magnet of Bob on the refrigerator

his shaved head sitting on a thick neck and strong shoulders

that promised not to buckle under heavy flannel

at least this is how the picture reads.

 

*

It is Tuesday at 2 am. 

My sister, nephew and niece are wakened by the pounding on the door,

a noise much louder than the traffic they can hear driving past their apartment.

Emily knows it is the police.  She knows this just as she knows

there is no butter in the house.

 

She opens the door to the officer who in turn asks if she is Emily Brown-Smith,

the length of her name steady like an alarm clock when it is time.

Her reply is slow, is yes, is seconds long.  “Do you know a Robert J. Smith?”

She does not say yes, but closes her eyes in a pause much longer than a blink.

The officer informs her that he was found dead in his home. The dead final like ice   

left on the counter to melt.

 

 

Bob had stabbed himself repeatedly and then hung himself.  It was said he died slowly.  

             The noose had worked only in the end. The details mattered

              like a monogram on the pocket of a shirt for sale at a secondhand store.

 

*

My nephew and niece fold and unfold that single morning

            like they do origami swans left on their window sills to fade by the sun.

They are 13 and 11.  The chest of drawers they share does not allow them to tuck

            the weight of their father in beside the sweaters.

They wear him to Thanksgiving dinner.  It is obvious.  They can not lift their chin,

            nor are they asked to.  

 

Come summer, there will be snow cones again.  This is what they talk about.

 

 

Writing is breath. I wrote as a kid, illustrating stories of Batman and Robin getting the bad guy. Writing is Freeing. Worries don’t follow me into the zone. I am largely an intuitive writer with my writing coming from some source I don’t understand. People’s comments about my writing teach me much about my writing. A couple of my favorite poets include Norman Dubie and Beckian Fritz Goldberg. Norman Dubie’s poetry I don’t understand but his use of language is startling and brilliant. Beckian’s The Book of Accident is an amazing post-apocalyptic collection with lines that a critic pulled out which describe desire like a “live rat sewed up inside us.” Exciting!

 

— Kristina Morgan


 

 

Susan Rich


 

The Night Clerk of Almeria During the Evacuation 

 

In the half-empty hourglass of midsummer

she kneels to the grasshopper, 

 

to its wings smeared with rain and laced

with pollen, flabbergasted 

 

by the collaboration of heat and air.

The woman sees the wolf moon sonata 

 

she will compose. Inspects the insect’s legs

investigating the way string music 

 

derives from its body, how the head 

shines like a streetlamp in a small city.

 

This will become the core of her 

debut composition: a note offered 

 

to the orchestra conductor; the patrons 

applauding like so many pairs of wings—

 

I Never Tired of Talking About the Dress

 

which was designed by the neighborhood tailor,

Alhaji, who became friend, became lover

of my black coffee and fragmented conversation

 

in French; of the width, the cut, the strength

of the wraparound sash of The Most 

Rapturous fit—soft tint of a Saharan sky—

 

of the dress. Photographed here against 

a sandstone wall. Against the past, against the body 

I live in now, there lives this promise: 

 

the West African wedding wrap

sequestered in the back of the closet. 

The cloth now spiritual, sized extra small,

 

with seams hand-sewn by elongated fingers. 

Who was the girl locked inside the alchemical stitch—

about to create such a symphonic mess of it.

 

 

I need to continually surprise myself and I seek poets that give me permission to go beyond my self-imposed limitations. My go-to poet of the moment, actually, the last four years is Terrance Hayes. To keep him company I read Aracelis Girmay and Kelli Russell Agodon. When I reach back into the poets that nurtured me as a younger writer I visit Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov, and Adrienne Rich. From these latter poets I did my best to learn precision, music, and the essential core of an ethical lyric. I hope I'm still learning, still finding new mentors on the bookshelves and in the ether of the worldwide web.

 

— Susan Rich

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Editor's Choice

  • I knew on first reading that I wanted Jan Beatty's poem for my editor’s choice. First, because the ending surprised me in that open mouth, breathtaking way. And secondly, because it is emblematic of everything I wish this journal to be—women helping women.

        — Linda Blaskey


 

Jan Beatty


 

To the Woman at the Laramie Airport 

 

Coming off a prop plane from Denver,

3rd flight of the day, I hit Laramie at 10:30 

and it’s pretty shutdown. Woozy, I'm fumbling 

with luggage and the bolted metal gate at car rental, 

a woman next to me in a heavy brown coat

the color of West. She’s close, 

head tilted and blue eyes tired like mine.

Do you need help? she says.

Yeah, I say, it says to write down 

my credit card number and slide it

under the gate. Where I come from, 

that’s a really bad idea. 

Oh, it’s fine, she says, that’s how they

do it here—it’s safe. 

Really? I say, but don’t believe her. 

I do it all the time, I live here, she says,

where are you going? 

Coming on to midnight, I look hard

at this stranger, tell her I’m on my way

to a residency up at Brush Creek.

Oh, how wonderful, she says, seems

like she means it, her voice high with excitement.

She was happy for me.

She told me the way to the rental lot,

I thanked her and washed my face.

Still, I got lost in the dark, and when I 

reached Lot G7, she was standing in 

my spot. I’m thinking stalker, Single 

White Female. She’s going to rip my throat 

with my own keys, stuff my body in the trunk.

I told you the wrong place 

for the car, she said.

Oh thanks, I said.

She helped me with my bags,

Have a great residency, she said—

thanks, really—thanks, I said.

So tired I couldn’t figure out the car—

they told me to get 4 wheel drive for

the back roads and the snow. 

So when I took the airport exit,

she pulled out ahead about 20 yards,

blinked her headlights, her arm out 

 

the driver’s window a 90-degree pivot

and turned right onto Snowy Ridge Road

towards Laramie—I turned left.

I beeped and waved.

She didn’t have to do it.

Two women at night in the night

of the world. She saw me with no bearings,

she saw me afraid, she stepped up and 

loved a stranger. She didn’t have to 

do any of it. 

 

 

Poetry has always been a rope for me. I hold on to see what life it leads to, to keep me connected to something unknown yet vital. It steadies me and yanks me around—it slacks, and I fall back into myself. It pulls like an intense, unseen force into a fog. 

 

—Jan Beatty

 

 

  • Molly Fisk raises the “clenched fist” of all women whose creativity has been lost or ignored. I love how she gives them and us our rightful place in art. 

        — Jane C. Miller


 

Molly Fisk


 

All's Well That Ends

 

My friend who found the life of the spirit in her 60s 

and now is 82 likes to say Nothing matters, all is well, 

 

which makes us both smile. Shakespeare seemed to think 

the end eventually would even out the means if not 

 

completely justify it. Whoever Shakespeare really was: 

Marlowe, Francis Bacon, some gentlewoman of means

 

and a great eye for human foible but whose name,

of course, remains unknown, one more silver-sided fish 

 

in the vast sea of women artists called Anonymous. I bow.

I bow and raise my clenched fist at the same time, fully 

 

against the curtailment, corralling, theft from, stifling, 

paralysis, distracting, and abasement of the fair sex. 

 

That the slanted light in glimmers and faint music emerged 

at all is the miracle, from laundry soap and candle wax, 

 

chickens boiling on a stove all day for stock, keeping the fire 

hot enough, having chopped wood, and it's summer, and how 

 

many babies? Tell me your theory again, oh you whose meals

arrive on a plate, whose clothes are folded clean in drawers 

 

that art is a luxury and not the bright blood coursing, fox-fleet,

down our thighs, through our every vein.

 

  • Katherine Gekker's poem begins with sound and continues to work sound and build with sound. The white space is dream-like and encouraged me to read the lines with consideration. Each time I read the sections, I discovered something new. I wanted to linger in the music and language of Katherine’s words.

        — Gail Braune Comorat


 

Katherine Gekker


 

Egg / Lion / Stone

 

1. Near the Tiber

 

Noise echoes off stone walls, cobblestones. 

Wakes me. Wakes hooded crows. 

                                                                Below, 

in the passage too narrow for last night’s taxi, 

a man in blue coveralls tunes a scooter’s motor, 

its four strokes out of time – 

a cacophony of muddied articulation. 

                                                    No syncopation. 

 

I dreamed I speak German, order a hard-boiled egg –

              Ein dur Ei, bitte.

 

My dream scrambled food / languages / music.

Confused French dur – hard – with German’s dur  –

                          a major musical key. 

 

             Language and I are on vacation.


2. The Beginning, 

                             and Then

 

Even when I was a mere egg, 

words and notes vibrated around me.

Dozens of rhythms, languages rippled.

                          Of these, music was the greatest.

 

You coddled me. 

                                       And then you stopped –

 

3. Palatine Hill

 

Stone lions keep watch beneath umbrella trees.

A cracked blue shell leaks yellow yolk onto travertine steps.

 

Above, a coloratura song thrush sings –

              Don’t my eggs taste sweeter than those of your cackling hen?

 

Do lions eat song thrush eggs?

 

                          Romulus saw twelve birds on Palatine Hill.

                          Western music has twelve major keys.

                          Twelve tones compose the chromatic scale.

                          Eggs are sold by the dozen.

                          Twelve months equal a year. 

 

                          Some quantum gravity theories posit eleven dimensions.

                                      Maybe 12 = 11.

 

Couchant stone lions recline on plinths.

 

                                                  What is it that turns us to stone?

 

A. Milne's "King John was not a good man" – this line rattles around in my ear and brain, as it has since I was a child. I was always so relieved when he got a "big, red India-rubber ball!" (in all caps!) at the end of the poem.

 

Right now I'm reading The River Twice by Kathleen Graber, Ledger by Jane Hirschfield, and I'm just starting to reread Anne Carson's "The Glass Essay," and Claudia Rankine's Citizen. I like poets and poems that work at many levels: meaning, language, images, sound, form. Those that challenge me.

 

Poets I return to often: Rilke, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Wisłava Szymborska, Lucille Clifton, Ellen Bass, Marie Howe, Mark Doty.

 

—Katherine Gekker

 

 

  • I've changed my name (my last name) three times in my life (only sometimes voluntarily). So Diana Goetsch’s poem really speaks to me: about choosing exactly who one is/who one wants to be— and choosing with exuberance!                                                                                        I also love and value the access the poem offers its readers to one of our age's most enlightened and profound societal changes.                                                                                        — Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll

Diana Goetsch


 

STARBUCKS NAME

 

Call her silly if you want 

for what she loves: not the white 

chocolate mocha she orders, not the girl 

asking her name, then writing it 

on the cup and passing it to the barista, 

not the barista, who later shouts, 

“Victoria!” That is what she loves. 

She loves getting up from our table 

and strutting across Starbucks 

in slingback heels and low cut blouse, 

displaying hard-won cleavage 

in a push-up bra. But most of all she 

loves the name she has given herself, 

requested of her and said out loud, 

like a butler announcing a debutante 

at the entrance to the ball. 

Victoria is 61 and a grandfather. 

Her wife hates her breasts, hates 

her risking her career and pension 

to be doing this, which is also 

what I’m doing, though I never had 

a wife or family. And while I too 

like my name, I have no need to 

photograph it, which is what Victoria, 

who has taken out her iPhone, is now 

doing, and posting it to Instagram, 

the tall paper cup with her name on it.

 
 
 
 

Interview

 

൪uartet Interview: Joan Colby

 

Joan Colby is the author of 25 volumes of poetry, most recently The Kingdom of Birds (August 2020, The Poetry Box Press) and The Salt Widow, a memoir (August 2020, FutureCycle Press). She has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, Broadkill Review, Gargoyle, Pinon, Little Patuxent Review, Spillway, Midwestern Gothic and others. Her numerous awards include the 2013 FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize for Joan Colby: Selected Poems, and Glass Lyre Press’ 2015 Kithara Illinois Arts Council. Colby’s poems have been featured on Ver(se) Daily and one is among the winners of the 2016 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest.

 

An accomplished equestrienne, Colby served as editor of the Illinois Racing News for over 30 years, a monthly publication for the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation, published by Midwest Outdoors LLC. She lives with assorted animals on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois. She is senior book editor for FutureCycle Press and associate editor of Kentucky Review and Good Works Review.

 

~~~

 

൪:  In such a long writing career, what led you to pursue poetry?

 

JC:  I have written poetry since I was a child. My father read to me from Shakespeare when I was a young child and from the poems of Lord Byron and Shelley. So I grew up loving poetry. 

 

൪:  About your father in “Little Big Horn” (Joyriding to Nightfall), you write: “He gave me horses and poetry,/How to be observant and obstructive/With a grimly quiet resistance.” In The Kingdom of Birds in “Hawks in the Morning,” you write: “To watch them circle/Is to find pleasure/As we ought in art, seeking not to/Understand but to experience.” Talk about the role of observation in your life.

 

JC:  One must be an observer to write anything. Close observation is necessary to understand the natural world. Observation, not just of things that matter, but of nuances – the feelings that people express, intimations.

 

൪:  In poems from your more recent books, there were echoes of Robert Frost in “Farming” (Dead Horses), Wallace Stevens in “Clio Invents her Textbook” (Ah Clio) and James Wright in “Fox River” (Properties of Matter.) Would you talk about poets who have influenced your style and what you have learned from them?

 

JC:  Many poets have influenced me. The short stories of Flannery O’Connor showed me another way to reckon with the world. And to use what one might think of as brutality to find honesty in existence. 

 

I’ve sought all my life to be perfectly honest in my poetry.

 

൪:  Nature is clearly a dominant focus of your work stemming from your life as a horsewoman living on a farm in rural Illinois – where the natural world is an everyday inspiration. Please describe how that relationship took root, what it means to you, and how it may have changed over the years.

 

JC:  I love the natural world and animals – that has been a significant issue in my life always.

 

൪:  Certain words, among them – lilies, crosses, beauty, gloves, calligraphy – provide a connection between poems and books. They elicit a flash of recognition and surprise because you use them each time in unusual ways. For example, in The Kingdom of Birds, you write in “Hawks”: “How beautifully/The raptors cruise November skies/Like crosses dipped in blood.” Please talk about how this approach can foster an emotional connection with readers, and how to avoid turning it into a crutch.

 

JC:  Many of the symbolic words that I use are rooted in my unbelieving Catholic upbringing (my devout mother). My science-minded father refuted mysticism and anchored my thoughts in reality which led to me being a realist who values logic above all things.

 

൪:  You have described writing poems like taking dictation. Does that include beginning and ending lines? Which come to you first? How do you know you have reached the end of a poem?

 

JC:  I never so much plan a poem as receive it.  The important poems that I have written have come to me often in waves, one after another, and are not constructed but simply written down. I never know what a poem is going to tell me. The point of writing poems is to find out what they reveal.

 

൪:  From ekphrastic and list poems to narratives and villanelles, you cover a lot of poetic forms in your books. A chicken and egg question, how do you choose these forms? Why are they important to pursue?

 

JC:  Of course, sometimes I have written poems for my own amusement. Like the poems in Broke, which explored the various meanings of the word, and written in a hospital after an accident. Or the poems in Elements, which focused on various elements that allowed a certain amount of punning and word play.

 

൪:  In a reading, you said Ah Clio was a 50-year effort. In that chapbook, you turn the goddess of memory into an emblem and observer of history and women in it. What did you learn from Clio as your muse? What is your advice to people who find an obsession and want to see it through?

 

JC:  I have always loved history and thus attracted Clio as my avatar. Every so often, she would visit me with a poem, and I Iearned from what she told me in the poems. I learned that history is not to be trusted, and that Clio is simply the recorder. My advice: follow your obsessions if you so desire to.

 

൪:  One of the hallmarks of your poetry is its fluidity in moving between subjects, time and state. One thing becomes another, becomes another. Often what begins as small becomes large and many lived or vice versa. For example in “Blackflies” (Joyriding to Nightfall), you move those pests past foxhound and fisherman with his creel: in an aside, name larger more news-worthy beasts, then remind us: “But it’s the pests/Small and voracious we learn to dread./In a marriage…” How intentional or organic are these moves?

 

JC:  Metaphor describes the way I think. It always has. The move you refer to in “Blackflies” is organic. It’s never intentional – these leaps just occur.

 

൪:  Your vivid descriptions and compelling verbs enliven themes of loneliness, history, myth, love, family and memory. Talk about craft – how verbs, similes, metaphors, anaphora – move the familiar into discovery for the reader.

 

JC:  Craft is essential to good poetry. Strengthening verbs is more important than use of adjectives. Honest expression is crucial. My advice -- Don’t search the thesaurus for unusual words. Write in your own tone. Don’t be pretentious. Write about what is important to you.

 

൪:  You lace your poems with scientific language that makes long distance connections to what may be known. In “Properties of Matter” that shares the book’s title: “We are vases of minerals,/Maps overridden with nerves.” In The Kingdom of Birds, that analysis has turned inward. In “Eulogy for Birds,” you declare:”I am a clatter/Dangling from nervestrings/Like thin-paned chimes/Telling a blown story.” Has your use of such information become more personal in recent work?

 

JC:  A friend of mine described my mind as a vacuum cleaner – which is true. I gather up the detritus of everything I read or hear or see, and I store it. My work has moved, in one sense, from the personal as a young woman, to the more impersonal - except for the oncoming work which memorializes my grief for my husband.

 

൪:  Dead Horses is a natural extension of your lifelong work with, and love of horses. Your newest collection, The Kingdom of Birds, brings avian focus to our world. Why this book, why now?

 

JC:  My poet friend David Spicer said to me, “You have enough bird poems to make a book.” That was the origin of The Kingdom of Birds. I have always loved watching birds. I feed them, photograph them. In ways, I feel bird-like.

 

൪:  Please tell us about your memoir in progress and when we can look forward to reading it next year?

 

The memoir in progress is The Salt Widow, a memoir of grief. It will come out from FutureCycle Press this fall due to the heroic efforts of Diane Kistner of FutureCycle Press.

 

                                                                                        - - -

 

Joan Colby was suffering from terminal cancer at the time that this interview was conducted. She regrets its brevity. She would have liked to respond at much greater length but she was not able to do so. Joan passed away August 18, 2020.

A Revenant of Birds

 

Alternate shapes

angle of wings

division of tailfeathers.

 

The expert

identifies birds by form,

the measures they paste upon air

like grace notes. Intervals

between where they were

and are now.

 

The birds subtract themselves

from a grey expanse, transformed

to jittery leaves on a winter oak.

Their plainsong matters,

composes the morning.

 

The birds rest insisting

several kinds of silence

encompass a harmony beyond the world’s

blue scales, prefiguring

a calligraphy of the higher kingdom.


— from The Kingdom of Birds

View poetry by Joan Colby at www.joancolby.com. Her books are available for purchase through her publishers or through Amazon. 

 

This interview was conducted via email by ൪uartet editor, Jane C. Miller

 

Book Review

Lessons in Soothing Savagery

 

I Will Say Beauty 

Carol Frost

TriQuarterly Press (2003)

 

As the coronavirus continues its rampage, I find myself rejecting high-stakes drama for stories where I can nest more comfortably with less challenge. I want a world where beauty is not marred by uncertainty and death.


I turned to Carol Frost’s poetry collection, I Will Say Beauty because I hunger for such consolation that 2020 decidedly did not provide. My desire, it turns out, is the very issue Frost addresses. And not in the way I expected.

In side-by-side preamble poems, Frost shows her intention to move us into new territory. In “Winter Without Snow,” her wish for “a white field/like a fresh beginning” becomes a metaphor for the blank page on which she alters form and perception. 

 

Her shift to the right-hand margin in “Wet Spring Day,” forces a sea-change in how this and subsequent poems look and feel. Her lines on a spar flow fluid as left-moving surf to “...the sun-drenched southern reaches/of thought, off charts...”

 

Though “we could nearly lose ourselves” in such bliss, she has much larger aims, joining her purpose with artists past who claim creativity as a beatitude nature affords, if we look closely enough.

 

With language elegant and sensual, avid and languorous, Frost imbeds us in kayak, field, in bird. In her words, we become both window and landscape to explore the nature of ardor, greed, compassion, and loss. And though she takes as her book’s title an affirmation of beauty in pain and want, her poems both express and question it.  

 

Her lungs fill with the flight of a small seabird, yet in “Driftwood,” she becomes “Bird not bird” in flux with currents and asks, “Have I lied to myself about art?”

 

Nature supplies the reckoning. Its soothing savagery describes our own. In Frost’s words, a body in the jaws of a white shark becomes no less beautiful than a star-gazer lily. For where time is both passion and predator, beauty is not the absence of flaws or risk, but the presence of scars and our ability to bear them. 


And bare them she does. A taut bow is a heart string a hunter waits to pluck. Conch, eel, deer face our greed. In “Rays,” Frost uses the ghazal form to superimpose the “I” on this creature and acknowledge our culpability for its pain.  “The body has a season and hungers,” she reasons in “Whelks.”

Animals understand better their body’s stages. A dying rabbit in “Reap” that “wears illness/like a dirty coat” moves into the underbrush, “smoothed by the soft greys, as if with compassion.” He anticipates his death with an acceptance we can only imagine.

 

In Frost’s telling, animals don’t share the burden of mind that questions all things. That is our privilege and pain. Animals do not magnify every moment. They live them, and though we cannot change who we are, we can be changed by how we experience the world and find in its dark mystery, the fullness of beauty in our lives.

 

Such epiphanies cannot be planned. “Only in forgetting map and compass...” she tells us in “Foxes” can we experience discovery and insight. From that letting go comes “A strange glory, a sense of moment, so lovely/and intense.../and then it changed,//as we are changed.” (“Hem of Sunlight”) And if in those moments we see what or who is not there, she says, “there’s beauty in small lies” (“Apiary IX”) and comfort. 

 

Through these lessons in how to live, Frost takes us out of ourselves and returns us changed by our encounters. I Will Say Beauty offers an enduring testament to the power of art to convey our search for meaning and to not despair, even as a modern-day plague threatens us. Amid time’s winded clamor, grace steels its wings and out of darkness her silken words hold us spellbound by their tough, elegant beauty. 

 

— Jane C. Miller

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