Editor's Note Section
Summer Issue 2022 Volume 2 Issue 3
If you write poetry, you know accidental photography. The point at which a poem decides it is something other than what you thought it would be. The way a camera cuts off half the head of
an uncle or in the blur of speed, misses a vista for a bush instead. Surprise after you drop your
phone in your purse. Only later hear the scrunching of your feet and muffled chatter on a dark screen because you forgot to turn the video off.
Inside each drop of rain / fish swim. (“RAIN IN SIENNA,”Liliana Ursu )
The unexpected animates. Especially when you are a tourist in your own life. For all the planning that scripts our activities, it is mistakes or chance encounters that make an experience
memorable. If, as Simone Weil said, “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer,” then the letting go is amen. And who doesn’t want to believe discovery is still possible?
the whole village gave chase, / a streetful of black-clad galloping animals. (“At the Village Fair,” Wang Xiaoni)
Once on a Lisbon tram, an old man with days’ old stubble, his look intent and kind, traced my jawline with his hand. Next stop he was gone. I was in a new place, open to experience, a re-birth
in his catch and release. I was not close looking, but he was. Our job as writers is to show up, suspend judgment and receive. As W.S. Merwin wrote in “Relics,” Before I knew words for it… /
I stood at the corner and listened”. Our words and our senses are waiting. Let them surprise us.
—Jane C. Miller
What I'm reading:
Goldsmith Market, Liliana Ursu; Something Crosses My Mind, Wang Xiaoni; The Meadow, James Galvin
Toni La Ree Bennett
Two Figures in Dense Violet Light
(inspired by a Wallace Stevens poem title)
are looking at something one of them holds
in her hands, cupping them to keep
from losing this treasure, whatever it is—
both figures leaning over the hands
cupped in the shape of an ark
the violet light bruising the skin
the weight of the night obliterating form
forcing the women to embellish the faint
shape with their shared memories.
You and I will never know what it is
and why it was worth holding
let me show you what I have.
I became a poet the day after I passed the last of my Ph.D. exams. I no longer wanted to write analytically and critically. No longer could. I have been writing poetry ever since as well as manipulating photographs into art, and painting. I taught English composition, drama, and
children’s literature for five years at the University where I received my degrees.
I hadn’t written or submitted any writing since the pandemic began and just recently am revising
and submitting. During isolation, I got into art history and not content with being jealous of the artists whose work I was studying, I started doing my own drawing, watercolors, collage, and acrylic painting. That reminded me how incredibly talented those people were and I am not. But I have managed to come up with a few things I like hanging on my walls and may even start submitting some art to journals.
Over the years, I have had a nice assortment of poetry published, including a chapbook and have
been able to get many photographs into literary journals, sometimes as the cover image.
One of my favorite inspirations for writing poems came when I decided to look at some of my favorite poets’ poem titles, making sure they were poems I had never read, and then writing my own poems based on their titles. The poem in this issue of ൪uartet is one of those. The poets whose titles
I stole were Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and William Carlos Williams. I couldn’t use T. S. Eliot because I’ve read everything he ever wrote that was published.
Looking forward to a trip to London this year after not traveling internationally for twenty years, to make more memories, get more ideas for poems, and take more photographs.
—Toni La Ree Bennett
Heather L. Davis
The Pale Pink Ceramic Mug for Instance
There’s a reckoning at the edges of things, what hangs
in the balance, teeters
on the brink—the pale pink ceramic mug for instance
set barely deep enough
on the counter not to plummet, its shape static
and intact—a miracle.
The bodywash about to slip from the tub’s slick
rim to the floor.
These are the objects she leaves in the wake
on the cusp of flying from home, six months
and she’ll be gone,
taking familiar compulsions with her, the ones
we pretend to ignore,
little hops across the room or glances up as if
attention, her gaze so convincing you might
follow it and wonder
what, what? How I will miss the clockwork
clearing of her throat,
so subtle you could mistake it for your own.
In the fridge, we discover
what’s loose—milk caps left untightened, set
roughly in their place,
food barely wrapped. Some call it quirky or
eccentric, but this
is genetic inheritance, everything her mind
tells her to do,
everything she can’t control, teaching us–
mother, father, brother–
the value of precariousness, that almost loss.
Although I’ve experienced mental health challenges at various points in my life, I’m the lone neurotypical in a household of neurodivergent people. I adore my neurodivergent husband and
kids—I am fascinated by how their minds work and how they navigate challenges like OCD, Tourette’s, and ADHD. My daughter is one of the most poised people I have ever met, despite her struggles with social anxiety and a constantly changing set of compulsions. I wanted to capture her “edginess” in a poem, how we love so much about her--including her OCD--and how gracefully she navigated the journey toward college while her dad and I dreaded that transition.
My writing comes in fits and spurts and I am always trying to figure out how to wedge it between full-time work and motherhood, so I typically think about images or lines that come to me for a
long time before I commit anything to paper. My kids are my top priority—I won’t lie—but the writing is always there too, waiting for me in the early morning or late at night.
Other poets who inspire me range from Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Sexton, and Adrienne Rich to
Martín Espada, Natalie Diaz, Chen Chen, Kim Addonizio, Kenny Carroll, Joel Dias-Porter, Regie Cabico, and many more. I prefer writing that is plain-spoken and concrete but also playful and politically bold. My reading is scattered, like my writing, but I grab onto poems when I can like they are mini-gliders ready to fly me out over the landscape and so I can enter a new world, see things from a different perspective.
—Heather L. Davis
LOVE IN ABSENTIA
Their images appear
on my iPhone screen:
expat son and his wife smiling
sleepy-eyed, Christmas day
in China almost over, mine
just beginning. In the background,
tree lights shimmer,
boxes and gift wrap scatter
the floor. Holiday traditions embraced
by my Chinese daughter-in-law,
like a hint of home for Nate.
He takes me on a virtual tour
of their Westernized condo,
white couch, red chairs, a wall
of framed black and white art photos,
tiled balcony draped
with strings of tiny lights,
exotic plants, two lounge chairs,
skyline view, a glimpse
of Guangzhou, of their life. The lilt
in his voice, his laugh, suddenly floods
my eyes, constricts my throat,
like a lost memory catching me
off guard; a gulf of more than just miles.
No choice. I take what I can get,
cherish our technology-driven
closeness. In touch, without the touching.
I fell in love with poetry in my early sixties. The distilled, sensual language, the tension between
what is expressed and what is left unsaid, the way form can fit the emotional breath of a poem
deeply stirred me and spurred me into unsheathing my own creativity.
I consider myself to mostly be a narrative poet. I strive to draw my readers into the heart of the
story; make them see it, hear it, smell it, feel it. I want them to shake their heads and murmur, yes.
I want to leave them breathless. That is the challenge, the love, that pushes me to write my truth
and send it out. I want to connect with readers the way the Affrilachian poets do, the way Margaret Atwood, Rita Dove, Katerina Stoykova do. I want my children and grandchildren to be proud of
me, and show them that life as an older person can be full of promise.
you know your pliant body
will never stiffen,
refuse to believe
that tears and laughter
will track your flawless
But you already know
that everything wants to touch.
Bees dive thorax-deep
into lavender blooms,
the breeze through summer’s open window
caresses your nipples
as you explore the unlined face
of the lover who warms the pillow beside you,
the one who will stay
until stalactites and stalagmites
consummate eons of desire,
kiss at last after their ten thousand year
The first bang was a scattershot,
but every solitary neutrino
whizzing outward on its lonely journey
remembers the before time
when everything nested.
At twenty, I first read the line “But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”
(Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”). You might think that twenty is too young to begin
thinking about mortality but it appears that I was born old and a bit melancholy. I believe there is a touch of the hurrying chariot in everything I write. There is also longing for the lost best place so it
is a bit difficult for me to write poems of delight, although I really enjoy Ross Gay’s poetry and envy him his joyful outlook.
I’m a nature poet if we can include human nature in that concept. I was a psychotherapist for thirty years because I’m fascinated by our minds, and, more so, our souls. I’ve always been interested in meaning expressed in the concrete, always chased symbols and Archetypes. I’ve written narratives—
I have three unpublished mystery novels in a file in a closet—but poetry is the most effective way for me to play around in the hidden dimensions.
I’m particularly interested in the way poetry connects us to each other and am thrilled when I find a poet who seems to share my inner world, currently Dorianne Laux and Ellen Bass, and Mary Oliver,
of course. Like her, “I want to say all my life / I was a bride married to amazement” (Oliver, “When Death Comes”).
I’m delighted that Quartet has accepted my poem, “Wisdom.” And look forward to seeing it in
the leafless mulberry, a lone
Junco, charcoal silted gray
as the penumbral moon
seen through four a.m. light
the horses, prick ears tipped
with shadow, step forth
to greet me, synchronized
nickers followed by one long
A tickle of whisker, and the gelding
nuzzles my arm. I break the scrim
of ice, place fresh hay on red ground.
Irrational, perhaps, this feeling
time has no purchase here,
the Junco soon joined by mourning
doves, half a dozen skittish sparrows
and two of his own dapper kind.
Every now and again they erupt
into cheeriest chipping chatter.
Beside the dozy dove, the Juncos
are a club of charcoal-vested
philosophers sifting through
the day’s concerns, until
they’re off in a fuss
only to return and re-settle
unprepared to surrender
this place and move on…
The poems to which I return possess precise images. Even if such images tend towards the surreal or abstract, they always strike me as absolutely true, enabling a way of seeing that both reveals and deepens the mystery everywhere around us, the music inherent in these images amplifying their power and beauty. Among my very favorites are Elizabeth Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses” and her beautiful poem-fairytale-bedtime-story, “The Moose,” which I read to myself for reassurance and comfort that all will be well, even if I sense it may be otherwise... A very different poem is “The Winter Beach at Sanderling” from Stanley Plumly’s Middle Distance, a sonnet about creating and dying, that appears near the end of the collection. The last two lines pierce each time I read the
poem, and then there is the closing pair of images:
day rising and thinking I died for some kind of beauty,
standing in the morning on the height of my deck,
trying to wake up, nothing but my eyes to go by—
how dark down does the water go before the tide—
I the god of starfish fallen, the flounder’s whiter bones.
In my own poems, I can only keep reaching for something like the music of “how dark down does
the water go” and “nothing but my eyes to go by—”
I will say that “Lunar Eclipse,” like the poems cited above, focuses on other animals and birds. At the time I wrote it, I was living on 2 ½ acres of land with my horses, one of whom, Apollo, reoccurs in
my writing. It rarely snows in West Texas where I now live, and that hushed, white morning
brought the curious wonder of horse and smallest bird into focus, something I’ve attempted to do here.
Jane Edna Mohler
"Bringing in the Sheaves"
—gospel song, Knowles Shaw, 1874
At the Mennonite thrift shop, I’m harvesting
old silk ties for a project.
Elbow deep, I feel around in musty mounds
of flannel shirts and quilted barn vests.
Ties settle to the bottom in groups, like snakes
snarled under matted straw.
Christian soft rock plays while the chaff
of Sunday dinners sheds into the air.
Now other shoppers hurl plaids, paisleys,
and regimental stripes into my pile.
Opening a bland gray tie, I find it’s lined
with a pert photo of a puckered-up pinup.
I put it back,
giving it the chance to cause another stir.
We shall come rejoicing.
I’m a lifelong poet with large gaps of silence in my midlife. For over three decades I worked as a counselor in many different settings where I listened to the bone-truths of my clients. I am
comforted by the quotidian and fascinated by the ways we endure the challenges of life.
My poem, “Bringing in the Sheaves” was written about a true experience. This is a rare jubilant
poem for me. When the other shoppers saw me collecting, they joined in by hurling ties into my
pile. It was an unusually large haul. I checked the labels on each tie because only the silk ones would work for my project. That’s when I found the centerfold lining in the tie. I thought the lyrics from
the old hymn made a perfect frame for the incident taking place in a religious establishment.
Most recently I’ve been reading Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things. I love the intimacy I feel when reading her work. She speaks to me like an earnest friend joining me for coffee. I aspire to the grounded poems of Charles Simic. I’m also taken with “Asian Figures” in W.S. Merwin’s collection of translations, East Window. Merwin describes the Figures as brief, “irreducible and unchangeable.” Now that’s a writing goal!
—Jane Edna Mohler
I punish myself with the autopsy report— the exactness of it.
I can hardly bear the weights and measurements,
the cataloguing of body parts as if he were not a whole person.
As if he did not use his hand
connected to his arm
connected to his shoulder to toss a ball with me on warm summer afternoons.
As if he did not use his feet
connected to his leg
connected to his hip to take that long walk with me going nowhere.
As if he did not use his belly
connected to his torso
connected to his soul to laugh and laugh and laugh.
To laugh and laugh and laugh.
The autopsy report is a study in biology
an arrangement of words
from the hot summer night in August
when his body slipped quietly
into the backyard pool and filled with water
under the watchful eyes of a million yellow stars
the only witness to his final earthly battle
a symphony of cicada wings
a parade of fireflies
maybe the neighborhood fox.
After a long period of grief related to my father’s death, I immersed myself in nature. Hoping the oceans, mountains, and forests would quiet my mind, I rediscovered poetry instead. Poetry turned
out to be a different sort of quieting, but healing all the same. Writing creatively about grief helped deepen my understanding of loss and the complexities that persist long after the premature death of
a parent. "The Autopsy" was drawn from a place of profound disbelief, a grappling of sorts with the gruesome realities of losing someone to an addiction-related accident. At the same time, the poem resists common marks of stigma—the tendency to pathologize the departed.
For creative inspiration, I tend to read as much as I write. Lately I have a hard time making the distinction—isn’t it all poetry? But I’m presently astonished by the work of Maggie Nelson and Kate Baer, who have a way of challenging my grip on astute observation and the rendering of sharp
I find myself in a season where these lines especially resonate:
the world seems to split up
into those who need to dredge
and those who shrug their shoulders
and say, It’s just something
that happened. — (Maggie Nelson, "These Days" excerpted from "THE CANAL DIARIES”)
“You can dance on the graves you dug / on Tuesday, pulling out the bones of yourself / you began to miss.” — (Kate Baer, “Moon Song”)
This is a poem about growing older,
a poem about visiting my hometown
and yes, finding many things changed.
My own body, for example,
cradling the muscle memory of location,
gets distracted by roads widened
or re-routed completely—Green Meadows for one,
now ends in a cul-de-sac instead of trailing off
into the gravel road we called the seven hills.
The last mile of the bus route our pack of kids—
the Walters and Coxes, the Rhoadeses and Walls—
would move to the back and bounce as the bus crested each
hill to make ourselves, just for a moment, fly.
When I came down hard on the seat’s metal frame
and got the wind knocked out of me,
John the driver thumped my back,
and made everyone ride forward the rest of the year.
I was still in high school when Providence was extended,
and the bluff was blasted into a bright limestone cliff.
The cell phone tower that breaks the horizon,
arms equal in length and wrapped
in fake evergreen, came more recently.
Why do they try to camouflage them like that? Who looks up
and mistakes the tower for a tree? Who else besides me
remembers the maple that stood there for years, catching
the morning light in early fall, blazing gold to red
on this road named for the protective care of God?
Poetry is the lens through which I see the world most clearly. I read and write for delight and companionship and in search of wisdom. I have the most amazing press mates—Aliki Barnstone, Liana Sakelliou, Elizabeth Cohen, and Cynthia Atkins just to name a few, and access to a daily writing group that includes Andrea Werblin, Christina Hutchins, Lindsey Royce and Agnes Vojta. Their books all are in my reading rotation right now! My desk sits before a window looking out on my front porch where mourning doves have built a precarious nest as they do every spring. When
the clutch hatches they will stretch their wings and practice on the porch rail before flying to the power line and then away. I am leading a lucky life.
As if their hues aren’t enough to get us to pray
we now learn they have between paper-thin scales,
a blood-pumping, heat-pulsing, thermal-controlled heart.
If you don’t believe me, Google butterfly hearts.
Look at pixeled wings and neon maps,
find each luminous orb wrapped in tissue
like a garnet brooch. These wing hearts
could make an atheist cede, lay down doubt
like a well-honed sword. Like tiny prophets
they summon craft—
write a psalm, a hymn, a bless…
wait hear that? sobbing
but I trusted him
walking toward me,
how can it be
lays her head on my chest.
My heart, triggered, leaps from its trench,
lurches, throbs, fires clichés:
better to have loved and lost/time will heal
tries to settle,
but adrenaline jumps in,
save the prey.
forget the blessing,
who cares about butterfly hearts,
what matters is this heart darting
word to word
searching for nectar.
One of my biggest joys in writing is when a poem starts out in one direction and suddenly veers in a completely different direction, as this poem did. The poem was supposed to be a celebration of butterfly hearts and suddenly sorrow entered. I never know where a poem is leading me, and that mystery is part of the joy. There are times though when writing brings more heartache than joy. I have been writing for close to 40 years and have encountered moments when self-doubt becomes paralyzing. It seizes me and I wonder if writing is worth all the toil. Whether it’s a first line, a last line, or some painful revisions, writing is filled with challenges. And don’t even get me started on publishing. It was at one of these moments that I came across a poem by a wonderful poet named Hala Alyan. The poem is titled “Spoiler” and much of it deals with loss. She includes an image of a “magnificent sand castle” being built, and how a tide moves in, predictably and inevitably, and destroys it. Her final two lines shook me out of my paralysis: “I’m here to tell you the tide will never stop coming in. / I’m here to tell you whatever you build will be ruined, so make it beautiful."
Don’t despair, she seems to be reminding me, the act and intention of creating beauty is as
important as the creation itself. Maybe even more important. As a reader, I agree with Keats, "A
thing of beauty is a joy forever.” But as a writer I believe in sand castles.
Death enters quickly an abandoned house
to embrace all the objects left behind.
Once wary spiders stoutly venture out
to die in cobwebs of their own design.
Faint shadows of a lip imprint the glass
that poises parched and molded at the sink.
Pillows deflate, deserted by the heads
who wore the cases threadbare with their dreams.
Cracked spines of notebooks splay upon the floor.
Memoirs conclude without the authors’ pens.
Each clock reports its own disparate hour.
Slow second hands resist the final tick.
Unfailing light arrives each afternoon
to honor all the little graves within.
Currently, I am exploring the ways loss and the hidden past are transferred between generations. I enjoy departing from form as much as I enjoy writing in it, but this poem, “Shadehill Court,” seemed to need a container to hold its sadness. It was inspired by the experience of entering my parents’
home to pack their belongings when they died four months apart after 63 years together.
I continue to discover how invaluable close observation is to the poetic process. Heather Sellers’ recent collection, Field Notes from the Flood Zone, beautifully highlights both the interior and exterior worlds we may overlook. Additionally, I admire the fearlessness of Carolyn Forché’s poetry of witness (“The Colonel”) and Dorianne Laux’s masterful use of metaphor (“Facts About the Moon”).
For me, writing poetry is a hopeful process. Although I studied English Literature in graduate
school, it was years later that I began writing poetry in an attempt to capture and objectify my experience. It is exciting to think that a poem might remain when I’m gone, and while readers
cannot know me completely, I hope the experience and arrangement of words and images will resonate. I like the notion that the process might never be finished.
Every Morning Leda
I have no business studying swans.
I already know what they are—
slow samples of beauty, patience,
all of our best inclinations
on a sheet of water
or icing. Feet the orange
of traffic cones, they stroke the pond
with the self-assured dexterity
of concert pianists.
The first home we owned after
a series of disasters had stood empty
for a year. Bobcats peered in, watched
me unpack. The howling was coyotes,
not a woman down the road. But I had coffee
and a window, and a bird so white, so enormous,
stroked by. I could have counted its feathers
if I believed it was true. Then gone.
Impossible. Like the swan
on the cover of my sister’s daughter’s
Mother Goose. Bespectacled granny, smiling.
A baby reaching—such an assumption. I was jealous,
I admit it—stole into the room when they visited.
At twelve, I had nothing left to do but
switch off the lights once our parents finally
extinguished themselves, so I swallowed
one of her Flintstones vitamins—
brightly colored artifact of care.
Then another. Now I know
the bird on the book is just a goose. The old woman
probably a carnie. Swans make awful noises
and each of their toes ends in a claw.
It was a long time before I learned
young girls are covered in scratches.
No one tells you.
“Every Morning Leda” is an interesting poem for me. It started from a prompt about a daily
activity; I chose having coffee. Then I remembered the morning a swan flew by my window in a new home, so I wrote about that. Then associations took over. The book, the vitamins, the allusion to Chanda J. Glass’s wonderful poem “Leda” all appeared unprompted. I love it when this happens, but
it doesn’t always lead to a poem that makes sense to anyone else. This is a major crux in my work at this point.
I’m torn between guiding my poetry or letting it guide me, and by extension, worrying a great deal about who will (or won’t) understand. I hope to reach the point where it doesn’t matter, but I
remain concerned about whether a poem will find its audience. So, I’m consciously working to build my skills and gradually letting go. This poem is among my most natural, anchored in experience and memory with little to no intention. My unfiltered work alarms me a bit, but the alternative is worse. I’m grateful to ൪uartet for seeing something in it—even if I’m not sure what that is.
Family Portrait with Silent Treatment
If you asked what made me
first try to write a poem
I would talk about dumbfoundedness.
I would tell you how, because I said
my time and my body were my property,
Roger decreed we had come
to a parting of the ways,
and from then on made a point
of ignoring me altogether.
I would try to tell you how
nobody would believe he was
no longer my boyfriend,
least of all Mommie who kept
visiting him in his checkout line
at the Star Market where he worked,
and then hurrying home
to tell me all his news.
How she and his mother
would sit at potluck suppers,
like a pair of duennas behind their fans,
watching the young people
and whispering how this might be
the day we would really be
getting back together.
And I would emphasize just how furious
I was that my classmates and teachers
persisted in referring to us as an item.
So, when Roger died, and Mommie
came flapping onto the sun-porch
to interrupt my piano practice with her
breathless news, I was enraged.
I had known all about it for three days
and wanted nothing to do with it.
She and the Quaker lady she had
just got off the phone with
had already lined up my share
of tasks for the arrangements.
From her quiver of protocol,
Mommie shot the barb that would
cancel forever any claim to a breakup –
you’ll have to write his mother a note.
We had no conversation about the funeral.
When the time came, my parents assembled
at the door and sent me upstairs
to change my dress. Then
to exchange my sandals for heels.
And then again to put on some stockings,
and a girdle Daddy barked
at my rear end
from the bottom of the stairs.
One at each elbow, they prodded me,
as if I were on wheels, into the circle
of silent Quakers. Trundled me
towards the receiving line where Mommie
extended me, like a bouquet of gladiolas,
to the sobbing mother.
Back in the car, Mommie became positively
chatty, prattling about Roger’s aneurysm
of which she had apparently become
Afterwards, I escaped to my room
and wrote about violence.
I decried the war in Laos and Cambodia,
the one our government wouldn’t admit to.
I bewailed the Bomb that menaced my dreams.
I mourned the plane crash that killed Dag Hammarskjöld.
Then Mommie stole the poem I was trying to write
and gave it to Roger’s mother.
In light of his tragic death,
my objection counted for nothing.
What I had left was the dumbfoundedness
I was trying to tell you about.
My favorite thing about writing poetry is the miracle of creating a poem where, before, there was nothing. Writing “Family Portrait with Silent Treatment” entailed a double ex nihilo factor because there never existed, in my family history, any common language to describe the incident in the
poem. The extraordinary absence of boundaries made it impossible for me even to tell what
happened to me. I have, without exaggeration, spent sixty years trying to overcome enough dumbfoundedness to write the poem my poem tells about trying to begin.
By trade I am a musician, so my survival doesn’t require me to be verbally articulate. By the time I attained middle-age, however, I concluded that I might have a happier life if I learned to manage my mouth (there are also times when it opens itself up and says way too much). My intuition suggested learning to write poetry. It is one decision I have never regretted. Not only have I acquired a means
of detaching myself from some traumatic memories, but I can reward myself, and, with any luck, the reader, with a poetic monument to the struggle.
Sally Weston Ziph
Cuts from a Marriage
September: Chelsea Hospital, I sit outside, for weeks, watching leaves drop off the trees.
Avoiding smoke in the banana-colored TV lounge. Can’t read, can’t think, words slip away.
Back at home, waves of panic
October November December
January: Throwing up on the side of the highway on the way to the hospital, in a blizzard on a
When we leave the hospital, I dress her in a Winnie-the-Pooh pink zip-up
So tiny, her middle name is
Pearl: from the Latin pirula, or “point of the nose.”
Perla, perala. Berla, berala,
pirum, for “little pear,”
perilla, “a pear-shaped ornament.” perolo,
“a button or tassel of wool on the top and middle of a knit cap.”
I have a silver tea set
marbleized paper pencils from the Venice honeymoon
Six fake pearl necklaces in my jewelry box, one real.
This poem is one of a series of “Cuts from a Marriage” poems (each with the same title) included in my recent MFA thesis (2021). I decided to finally go back to school to get my master’s degree in creative writing in 2019–something I’ve wanted to do since before my daughter was born. The low residency MFA program I attended allowed me the flexibility to keep my job as well as fulfill my dream.
My daughter’s first child, a boy, was born in October 2020. Pandemic struggles aside, his birth reminded me of the thrill and drama that comes with naming a newborn. I’m also fascinated by etymology and the discoveries and associations one makes while tracing the history of words, and I enjoy creating patterns of sound, rhythm, and musicality in poetry.
Recent poetry books I’ve enjoyed, and feel inspired by, include the following: Natalie Shapero’s
Popular Longing, Karyna McGlynn’s 50 Things Kate Bush Taught Me About the Multiverse, Leigh Stein’s What to Miss When, Mary Jo Salter’s Zoom Rooms, Aimée Lê’s Erectic Schlock, and Heidi Seaborn’s An Insomniac’s Slumber Party with Marilyn Monroe. One of my favorite books to come
back to for inspiration is Dana Roeser’s The Theme of Tonight’s Party Has Been Changed. I’m
fascinated by the way she weaves multiple threads of narrative through poems that are both funny
and evocative of the anxiety that comes with being a woman in these contemporary times.
—Sally Weston Ziph
The winner of ൪uartet’s inaugural Editor’s Choice Poetry Prize is Gail Thomas for her poem
“Pulse of My Heart” (Spring Issue 2022, Vol. 2, Issue 2). Her poem was selected by judge Rachel Nix, editor at cahoodaloodaling, Hobo Camp Review, and Screen Door Review. Rachel resides in rural Alabama, where pine trees outnumber people rather nicely, and can be followed at @rachelnix_poet on Twitter.
Rachel’s comments on “Pulse of My Heart” – “The balance of excuse and affirmation here at first reads as panic reaching for understanding; beautifully, if sadly, this poem justifies anxiousness as expected—a hampering though terribly human effect of cause. The power isn't assumed but resides in acceptance and I find it so very relatable.”
Gail received a beautiful hand-blown glass bowl by artisan Justin Cavagnaro. Runner-up is Devon Miller-Dugan for her poem “Let Each Day” (Spring Issue 2021, Vol.1, Issue 2).
Congratulations to both Gail Thomas and Devon Miller-Duggan. ൪uartet is honored to have published their work.
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• Foerster's poem takes me back twenty years, to a time of loss for my family which still reverberates:
"I did not know how to do it / ...to sing you away from death."
Most of us have faced the death of a loved one at some point in our lives. This poem sings for me:
"like some pied piper calling to your soul / stay, stay."
—Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll
The last week in April you were
in the hospital room at the end of the hall
one of the old rooms with chipped paint
and dirty scuffed floors. The place they
hide you when they can do no more.
I stood looking out the window
the crashing waves of the lake.
The gritty glass and tiny flakes of snow.
My face like a moth in denial pounding
pounding to be set free from your dying.
When I touched your cold cheek,
kissed your open mouth
you whispered no more kisses
I don’t want you to get this.
And a rawness rose up in my throat
an acid I knew I would
never be able to swallow down
with any sort of widow’s grace.
I did not know how to do it
how to be the good wife with
my throat begging my tongue to speak.
My tongue rose up soft
like a deer asking can I drink from
this stream for you? Can I lay my palm
here on your head? Can I go in your place?
Instead, I asked if I could sing for you and
a lullaby like a silk ribbon rose up and
out of my throat into a longing
to sing you away from death.
You said no singing,
but that was all there was for me to do,
the damn song, the desire to sing
like some pied piper calling to your soul
I became fascinated with words as a toddler. I spoke early and read early. My mother would sing and speak nursery rhymes to me, and I fell in love with them. At the age of nine I decided to become a writer. I cannot stop writing. It is like breathing for me.
A few of my favorite poets throughout my life are Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rainer Maria Rilke,
Robert Bly, Anne Sexton, and Robert Haas to name a few. Recently, the poet I can’t stop reading is Diane Seuss. I’m originally from the Great Lakes area and love that she’s from Michigan. I discovered her work a few years back. I’ve read all her books. She is so brilliant and has opened the door for women to write openly with great freedom about their darker experiences. I also love Danusha Laméris, Ada Limón and Li-Young Lee.
These lines by Edna St. Vincent Millay from her poem "God's World" have been my favorites since childhood.
“O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!”
• As a twin, though very fraternal, this poem struck at the heart of who I am, one of two who shared a womb, and the lifetime that has followed. One of us could easily have died 67 years ago, and the fact that we will die apart, sooner or later, fills me, as this poem has, with anguish and dread, a universal sorrow.
—Jane C. Miller
the vulture girl wasn’t born a bird
but she did begin life like all of us
an egg she began this all as one
smol egg and split into two she
was not the vulture girl not yet
she was only twins just the two
perfectly mirrored bodies who
shared the sacred sac in which
they were wrapped they shared
it all but shared it slant the one
who would become the vulture
girl outpaced the one who would
not and the one who would not
became stillness herself
became silent fetid death and
the one who would become
a vulture girl the one who set
her breath by their hearts’ beat
who would never harm her only
twin did what only a scavenger
is there to do the vulture girl
becomes the vulture girl as she
breathes in her sister cells her
other selves she purifies the
charnel grounds of this one’s
womb the other one’s tomb
a small imprint on the left foot
of the little wing she lived with
and the little wing she died
alongside a birthmark marker
for bodies lost and won a wing
span that could have circled
and circled and circled the sun
I came to writing by way of a PhD in clinical psychology, an intense curiosity for scientific facts,
and a deep appreciation of the natural world. My writing frequently explores how these provide
useful metaphors for our often-cryptic emotional internal worlds. Some recurring themes are
inspired by physics: like the presence of multiple universes, or the ineffability of non-linear time; or from archaeology. I write to understand the human condition – our origins –
and find that these provide contexts that help me to frame meaning around my own experiences and identities. For example, I’m not certain that I ever had a vanishing twin, which is the overt topic of the poem, “the vulture girl wasn’t born a bird.” But once it was suggested as a possibility, I became fascinated by the literature and found myself exploring the biology of it, the impact of life on other life. The concept of multiple selves and literal internal family systems became so compelling that it
led to my writing the larger manuscript it’s in. “Necessary and sufficient conditions: the vulture girl”
is a quasi-speculative memoir of magical realism in experimental poetic form that addresses the acquisition and integration of various metaphorical inner parts and guardians formed in response to trauma. I was able to access these poems through a process of intentional yoga and guided
meditation, and writing the book helped provide some level of resolution and emotional healing; which is where I come back, full-circle, to my professional training and background in psychology.
• Bethany Reid’s poem is full of goodbye. Countered with our desire to keep things as they are. It is a mother’s knowledge of the oxygen-consuming flames that her child will face in life that breaks your heart; the desperate leaning in.
My fifteen-year-old daughter
is saying goodbye
to her boyfriend, her legs wrapped
around his skinny denimed hips,
her mouth on his mouth as if
that’s where her oxygen comes from,
as if she must cling that tightly to survive.
My little girl, who used to light up
like a birthday cake
on catching sight of me.
I get out of the car and call to her, again,
my voice harsher, older
than I ever thought it would be.
Our dinner waiting at home,
her sisters, needing attention,
a pile of student essays for me to grade
before bedtime. She detaches herself
slow limb by limb. His face
beams as he shouts after her, “I love you,”
and she turns and runs back to him
for one more kiss, one more ecstatic hug.
Her gulping breaths,
his life-saving arms. And I think then
of flames, and of how they, too,
lap up oxygen, how they rush to devour air.
In the car, my daughter puts in her earbuds
and stares out the window.
I can hear her music, though it’s distant, tinny
and tuneless, only a single word here and there,
just enough that I shiver, knowing
all the flames this girl has yet to face.
And my heart breaks free a little from all that binds it
and leans toward her.
I have been writing poetry since I was seven years old, scribbled poems all through my twenties
while waiting tables, and thirty years ago I went back to school where, among other things, I earned
an MFA in poetry. In March of 2020, when COVID-19 closed down all our usual pursuits, my friend Priscilla Long—we met while in the MFA program—suggested that we start a weekly practice
sharing a poem that we admired, use that poem as a launching point for a new poem of our own,
then Zoom to discuss the results. One-hundred thirty-some weeks later, we are still at it. In order to find poets to inspire us, we’ve read widely, and deeply—poets including Christopher Howell, Ada Limón, Barbara Crooker, Jericho Brown, Pablo Neruda, Louise Glück, Wisława Szymborska, May Swenson—sometimes old favorites, lots of new favorites.
I retired from full-time teaching in 2014 because my mother was ill and my youngest daughter was a handful. By 2020, my mother was gone, and my daughter (oblivious to my panic about Covid)
packed up and left home. For those reasons—and because of the weekly poetry exchange—the pandemic has been a boon for my creativity. Not that I want to repeat it anytime soon.
Origins and Journeys: Reflections on Writing
by Dilruba Ahmed
I began to think of myself as a writer in a windowless Roy Rogers restaurant once located in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh. Among fluorescent lights, garish mirrors, and the indelible odor of grease, an undergraduate writing mentor shared feedback on my draft poetry. Week after week, we discussed my poems over bitter but respectably hot cups of coffee.
At the time, I was a confused college junior double majoring in pre-med and creative writing. I was awestruck by my instructor’s attention to my poems, and her willingness to meet in this dungeon-like restaurant to
help me improve. Could she see something I couldn’t? Her care and time helped me to believe there was something worthwhile in my draft poems, and in the act of writing.
As part of a science fellowship, I also attended weekly lunch talks with research professors. Some experts spoke lovingly of DNA’s elegant structure, all the while caressing a plastic bead-and-stick model of a double helix. These researchers loved science, and their passion filled the room with a kind of electricity. And while I could admire the beauty and perfection of DNA’s spiraling ladders, what I found in the passion of those researchers was a reflection of my own interest in writing. Among those scientists, I felt poetry’s pull even more acutely.
The poetic impulse came in part, I think, from a desire to write myself into existence. What did it mean to be a Pennsylvania-born, South Asian woman with Muslim heritage raised in rural areas of Ohio and PA? When I looked to the library bookshelves at that time, I found few books that resonated with my experiences. Thankfully, since then much has changed.
While writing would eventually become my primary mode of engaging with the world, for many years, I held my poetic urges inside me like a terrible secret. The act of speaking through poems took courage and strength—and more importantly, it required a level of vulnerability I wasn’t quite ready to embrace. (The burden of secrecy was so important that I signed my poems with my rarely used full name, “Dilruba,” sure that no one would discover the true author, as I’m always known by my nickname, “Ruba.”)
But part of the impulse to write, it seems, is to fashion a way to capture and share what we’ve lived and learned—and, at times, to question it. To reveal our secret hearts—however deeply buried they may be, however intensely we’ve hidden them and shielded them from scrutiny. As I’ve learned from my mentors and from works I’ve loved, this kind of vulnerability is required of us as writers if we want to create work that rings emotionally true for our readers.
While customers bustled by with foam boxes of burgers at Roy Rogers, I came to understand that becoming an artist would involve facing some scrutiny. And while I might have feared the ridicule of an imagined crowd rising up in laughter, I was fortunate in those hours to have the dedicated attention of the kindest, most generous reader, a teacher who encouraged me while pushing me to grow. Those conversations became an important incubator for my earliest writing efforts—a place of safety, with nourishing conversations of encouragement and constructive criticism.
BOA Editions, Ltd.
We want to be human, always, Cecilia Woloch tells us in her poem “Postcard to Ilya Kaminsky from a Dream at the Edge of the Sea.”
And in the pages of Carpathia she tells us how. Woloch takes us into the past—her past but ours, also—leads us to the future, and offers instruction on how to live in the in-between. Especially moving are the moments when she is in the present but looking toward those wasting years / when the world let go / of you (“Who Reminds Me of You, When You Could Still Walk—Just Barely”).
The poems are shape shifters, changing throughout the book from the prose form to the standard. It is an effective tool that draws the reader into the intimacy of Woloch’s words. Carpathia is not a new book (2009), but it is an essential book.
It’s the middle of our lives, and night, and we walk toward everything (“Postcard with Sarah, to Sarah, from a Bridge in Paris—Which?”).