Grotto

Converted at twelve, I wanted a grotto
that was my own. On a niche,
halfway up curved stairs,  I placed
a statue of Our Lady in White.

At her feet, a lake of candles burned
whose tiny flames lapped
her outstretched hands, the chalk cliffs
of her face.  I tacked up praise,
collaged a psalm of gratitude
across cement. Quickly,

I glued a family image
amidst headlines of every imaginable disaster:
a bent license plate, a dated finger painting
of a fire, a broadsheet defending the justice
of hell,
plus a real photo menagerie
of animals retrieved, then sent back
to the local pound. Fading specimens
unfolded in low light.

Half-performance, although
not the only option, not yet.

Vicki Kennelly Stock

The Cows

Cows walk slowly into the evening,
softly precise movements a tranquil confusion.
They disturb grasses with soft lips.
Consider each stone as if the earth
edged them closer to a memory of glaciers.

I build a fire as the cold seeps through.
Flame waves its warm dance.
Cows crystallize into the circle of light
believing themselves to be mosaics pieced
together from bits of mineral and the past.

They are not ordinary. Fire-eyed,
they temper their existence
on the edge of darkness.
Make the moon rise by standing still
pretending they are dreamers.

Stephen R. Roberts
from Small Fire Speaking in the Rain

Dark Matters from a Comic Strip

And wouldn’t it have just been my luck that something  jumped out
of my mouth, ran down a pant leg through the chilly fire then rolled
among unshod feet of addicted celebrities, who, now totally wacked,
rush to marginal hospitals for the sumptuously disenfranchised?

And wouldn’t it have just been my luck that in this telling,
the beautiful hands of my princess become gangrenous while
her father, the king, having a squint eye, righteously beheads
any competent medical authority while elevating them to knighthood?

And his pawns, especially those made of wood, on nights
when the king was cold …quite reluctantly fuel his great
fires and are his most incandescent of retainers as they all
wear a livery of fireworks and combustible hydrocarbons.

And thus wouldn’t it have just been my luck that this kingdom
now collapses into a gold clotted sink-hole but is so infused
with deadly ennui that the gold was attainable only through
the immigration and effects of disposable zombies?

And wouldn’t it have just been my luck to see the sky dance
on a juggler’s unbalanced spheres as all musicians became
paralyzed from the wrists down when their heraldic pianos
and guitars clash, splinter against each other to the shrill

of feedback and the hiss of short-circuited microchips, while on
the streets below, short sheeted harridans flip their egregious,
skeletal behinds to the blood beat of the mob’s auto-erogenous
moanings? And wouldn’t it have just been my luck, that

Spring was rained out, when it had only a snowball’s chance anyway,
in these hot coliseums of sporty undertakers, who, florid with
compressed unction, practice their visionary self pollution? And
wouldn’t it have just been my luck to live when events push

to a grand but mostly whimpering conclusion, and know it all
mostly wasn’t there anyway, that dark nothings are eighty per cent
of the universe, which should have been apparent when (even
as children) we woke up in the middle of midnight, screaming
for our mothers?

-Richard Pflum

Daddy: if Sylvia Plath had been a boy

Do not do what you always do,
do not remove your shoe.
Now I see your foot,
and the ladies are daring to breathe or Achoo.
 
Daddy I should kill you,
as I sit with mom,
at the play tonight.
Around me, I hear ick, ick, ick.
Some people have left,
I’d say a dozen or two.
 
Pretend you’re no relative,
I won’t even acknowledge you.
I have always been embarrassed by you,
hair slathered in gobblygoo,
argyle socks,
and your handkerchief bright blue.
 
Every boy adores women,
but mine run after you remove a boot.
How does mother even like you?
I was ten when I slid off you,
off your lap forever.

I don’t want back to you.
Perhaps when I’m older I’ll call,
a phone will do..
Daddy I’m through,
I’ve cut out all my root.
 
If I’ve lost one girl, I’ve lost two.
Mother said it was you,
and nagged you for a year,
seven years if you want to know.
 
Daddy you can wake up now,
the play is over
so have a heart.
The whole audience never liked you.
In their minds, they are dancing and stamping on you.
They all knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy put on your shoe.

-Terry Cunningham

Art Lesson

Her journey winds down morning stairs
across an autumn room where bright haze
hugs a berry-burdened pyracantha. Sprays
of branches crossbar the glass, pall-bear
a web. Intrigued, she studies the Orphic care
of a spider as it tacks the outer threads,
spirals up ever larger circles and, then, spirals
down to crouch empty on its snare.

In idle moments of midday, she drifts back
to re-examine this fierce pursuit of art:
slumped wings now token the despair
of a half-dead offering. Hunchbacked,
a high priest scoops oily rainbow parts
towards a mouth twisted in mute prayer.

-Vicki Kennelly Stock

A quick note from the blog editor: This poem is currently being set to music by Jennifer Stock, and the recording of Art Lesson the song, for piano, soprano, and electronics, will be posted here in a few weeks.

The Brooch

Slippered feet dangle
deaf to the brassy click
of the clock down the hall.

She hears what she chooses to hear,
her own bones shrinking
and the chintz flowers on the sofa
growing impossibly tall.

A seasoned spectator, she watches
as November chills street life
into a gelatinous pie.  The window
becomes mere glassy wrap.

Her eyes, like twin chips of marcasite,
hold together the ruins of her face,
eclipsing even the stones on her brooch.

-Vicki Kennelly Stock

Cold Water Catch

From shore, I watch a bass flit
in the shallows among the boulders
and the shadows of a tree.  When the fish
freezes, when a spasm flips it,
I close my eyes.  I don’t look toward
the idled boat or the man who shakes
his line, who sounds pink-silver needles
across the lake to pierce the fish’s mind…
click-click…gone.  Lured by a castanet choir
of blades, by the dancing legs of bait,
the fish is hooked.  It fights the pressure
of the line, the suffocating air with a rage
too enormous not to tire.

I feel the golden-brown body settle
into the man’s warm hand; I listen to him croon:
“Hello sugar…pretty little rascal…you’ll do…
yes, you will…you’ll do.”

Vicki Kennelly Stock
previously published in The Flying Island

Far Tar

And who was I
with my New York cawfee,
sticking in r’s where they’re not
or erasing them, as in Hedder Gablah
or Emmer—guess who—Bovary? So I kept
my face still, not wanting to be impolite
in case I hadn’t heard correctly, but then
he said it again—Far Tar.

He was talking about its steps
being so slicked with ladybugs,
the rangers had to post KEEP OFF,
so dangerous they were, and what
a shame, because this Far Tar was
the forest’s most popular attraction.
But by then, not grasping what mystery
he was going on about, I was gone,
slipped down the slide of Far Tar
and into the pitch of it. A tar baby
“pitched past pitch of grief,” as Hopkins said,
and beyond sense.

                                   How far is Far Tar?
How many miles of asphalt does it take
to get there? Imagine a road
of good intentions, stretching farther,
further than Dorothy’s yellow brick
and tar black to boot. A road of no
return and less traveled by, but not
paved with grief or the sludge of sin
from Dante’s fifth bolgia, but just
going on and on, zigzagging mountains,
canyons, and herds of wild horses,
then up and down and across the frozen
steppes slippery with history thundering
across the Russias.

                                          And what’s too
Far Tar? Hawthorne’s Major Molineux
tarred and feathered beyond recognition.
That’s Far Tar. Or what about
the British sailor lost to the opium dens
of Shanghai then dumped in the Whangpoo
whose venerable carp still haunt
the spot of his sinking—his last breath,
bubbles clinging to the weeds? So far
from afternoon tea, from Mother
and the playing fields, the mushy peas
of home, and brussel sprouts. I call that
a far Tar. A cold Tar.

                                 Coal tar, obtained
from a distillation of bituminous coal,
used for the “heartbreak of psoriasis”
or explosives. Get that stuff over you
and that’s Far Tar. Or go to North Carolina,
where the Tar River rising in the north
flows a fair and far 215 miles south.
But that’s wrong, a misnaming
if there ever was one, for Graves says
tar means west, Ægean for the dying sun
grateful for a west to crawl into each night
on bloody knees. If so, Far Tar
is a synonym for tar doubled—Tartar.
Not a sauce for fish, but for a west
beyond the West, beyond the beyond
and over the edge, where the grinding gates
of Tartarus open for us all.

                                                Who’d have thought
this man manning the desk at the visitor’s center
was a historian of such magnitude?
To speak of Far Tar and know it
for what it is—Argus-eyed and
foreboding, as if it rose in the midst
of the forest, tall as a fire tower,
to remind us of the long climb
and the steps made slick with ladybugs
who seem more and more like us, forgetting
the fiery house and the smell of children burning.

Alice Friman
 Previously published in the Gettysburg Review.

ON BECOMING A SCARECROW

The sacrifice was my idea.  I wanted
to guard fields of turnip seeds,
corn and peas.  To end
the persecution of crows,
to haunt the unchecked lives
of hawks, magpies and rats.

                                 Even so,
it took years to junk major parts
of my ego.  To withstand, without flinching,
rain and hail.  To allow clothes
to fray to tatters.

                                  I only took to drink
to hasten matters.  Where muscles withered,
I grafted straw.  I trained my arms
to arc like handlebars and waddled
on my ankles.  Day or night I’d shriek
when anything got close.

                       When the crooks
got cynical and began to perch
on my mud-splattered sleeves, I surveyed
the looted crops and shrugged;
there were worse things to become
than an effigy
thumbing my nose at death.

VICKI KENNELLY STOCK
Previously published in the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop Anthology.

The Parrot

I cock my beautiful head
to the side to forget I’m cooped up.
It’s the longest winter
I’ve braved  in the garden room.

Syllables fail me like lost crumbs.
I want out.  Yet I don’t expect my cage
to fall apart or dissolve.

There are countries not as bright as
my fading plumage. Against dark leaves
I still look stunning:

hard beak,

hard head,

hard heart.

Just leave me alone.
So I cackle.
So my broad tongue revamps
your strange sounds.
So my voice
mimics a computer.  Call me
off-tune opera if you want.

Spread wings shadow my perch.
Can you imagine I would fly
again? I toss my head
to  one side and, unheard, gurgle,
“flock,” “tree.”

Vicki Kennelly Stock