Birdman, Colombian

In response to a challenge at Ekphrastic Review. Here are all the poems generated by this photo of a Colombian Breastplate. Thanks, Lorette, for including my poem with the others!

A golden, first century breastplate —
mythic protection in battle. Mortals
have sought aegis from the gods
since time began, it seems.

When my youngest was three,
he wore an Incredible Hulk T-shirt
every day for a year, certain his kinship
with the angry green goliath
could transmogrify a toddler
to a Titan older kids would fear. 

I hope the Columbian warrior
with a flying deity on his chest
found more success than my guileless,
doomed boy, whose brother and sister
held him down and made him smell
the lint in their belly buttons.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Ekphrastic Review
For Poets United Poetry Pantry
Photo source: Breastplate
Photo source: Hulk Kid

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The Dying of the Light

My friend Steve Deutsch has a fine new poem in Borfski Press Magazine.  Please visit his blog and leave comments for him there.

We found my mother
on the third floor
of a hospital
that should have been shuttered
in the 80’s.
The lights were dim
and the walls and halls
so covered in filth
it seemed they
had absorbed the misery
of the past 30 years
and the anguish would no longer
wash away.

It wasn’t hard to find mom.
She screamed “Help me”
every couple of minutes.
We heard her from the elevator
above the endless beeping
and the garbled sounds
from the PA system.
The fact that we
were now with her
did not alleviate her need to scream.
Nor did reasoning.

She had fallen again
and broken her tailbone.
She was 95 and failing
and I was the good son—
the one who answered the call
at 2 AM,
booked the 1000 mile trips
and tried to find a place
where she could end her days
in comfort.
It was rewarding in an exhausting way.
Finding, unexpectedly,
I was the one to be counted on.

But, listen,
there is just so much
we can do for one another.
There are limits to prerogatives
of blood.
We practice love,
not magic
and when,
in a moment of lucidity
she stared at my face—
a face she had known
my whole life,
and said,
“I’m dying,”
“Save me.”
I was again
as helpless
as the infant
she had held
to her breast.

– Steven Deutsch
First published in Borfski Press Magazine 
Photo source

Who hoards rain clouds in the desert?

Another wonderful poem by my friend Rajani Radhakrishnan. Instead of reblogging it from her website, I put it here so you could read it uninterrupted. Please leave comments on her site and look around while you’re there. She writes beautiful poetry.

Who hoards rain clouds in the desert?

There the universe stores vats of virgin happiness, doling
it out like a grim faced Scrooge, while we wait, bowl in

hand, wanting more. Always wanting more. We are made
of longing and hunger. And everywhere we look, is a giant

supermarket feeding that emptiness. Everything in excess,
marked down, on luscious display, the seed of the first apple

feverishly multiplying on every shelf of every aisle and our
hands reaching constantly to fill the ever growing void. Except

for happiness. For that, there is a line and a quota and a price.
We pretend not to see each other. Who will admit to such

privation? We study the signs from a distance. Perhaps, it
is another sorrow, another wound, another word that brings

you here. Does my skin turn transparent as I stand? Do you know
the scars inside? You will not turn your head. I will not call. How

much longer? Who hoards rain clouds in the desert? No one
warned me to save my smile. To save the light in your eyes.

– Rajani Radhakrishnan
Rajani’s website
Photo source

Sunset

Last night
clouds turned cantaloupe electric,
backlit in neon.
That must be where God lives, I thought,
though I don’t much believe in God.

Sunsets are reason enough to imagine
that heaven’s in the sky —
a transcendent finale,
coda of the day.

As years count down, I think
about sunsets, seasons —
leaves falling,
branches bare.

       Perhaps I should believe.

The closest I get is sunset —
enough ecstasy,
enough God.

Sarah Russell
For Poets United
Photo source

In my Yard

A beautiful poem by Kelly Jo Letky.  Be sure to visit her site and comment if you like it.

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the trees are dying.

okay, only two out of seven
but they’re my favorite two and
when i walk outside
to listen to whispers

i hear the sounds of mourning.

.

already
i feel time slipping through bent fingers

already
i’ve picked a place to bury sun-bleached bones

already
i’m learning the words
to a song i’d prefer not to sing

.

that’s not to say
i don’t watch the sunset

that’s not to say
i don’t smile when the moon
knocks on my window

that’s not to say
i don’t sing with the robin at sunrise

it’s just to say
i notice.

the trees are dying.

– Kelly Jo Letky

In the dream

in color but colorless,
post-apocalyptic, the world stretches out
with ash and charred hulks of trees.
I am alone. Beside me the world has cracked
like an egg, jagged and stretching over the horizon,
only a foot wide, but an abyss.
There is a whisper of steam coming from it,
and a whisper of something churning below.
That is the only sound except for a bird calling, maybe
for a mate.  I need to get to the other side,
but I am terrified. I can step across easily —
only a foot wide — but I remember a time I tried to jump
a puddle in a long straight skirt.  My leg would go no farther
than the skirt’s width, and I landed in the water in new shoes.
What if I can’t reach across?  The dream won’t leave.
I think of it whenever my mind is alone.

– Sarah Russell
Artist: frankmoth portfolio
For Real Toads “dream” prompt
and for Poets United Poetry Pantry

Dandelions

“A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place.”
                            George Washington Carver

Spike-haired, brass-blonde,
they invade the bluegrass suburbs
where blades form a passive sameness
if tended as intended.  They strut
across the green of everyday —
strumpets in tattered leafy skirts,
stiletto roots — bestowing downy favors
on the summer breeze.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Your Daily Poem
Photo Source

Bathsheba, Bathing

She doesn’t know King David watches,
doesn’t know his lust — blind
to her virtue, her marriage.

I serve this most beautiful of women,
make the water warm, the soap fragrant.
I pour sweet oil between her breasts,
watch it drip on thighs and belly.

She is wed to Uriah, away at war,
but she’s lonely for men’s praise,
looks often in the basin
to measure her own beauty.

I fear the king’s desire. Their eyes meet,
and I know his will is hers as well.
God will smite them in their coupling.

What will become of me who keeps
their secrets? Are my loyalties to king
or God or to my mistress whom I love
as David loves her, as Uriah loves her.
My secrets must remain more secret still.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Ekphrastic Review
Based on Bathsheba by Jean Leon Gerome, 1899
For dVerse and for Poets United

 

 

 

Fred Harris – American Small Town Barber

Last year about this time, poets from State College, PA were invited to interview residents of Juniper Village, an assisted living and memory care center and to feature them in a poem.  Here’s my poem about Mr. Fred Harris.

Fred’s blue eyes twinkle,
his lank frame curls into the chair.
He smiles, lost in reverie —
a toddler’s first big boy cut,
the mother picking up a tendril
fine as milkweed silk, to keep…
the mingled scent of Brill Cream,
lather, Bay Rum, Old Spice…
the high school football hero,
proud and sheepish at congratulations
from the men… the rhythmic sound
of straight razor against leather strop…
the businessmen in suits and ties —
just a little off the sides, they’d say,
and Fred obliged.

In the 50’s, it was crew cuts and flat tops,
in the 60’s, duck tails and pompadours.
Then the 70s, when grim-faced dads
dragged in their sons,
and shoulder-length tangles
were made presentable.
“Got another one,” he’d grin.

Fred knew the pulse of Huntingdon,
and if clients sighed a weary sigh,
Fred gave their shoulder an extra pat,
and they’d smile a little, meet his eyes
in the mirror. No music in the shop —
“It runs the batteries down,” he’d say,
but he tuned in to hear the obits read
every day in case a regular died,
so he could pay respects.

After Fred swept the floor at night,
straightened the well-thumbed Argosy’s
and Field and Stream’s, turned the sign
to “Closed” and locked the door,
he drove home to the farm, made dinner
for the kids and Cassie — Mama Cass
he called her — saw to it chores were done,
saddled up Prince for a ride at sunset.
He saw Niagara Falls once,
went to Florida for a couple days,
but that was travel enough.
He had his barber shop, his farm,
people who loved him.
He was useful. He smiles,
remembering.

– Sarah Russell
For Poets United Poetry Pantry
Photo Source

.

Cat Nap

The cat invited me to fill my lap
with heavy, lithe contentment.
We curled together on the couch,
purring pressure as she arched her neck
against my hand, languid comfort,
her body nestling into mine.
I roused, my hand still stroking lightly
in my sleep, cat vanished to other ventures,
the niche indented by her form
still vibrant with her warmth,
my fingertips caressing air
in silken touch remembrance.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Purrfect Poetry Anthology
Painting by bdelpesco
For dVerse Poets Pub