The spring issue of fws has been an experiment in “evolutionary-lit,” a term I coined. It was written in a form known as the Renga, with poets collaborating, as
each poet writes a new [poem] that leaps from the [poem or] stanza preceding it. This leap advances both the thematic movement as well as maintaining the linking component.poets.org
For this issue, the theme was “tenderness/loving/care/& hope.”
Unlike a formal Renga, however, in which poets write only a few lines to add to previous lines/stanzas, which then, all together, become the whole poem, poets worked in this way to create the entire Renga issue!
This issue represents the work of twenty-five poets from seven countries: Pakistan, Viet Nam, Ghana, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. You can view an alphabetical listing of all fws contributor bios here.
In this issue, poets have celebrated and remembered ancestors, taking us into the hours that are theirs. They have spoken of mother’s, of grandchildren and of unbreakable bond[s]. Together we have dipped into the well of intense, human connection and desire: for redemption, for release, for new worlds, new eternities. Poets have called us to Look to the sky/And see/A chariot winged/A chariot/ winged/Soaring. They have spoken of the incomprehensible extracted from parched/scraps of reality & they have prayed for peace.
Now. Let us hear this prayer, let us hear the unforgotten song, the sound of the ephemeral, the eternal mothers singing, the Holy echo of who we humans truly are: one pure undivided stream of conscious being.
I pray this writing opens and warms your heart, and somehow sustains and invites you into the universal domain of conscious compassion and deep listening.
d. ellis phelps, editor
~frame after frame~
what words there weren’t 1. a buzzing every word every whisper a world i had not chosen a life gone by and it frightened me it heavied me like lead 2. the spinning spokes of a beached bicycle a whirring reminder of how soon things are lost this is what i have of yours of you everything i can remember it’s funny what it adds up to the paper doll you instead of the you that breathes and laughs and grinds your teeth while you sleep what i do and do not know this is what i have left 3. warm wood underfoot an old sad song roofs and rain falling on them lightning bugs the smell of the air in your home town magic pieces of the world that no matter how many times they’re named can never need never fully be explained i realize as i try to describe my mother that i would never have enough words for it that every writer since the first had been trying to put into something that would stand how it feels to love someone so much there will never be enough words for it that this life so infinitely filled with two sided coins would never have enough stories or pictures or music enough to make someone understand how terribly, how entirely, how much bigger and truer and more real than any binding law or physical compound, i loved my mother. and the tears of that love, the salt of all of it would dry unseen on this paper and the only sliver of silver in all this is the thought that someday someone might read this and know that they too love their mother in some implacable way different and the same no more or less true than the way i love mine.
south orange to penn station the sky burning persimmon over a grey jersey goodbye flying kites against the world turning faster than we could see it i had made myself a liar again and try to catch The Truth in my shaking hands never able to hold the solid stone i imagine it to be you cannot convince someone to love you i trace the letters over my palm again again i know it have known it and somehow still need the reminding i have only ever wanted to, once before have only ever ached like this once but it lasted eleven years so you do the math and here i was lying again all this just once in my life nonsense i had never wanted anything ever just once in my life i had wanted over and over overlapping wanting and wanting and recoiling and wanting more and again and anyway so long as i didn’t have to admit it you cannot fix anything for anyone but how could that be when it was all i’d ever done aside from the wanting and was that what my love meant when i tried it on as a verb he was a hurt i still couldn’t solve a puzzle still jagged and scattered over the table splintered across the floor in the shards of light that shuddered through the bare branches above he was everywhere the space around everything but he himself nothing never there it’s too late for that he says because why i fall open laughing that sort of safe mocking masquerade laughter we’d gone pro at because you already hate me? giggling against that grey december and all my choking fear because i could never hate you, now the first decade of the new millennia is closing and i am up with the ghosts in the hours that are theirs my head in my grandfather’s hands holding them frame after frame as he sleeps into nothing slipping quietly from life into death holding the hand i know well now the hand whose severed fingers i have twice picked from the sawdust of our garage and watched the doctor sew back on the hand with a split down one thumb from that same saw the same sew the same seam the same hand with a workman’s grasp caked in every crease worn down every scar finally soft at the end i was surprised to find his hands still holding onto mine or rather holding still onto mine mine which were for once steady quiet seam to seam in the eye of the storm at ease in the heart of chaos he was not a man i had spent much of this life loving quiet and distant but even now i can’t help but feel that his life however small and creased and not known deserved some redemption or perhaps just hope in vain that all lives do i watch the boys around me trying on every day what it is to be a man trying to be both Good and Man at once trying to become which so often felt punctuated and propelled by the legacy of leaving wondering when any of us will understand what strong really is or rather what really is strong what the measure of metal is what metal miracles take [all] i[’ve ever] want[ed was] to close the wound my arms are open but that means they are also empty and so i am taking up with ghosts and liars again this great grief the one we all had just from living that felt so personal and specific and awake and was in fact the most universal and mundane, the most every day we were all all bad and all all good and all all innocent of what was to come we were all still packing our backpacks and running away from home we were all afraid of who we really were we were all staring at the sun blinding ourselves over and over just to survive just to keep beginning in this world of endings we were all peaches all dying as we ripened we were all we were all and there was nothing for it. just the hands split and creased and empty and open and there. ~
Donna Faulkner nee Miller
And in his final moments He drifts back to happier days of summers past . Of sandcastles and top heavy ice creams dripping with melting momentum and undies itchy with hitchhiking sand . The laughter and squeals Of us all frolicking and splashing one another in the shallows and jumping rolling waves together . Those same old hands hardened from Grafting And crafting away a lifetime . Sculpting himself into the image of the man expected. Those hands holding onto his little kin today instead . Gifted the briefest respite by a breeze heavy with the promise of vinegar and chips teasing our appetites. A liberating summer's breeze stealing away the weight of his worries. . ( those unspoken burdens that strangle a man's spirit and bend his back crooked by the time of old age ) He forgets himself and the relentless roles he plays And his deep frown lifts making space for a rare and toothy smile . And we saw him - Really saw him . For the very first time . He shone brightly with us that day. His hands work rough were used instead for swinging squealing children Jumping waves . Holding dripping ice cream with sticky fingers he licked clean - and laughed . He knew on that brief summers day buried deep within his memories The joy of being a human -unencumbered . It’s recollection Encouraging his transition. Contented . He slipped away . leaving his weathered body His smile sealed upon his face Kissed by the timely departure of his final breath. ~
d. ellis phelps
& she made space unencumbered by recollection what once was sticky licked clean-- life-giving tongue ~ she was open there nothing small nothing distant but close close as breathing ~ how long she hovered at this opening how many times she turned back but now her lungs filled her body overflowed & she knew this is how the tracks are laid: unbending will & wanting ~
[blood of her blood] & she knew when she went into the heart of chaos This is how the tracks are laid blood of her blood a buzzing spinning how it feels to love him so much his laughter a knock-knock world of words there are never enough when love is a verb he wrote a poem in her tracks multiple phrases yes, but… yes, but… innocently caught in Decartes’s universe he thinks therefore he is he is her giggling peach at seven loving life’s absurdities she planting memories to blossom some future day ~
Shrouded in Mist the father tall & tan in drawstring trunks watches her rise from the waves two pieces of blue cinched waist span of his hands the daughter hair furiously free looks to see if he sees her striding toward him footprints washing away ~
m. f. nagel
In the morning When the stars gather to sing Look to the sky And see A chariot winged A chariot winged Soaring Soaring star walkers Star walkers Fire spitting 3. 2. 1. Fire Beyond the edge of dreams Dreams The edge of dreams Where we have lived Lived So long So long Asleep In the morning when the stars Gather to sing Look to the sky and see See Our place Our place In new worlds Worlds And new eternities ~
I look to the sky See the thumbnail ghost Of a day moon cushioned in azure A tiny thing cradled in the expanse Of the sky, the way I imagine you Cradled me, although I don’t remember, For all the years we were separated There was still a pull, as the moon Pulls the tides, the unbreakable bond ~
New eternities-- the stars sing, folding harmonies into folded worlds, and we slip into the creases, in the in-between where dreams of what was of what might be merge. And from there, your ghost voice calls— an anchor or a balloon? The moon hums in the night, warning of perils, soothing with hope. Our souls join-- daughter becomes mother becomes daughter, reborn with the sun. ~
Clouds part to reveal that same orb viewed years and miles away, its shape crisp in the cool October night air, as we sat beside a fire talking about his youth, mine, and that in store for my children, knowing its light as the one true constant throughout, as it is now, the miles no less, for my grandchildren as they look to the night sky. ~
Donna Faulkner nee Miller
Listening intently to campfire tales . families present , families past hands on shoulders . ancestors whispering stories fuel the fire keep bright the light that holds each alive for us ~ we become them they step back —shadow boundaries of the peripheral Allowing the next —moon bathing moment ~ Campfire dances Moonlight dew drops Ice tonight’s first frost —crushed diamonds Grass blades glint Stories intertwine ~
I wish for more hauntings crackling spark branch snap outside my window, eerie dark gloom, wish for fog to blanket this floor, hide my feet as I step knowingly into witches’ spells crystals glimmering, reflecting midnight tales. Wishes take wonder. I used to know them like halted breath before blowing out candles an eyelash precariously perched on a finger a fine slick bone between us. If wishes were now and not only then, could we suck it all in reverse the scope and fallout, return to stories with curiosity in our expectant faces, huddle together in that exciting anticipatory shriek and squeal next to the chirping fire bursting from shadow lines while the sky builds above us a fortress of light. ~
The Howling starts at sundown plaintive lament call to the pack warning Yip owooooo across the canyon walls lined with oak and bay madrone holding the sound, buffering, then release, ringing from reservoir to mountain flank to canyon bowl up brushy walls coyote bush, acacia, poison oak, wild iris here and there a tended lawn dandelions separating the grass moles, voles and wily gopher burrow beneath the call of the wild on early April wind ringing through canyons cry of thanks, and gratitude, a lowing of community I’m here, and yes I’m here too and me and me and you for tonight and as long as it takes here on earth we honor coyote brothers owl sisters acknowledge oak and madrone mountain abiding a ring of joyful noise to anchor us as ancestors with stories to tell tonight the sun slipping down before the hunt begins the call to come home, be safe, the howling begins, from nooks notched in the side of the mountain echoing all around, from the flatland from houses with lawns from the ones with jacked up trucks and the ones with Beamers the ones with no cars at all all join the joyful howling the call (anyone listening?) to painful human solidarity ~
In the holiness of our heart’s affection we uncover the pain of loving. Whoever thought it would be easy had no clue, no clue, no clue. We surrender to this catastrophe of grace. ~
Rabbits below in gardens fatten beyond the talon’s weight bearing capabilities. Yet none of us can escape the grace of god. So, I remain still as the constellations shift across a sky ruled by owls.
~beyond the talons~
Those void kings of silent death, winged darkness against a star- lit black, swooping down on night-meals. No noise heard unless sated, and then the hoo-hoo of raptor gossip into the early morning hours.
Such hours bring rain, chocolate mint lilting over glazed pots, the sound of centavos hitting sidewalks. Still, children carry songs that seize a growing absence, cornflakes heavy in the bowl, a cat sniffing at the clouds’ retreat. The morning’s exquisite yurt allows parking meters to yell Ukrainian fight songs, coffee to brew a dozen crooked synonyms. Who can stay the marchers? Who’s asemic alphabet endures? ~
Marching the beach at sunset alone my only sign the world is changing is this Great Lake—wide flat and still—such an enviable stillness someday my meditations will find. The lake glows as though lit from within and not purely reflecting the cerise and topaz of the sky above, writing asemic sonnets to the sun that I must believe still blazes even as I am pulled away. For days, someone’s campfire will not die, logs of eastern hemlock, spruce, and balsam denuded and charred glowing red and hot long after I blanket the sticks with sand and resume my human preparations for rest. ~
As I prepare to rest, I beseech the standing talls for their strength, their rootedness :: to navigate with upturned arms :: the nameless days, trudging across a calendar devoid of meaning, and the sleepless hours, passing uneasily under the sky crone’s phasic gaze. As I rise once more, I entreat the nereids’ realm for its cadence, its flow :: to skim with starfish fingers :: the surface of nettled emotion, unperturbed by fickle currents, and the undertow of exhaustion, buoyed by hungry ghosts’ desperation. As I come to court slumber once more, I compose prayers to the rents in Cronos’ lineage for its reinvention, its reformation :: to shred with sharpened senses :: the unmourned annihilation, suppurating the psyche’s loamy soils, and the viral fear, colonizing this friable existence. ~
in my preparation for rest i am hopeless careless restless my mother tells me a story hopeful strokes my hair she is: careful singing how a mother’s voice can soothe us how a song can save ~
I listen to the sound of emptiness the clanging absence of your voice music not written what rest is there without you? ~
in rest i am hopeless without your body beside me on the bed though you turn and pull without stop and that should disturb me it doesn't only the opposite all sounds i can explain away when you are there but when you're gone every crack of an expanding door or cooling frame jolts me back to a room that remains empty the tension tracks into my dreams of course until i believe staying awake to be more restful it isn't and i drift until awake again sometimes hours later though all time feels like minutes but then nights later you are back and your heavy breath and fidgeting soothe me again to sleep ~
Saved, in a moment of desolation, isolation contemplation of extinguishing the pulsing, rhythmic blessing of life, love and light. The voice of redemption rang through to my listless ears with a sweet tune encompassing gloriously entangled harmonies. Familiar notes of despair, yearning breaking through my seclusion to latch a life-saving connection of solidarity and hope. ~
many days have gone by the stolen well since I left and between us is always the warmth though I am back in my village and I still hear your voice a small gift for my village, Równianki, a small gift of grass for the compound between my hands I keep it from Vilna and until I bring you back home let some fields that have made the newspapers remain like shadows crawling back into the womb, that all the respectable bombs must become what we need a bag of ammonia-based fertilizer a farmer carries in his truck I wait to plant my first fruit ~
she planting memories to blossom some future day but to notice orange light early morning drops on cloves bent blades of grass song of baby birds fireflies at dusk loving your children is loving yourself heaviness of warmth your hand in mine touching my face to love more he asked what was next growth transformation love and freedom but to be in process vs destination to be here not to rush past nests to share song my body and his our souls held apart only by soft skin wetness and water connecting us osmosis love not to please not to live for others to feel to create my own not to let love and happiness be determined by reinforcement life force love like water filling myself to share and to ask for what I want belief is proof enough and trust is love to be open to the rain when planned a sunny day and feel the thunder drops on your palm use the rain to grow overflowing love and water reconnecting us me back to you ~
Let me tell you how a song can save if spoken or dreamed or whispered the moment is fine dry and raw you are bound flamboyant A mother’s garden knows all the notes bathing in cold sorrow and fierce longing a winding force submits and pampers she watches the dance and craves the melody is never forgotten never bland never wrong never over ~
Into the early morning hours you pinch your eyelids shut, praying for sleep. Mama–– you roll out of bed off-kilter like a dodecahedron. Some mornings easier than others. Sometimes I don’t like the parts of me I see in you. The cat stretches onto the bed like an alphabet–– new letters every morning. I left a fork in the Vitamix again; scrambled the kitchen ceiling. Mama–– teach me how to shift the planets by hand. How to tie my shoelaces; how to stomach broccoli and catcalls. Bloodshot eyes over the bathroom sink, toothpaste dripping down your chin like ice cream–– Let us compare convictions: I will trade you my silence for an accord. Our family is a nation unto itself; a language in and of itself. We vote as a bloc and argue over dinner. Mama–– these are old dynamisms; you draw the trajectory and I pull you along.
I have not forgotten I follow the song she sings The one that soothes & saves me Takes away the stingy v Vengeance out of poverty I believe I'll find her House-arrested in a crater Or chasing feather stars Splashing in a moon-glade north I seek earlobe softness in voice and hand A concrete calling for poetry Kush calm will envelope me & she’ll bid farewell to my coffers full of ornate elf-dream figments extracted from parched scraps of reality She remedies Removes the influence of whatever shadow was thrust upon you She will sing of candelabrum light Prairies in Kashmir Peace in Palestine & rest in your soul rest your soul
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