The Viktor Gontarov challenge responses have been posted. My apologies again to everyone who had to wait until this morning for a response to their submissions. We are back on track! So many takes on this intriguing painting. Thanks again to Svetlana Galkin Vishtalenko of the Matskiv Foundation for sharing this artwork with me in person and for the Ekphrastic Review challenge. Just a few of the many amazing poets featured: Jordan Trethewey, John Drudge, Janette Schafer, Sandy Rochelle, Byron Hoot, Ilona Martonfi, Kyle Laws, Shirley Glubka, Robbi Nester and many more!
There were her brittle bones, bundled like wilted matchsticks inside her rib cage, that he could only sense but not see, and there was, of course, his fickle heart, a trope always leaping like a trout out of his shirt pocket. and though the distance was slender enough, it wafted between them, garbled like an underwater song, the two of them trapped inside a painting whose meaning remained both exclusive and elusive, the way unspoken love dies, gasping and smothered on a tongue.
Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently the story collection, THIS IS WHY I NEED YOU, out now from Ravenna Press. You can find more of his writing at lenkuntz.blogspot.com
To Viktor Gontarov Regarding Gogol’s Dream
Your satire of the satirist
is brilliant it would seem
for Russia, not his homeland, was
the mermaid of his dream —
as “prince” a love that he confessed
his wit could not explain
that tilted at the windmills of
his reasons to remain
where he was made a Russian voice
of image more humane
and, by his emigration, soul
of Russia, not Ukraine.
The mermaid thus would have her way
in spite of his demise
depressed by exile self-imposed
and failure of reprise.
Portly Bard: Old man.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement…
…and by such homage being lent…
ideally also compliment.
Sleep-walking from the offices
of the czar’s fat bureaucracy
and pompous nobles—
leaving at the mills
those slavish apparatchiki—
in dreams I follow
my wandering nose–
so weary am I of nosing out
lower orders who play
at officialdom in the party–
all so predictable…
But here as the troika
jolts to a halt in frozen ruts
beside the Neva River, I fling
the hat from off my head.
I sweep low bows to beauty
I have longed for:
shy, salty, slippery
with silver scales,
she belongs not
in any of Czar Pyotr’s
or social ranks.
No, she is modest,
the softest soul,
the stuff of stories
woven by Babushka
in low lamplight,
in the tissue of my dreams….
So I offer her my heart
but she, fair soul immured
in frigid watery worlds
can only blush
and slide her eyes away
across the ice
while I, in lonely fancy,
stand at a loss.
Now those three horses trained
for a cruel czar’s winter palaces
whinny their disdain
in haughty imperial laughter.
A published novelist between 1984 and 1996 in North America, Australasia, the UK, Netherlands and Sweden (pen-name Elizabeth Gibson), Ballagher is now writing poetry rather than fiction. Her work has been featured in a variety of magazines and webzines, including The Ekphrastic Review. She blogs at https://www.lizzieballagherpoetry.wordpress.com/.
The desperate heart
And the bold whispers
Draw us toward
The age old dance
Of the mermaid’s siren
Before the fish-cold
Stare of time
And the indifference
Of unrequited need
Into the distance
John is a social worker working in the field of disability management and holds degrees in social work, rehabilitation services, and psychology. He is the author of two books of poetry: “March” (2019) and “The Seasons of Us” (2019). His work has appeared in the Arlington Literary Journal, The Rye Whiskey Review, Poetica Review, Drinkers Only, Literary Yard, The Alien Buddha Press, Montreal Writes, Mad Swirl, The Avocet, Sparks of Caliope, Harbinger Asylum, The Ekphrastic Review, and the Adelaide Literary Magazine. John is also a Pushcart Prize nominee and lives in Caledon Ontario, Canada with his wife and two children.
This is no mythic creature
but a mechanical goddess
beautiful and terrible,
her skin silver and wet
her gaze disinterested,
cast over her shoulder.
Her steely eyes cause him to step back.
He tips his head, holds his heart to her,
disturbs her moment of solitude
on the white sands of this island.
Her movement is quick and fluid
like water in motion. She holds out
her hand. What do you want from me?
My rate is one pound for every minute.
He shades his eyes from the gleam
of her plated tail.
She leans forward in the tub,
allows her breasts to spill
over the edge. What do you want from me?
My rate is one pound for every minute.
I was created for the pleasure of men.
He bows, steps back.
He bows, steps back.
He holds his heart to her.
She slaps it from his grasp.
Janette Schafer is a freelance writer, nature photographer, part-time rock singer, and full-time banker living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her writing and photographs have appeared in numerous publications and websites. She is the Chief Editor and Founder of Beautiful Cadaver Project Pittsburgh. In 2020, Main Street Rag will release a collection of her poems titled Something Here Will Grow.
the water under the bridge
this disordered arrangement
it cannot remain
as it is it is
always somewhere else
what it was it was
a current of emotion
a glimpse of possibility
what could be could be
a conjuring that takes
and spends itself in fragments
what is not is not
no single body holds it
it cannot be arrayed
what it is it is
from story, form, the why
and what if what if
A resident of New York City, Kerfe Roig enjoys transforming words and images into something new. Follow her explorations on her blogs, https://methodtwomadness.wordpress.com/ (which she does with her friend Nina), and https://kblog.blog/, and see more of her work on her website http://kerferoig.com/
What Gogol Knows
His top hat sits askew, awry,
quite gang agley, forgotten by
the man beholding, heart in hand,
so awestruck he can hardly stand;
that matters not, love hit the spot–
entranced by his forget-me-not,
perennial within his dreams,
the one from whom all sunlight beams,
perfection in its truest form,
with whom he wants his hearth to warm.
His eyes affixed and focused twixt
her head and tail of body mixed
from fish and fin with kith and kin,
whom he would woo and hope to win;
but wondering, how should he begin
to show his love and yet not sin,
to honor her with truest love,
that kind which raineth from above,
restraining darkness from below
where overwhelming urges grow.
And yet, it seems, in modesty,
the “piece de resistance” most agree
is part and parcel of love’s soul,
a place which makes both lovers whole,
appears a’missing from this miss–
her fishly tail has covered this–
and though each gill hath turned to breast,
those wonderments of lover’s nest
which makes one’s heart pound in its chest,
they can’t make up for all the rest.
But even so, love conquers all
o’er both the mighty and the small,
and should she deign allow her reign
to take him in, relieve his pain
of heartache, he would feign to make
a humble showing for her sake
and cover up his lower half
with scales and fin, and lose his staff,
to cast aside his nethers and toes
and win her love, if by a nose.
Ken Gosse prefers writing short, rhymed verse with traditional meter often filled with whimsy and humor. First published in The First Literary Review–East in November 2016 and since then in The Offbeat, Pure Slush, Parody, The Ekphrastic Review, and others. Raised in the Chicago suburbs, now retired, he and his wife have lived in Mesa, AZ, over twenty years.
In the world of dream and nightmare, not
found on any map, dark houses conspire,
leaning toward each other like volumes
on an overcrowded shelf, titles effaced,
pages foxed and folded, swollen with rain.
In this shadow of his native Poltava, the books
he has read and written haunt the frozen fields.
Derelict windmills gesture in a weak breeze.
A pine sapling takes improbable root in the
rock-hard river, where just lately, a startled
fisherman expecting a net full of gravid
sturgeon hauled out instead a piscine
Madonna, adrift on an oval of ice,
a woman, gripped to the pubis by a large-
mouthed pike. It is she whom he worships,
holding out his heart like an automaton,
a bright bouquet, as, clutching her own
white water lily, she looks away.
Robbi Nester is the author of many ekphrastic poems, some of which have previously appeared in these pages. She is also the author of four books of poems, including an ekphrastic chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012) and three collections: A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014), Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017), and Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019). Her poems, reviews, essays, and articles have been widely published, most recently in North of Oxford, Pirene’s Fountain, Rhino, Tiferet, and the anthology Unsheathed.
Rusalka Of The Vorskla
followed the moon
south along the Vorskla
from the safety of my coach
pulled by a trio of thoroughbreds
wrong turning after wrong turning
through a plethora of meanderings
en pursuit of Rusalka
of my insatiable indulgence
the spirit of my dreams
mermaid of the unclean dead when
in the oblast of Poltava
twixt shoals and sandbars
in sight of a whirling windmill
near by a palladian mansion
below pristine white cottages
my sprite appeared beyond life where
we were re-united at last
for one unique unforgettable moment
yet she did not look into my eyes
would not stretch out to touch
could have spoken but did not
reply to my ascetic plea of
forgiveness and redemption
from my flagrant trespasses
when I ripped the beating heart
out from my svelte torso
as an offering to Rusalka for
it would be her’s forever
my dream now complete
as we departed from darkness
through plains of pareidolia
together in love
Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse. Of late, he has achieved success in poetry competitions and featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He particularly enjoys ekphrastic challenges. In 2019, he was a Featured Writer of the Federation of Writers Scotland.
When the trees have eyes
and even the horses are laughing
it must be time to ask –
what are you doing? Can’t you see,
the woman you came for has grown
a tail of her own choosing, look
how well she fills it. You may
take your carriage home, empty
but for your own dusty feet,
now she has eaten the heart you carried
for lunch, never meeting your eyes,
her hands busy with a flower, picked
by her fingers at midnight,
when she swims the length
of the shoreline, singing, her throat
wet with ocean, her pink skin warm
with being wild, for the first time.
Amelia Loulli is a poet living in Cumbria, England. A pamphlet of her poetry was selected for publication in Primers Volume 4 with Nine Arches press, and her work has been twice shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She is currently studying for her MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University.
The Artist and the Writer and the Dream
I am leaning, she is floating. Or I am floating, he is leaning.
We lean, we float, the horses are interested, they surround us
like pink comfort. We are all beyond the overcoat.
Whence comes this gentleness?
I want to say tender strands of courteous light are reaching, reaching,
but I am always arriving at the answer before the question completes itself.
Is it mad to relinquish life for the sake of an excellent overcoat?
Perhaps ghost-time (when quick theft is permitted) compensates.
What about the arrogant independent nose with a life of its own?
Can it be more vivid than the red hand-held heart?
Dear Nikolai Gogol, you write strange things.
Dear Viktor Gontarov, have you seen the tender strands?
Shirley Glubka is a retired psychotherapist, poet, essayist, and novelist. Her most recent poetry collection is Burst Thought Shall Show Its Root: erasure poetry. Her latest novel: The Bright Logic of Wilma Schuh. Shirley lives in Prospect, Maine with her spouse, Virginia Holmes. Website: http://shirleyglubka.weebly.com
To Whom Does This Belong?
Whose dream is it?
And how in half nakedness
with partial flesh ashow no heart
and how well-clothed the heart
is held outside the body?
The three horses, like three Magi, watch
where eternities in flesh and bone
and blood meet,
a variation on a theme
of those water walkers Venus
and Jesus willing to walk together
on the water or underneath.
And whose dream is it?
Yours or mine?
To whom does this dream belong?
Byron Hoot was born and raised in Morgantown, West Virginia and lived there until he went to college – a twelve year excursion. He never returned to West Virginia but he never left it. Appalachia, the hills and streams, the people, his memories of those first eighteen years are deeply embedded. Now he lives in northwestern Pennsylvania. . . still in Appalachia. He has recently had poems in The Watershed Journal, Tobeco Literary Arts Journal, and on www.northsouthappal.com./appalachian-literature.html. and accepted poems by The Pittsburgh Post Gazette and in Pennessence. He is a co-founder of The Tamarack Writers (1974) and The Fernwood Writers Retreat (2019).
A Fishy Tale
Oh my love,
I thought you’d left me
I though you were
but I see you now
rising to the surface
turning blue with cold.
I shall pluck you
out of the water,
warm you up,
carry you home.
I see you’ve changed
become accustomed to the water,
grown a fishes tail.
You can tell me about it later
you know I love a fishy tale.
Lynn White lives in north Wales. Her work is influenced by issues of social justice and events, places and people she has known or imagined. She is especially interested in exploring the boundaries of dream, fantasy and reality. She was shortlisted in the Theatre Cloud ‘War Poetry for Today’ competition and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Rhysling Award. Her poetry has appeared in many publications including: Apogee, Firewords, Vagabond Press, Light Journal and So It Goes Journal. Find Lynn at: https://lynnwhitepoetry.blogspot.com and https://www.facebook.com/Lynn-White-Poetry-1603675983213077/
The Glass Slipper
It is true that the glass slipper is not suited to my temperamental feet.
And the Prince is a bit of a heretic.
But, the Pumpkin Carriage warms my soul and the midnight chimes my heart.
The familial clock conspires with the air to erase all that has been and gone before.
With a king crowned replacing the fragile Prince whose soul has been magnified.
To embrace the heart of a Queen.
Sandy Rochelle is an award winning poet-actress and filmmaker. Publications include: Visions International, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Backchannel Journal, Every Day Poems, Spillwords, Amethyst Review, Moon Shadow Sanctuary Press/ Formidable Woman, Wild Word, Tuck and others. http://sandyrochelle.com
I take my hat off for the search,
a siren call, Cervantes’ tilt,
near wearing heart upon your sleeve,
this canvassing, while carriage waits.
How find your place or mark your name
before inscribed on graveyard stone,
where least your son or lover knows
that sight has gone but site remains?
This is a crowded game to play
with footballer in middle field,
a javelin thrown overhead,
and metal archives banging head.
Ukraine fits novel Ivan brief,
flight pilot, biochemist too,
but how that view makes metre noise?
A chess-bored player turns to paint,
Cyrillic strains, acrylic taints,
More nightmare than a Gogol dream
to isolate, then analyse,
but making a clean breast of it,
I like the questions stylised.
Should you keep google at arm’s length
then too can find world complicate
turns into jigsaw freshly framed –
at least you find some pieces named.
Stephen Kingsnorth, retired to Wales, UK, from ministry in the Methodist Church,has had pieces accepted by over a dozen on-line poetry sites, including Ekphrastic Review, and Gold Dust, The Seventh Quarry, The Dawntreader & Foxtrot Uniform Poetry Magazines.
He slides toward dreamboat
with the ease of seduction,
arms slipping from sleeves,
bowler tipping from back of neck
as if his heart is offered in respect
for the mermaid, demure,
skating on frozen oceans,
a missing limb unable to wave
in protest, a fish as motionless
as her plastic gaze, stealing away
from the laughing- neigh of horses,
watching freeze-frame unfold
clothed in robes of Chagall.
Silver scales fall from tail
stolen in a slither of ice.
Kate Young lives in Kent with her husband and has been passionate about poetry and literature since childhood. Over the last few years she has returned to writing and has had success with poems published in webzines in Britain and internationally. She is a regular reader of The Ekphrastic Review and her work has appeared in response to some of the challenges. Kate is now busy editing her work and setting up her website.
He’s here again, beside the pool.
Three horses (his, he assumes), confer
behind him, amused, sharing neighs.
He cannot swim, yet he loves the way water
ripples when breezes press across it,
and loves when it is still, clouds reflected. Today,
they form a blue-lipped mermaid. And, because
from the waist down she’s a fish and cannot
couple with a man, he cannot have her
either on land or there, where she floats. He
tips his hat with yearning. In the distance,
a windmill chimes with wishes as it strokes
the atmosphere of snow. She holds her tiny
bouquet close while he weeps a white
flake from one eye. He stands alone,
feet dry, as she prepares to dive, having
married herself to his sleep.
Lavina Blossom is a painter and mixed media artist as well as a poet. Her poems have appeared in various journals, including 3Elements Review, Kansas Quarterly, The Literary Review, The Paris Review, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, Poemeleon, Common Ground Review, and Ekphrastic Review. She is an Editor of Poetry for Inlandia: a Literary Journey.
Began tearing the folia and reassemble the pieces. Collage compositions. Nights full of shapes and smells. Left alone with darkness. High ceilings and bay windows. “Do you remember it?” you ask. “Do you still live there?” The red brick house with two apple trees. Life fitting into a box. The silences. Hovering at the edge of a page. Exploring memory, forgetting. Yard, thick with raspberries. The wolf hour, period of half-light. Overarching theme was conception. Bookbinding. Of pollination. Layered on and next to each other. Populated by hybrid figures. Fantastic beasts. Metamorphosis and magic. “Before the black dries,” you say. Because of the surreal. Before cassette tapes play and rewind. Because of home movies. Symbols had chosen this hour. Returning from violent earth water-damaged. The flooding. Impermanence and decay. Bur-reed. Thistle. Yellow wood sorrel. Distorting pictures. And because of hidden messages, and wonder. “What did you love about it?” you say. The town based on street level. You turn right or slightly right, continue straight. Couldn’t seem to rid yourself of any items that got lost, Christmas decorations, cook books, reels, oils, acrylics, unpoured gesso. Anything. Also: everyone.
Ilona Martonfi is an editor, poet, curator, advocate and activist. Author of four poetry books, the most recent collection is Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019). Forthcoming, The Tempest (Inanna, 2021). Writes in journals, anthologies, and five chapbooks. Her poem “Dachau on a Rainy Day” was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. Artistic director of Visual Arts Centre Reading Series and Argo Bookshop Reading Series. QWF 2010 Community Award.
Nobody’s talking about love,
and when a gentleman falls for a true maiden,
the three lady friends of his turn into the neighing
horses with the minds of mules:
“Trampled underfoot! Trampled underfoot!”
In the hand of the fair maiden is a white lotus
which represents her heart:
she’s the enlightenment, and she is free from jealousy.
Her world is the ocean, free from barriers and walls,
and she can’t stop talking about love.
“Trampled underfoot, yes,” the man says,
and his hat is the first thing to fall off
before he becomes a merman:
“Trampled underfoot I shall be if it gives me the freedom
from neighing, and I don’t have to stop talking about love.”
Paula Puolakka (1982) is a Beat poet, writer, and MA (History of Science and Ideas.) She has landed first and second in the poetry and short story contests and challenges held in the USA, Israel, and South Africa. She has also been awarded in a few essay contests held in Finland. When she saw the challenge picture, she instantly thought about Trampled Under Foot by Led Zeppelin and 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Her latest poems can be found through Spillwords Press and Poetry Potion.
not to look.
in pleading hands.
It’s not inter-species intentions
I question—it’s knowing grins;
the rainbow herd backing him,
nudging each other in fraternity.
for another modest water lily
to break surface tension—
wish to be transported
from this Disney drama.
Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. His new, frightening book of verse, Spirits for Sale, is now available on Amazon from Pskis Porch Publishing. Some of his work found a home here, and in other online and print publications such as Burning House Press, Visual Verse, CarpeArte Journal, Fishbowl Press, and is forthcoming in The Blue Nib. His poetry has also been translated in Vietnamese and Farsi. Jordan is an editor at https://openartsforum.com. To see more of his work go to: https://jordantretheweywriter.wordpress.com.
After Gogol’s Dream by Gontarov
He doffs his hat lovingly
with the tip of his heart.
She, half-eaten by the fish,
looks away demurely.
The horses, contented,
await with curiosity. It’s
Christmas in the land,
announced by the green
tree. The wistful scene,
offered in simplicity.
Carole Mertz enjoys the ekphrastic challenges. She has recent reviews at Main Street Rag,Into the Void, and in Dreamers Creative Writing (where she is also Book Review Editor.) Carole’s chapbook, Toward a Peeping Sunrise, (Prolific Press, 2019) contains an ekphrastic poem on Renoir’s famous Luncheon of the Boating Party which she viewed at the Phillips Collection. She resides with her husband in Parma, OH.
The Mermaid and Russian Soul
In Gogol’s Dream, I would be
the mermaid, as I once was.
Sheathed in silver foil, my legs
undulated to synchronized music.
Again and again I dove and surfaced,
fettered. But in this painting,
I feel free, pressing a lotus
to my left breast, my purity cradled
in a white canoe, clean and fragrant.
Gogol holds his heart—reverent, aching
with Russian soul—ready to pluck
and offer it as the blossom of his love.
A troika and three curious horses stand
stalwart behind him. In another instant,
I know he will take my hand, abandon
his surreal, satiric pen that birthed
The Nose (his self-consciousness about
his own) and The Overcoat. Together,
we will remain poised on the fertile plain
of Ukraine, banked by windmill, village,
dacha, and cushioned in the pastel
softness of the unconscious.
Sandi Stromberg loves gathering poets’ work into anthologies. She co-edited Echoes of the Cordillera (ekphrastic poems, Museum of the Big Bend 2018) and Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston(Mutabilis Press, 2015). Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, read on PBS during the April 2017 “Voices and Verses,” and published in multiple small journals and anthologies, including The Ekphrastic Review. She has been a juried poet ten times in the Houston Poetry Fest. Her translations of Dutch poetry were published in the United States and Luxembourg.
Gogol’s Dream, and the Painterly
Aesthetics of Viktor Gontarov
If I create from the heart, nearly everything works;
if from the head, almost nothing. ~Marc Chagall
Near shore, pulse of crimson, sway of tail,
romance blooms in modernist form —
as if Sadko woos Chernava, as though Gogol’s
nose dwindles for love, here chivalry reigns
as equine abide and modesty turns in repose,
where dream and reality flow —
nearly everything works in Chagall-like motif,
visual metaphor, symbolic art, reverie kindled,
rendered with heart.
Jeannie E. Roberts
Jeannie E. Roberts lives in west-central Wisconsin. She has authored four poetry collections and two children’s books. Her work appears in print and online in North American and international journals and anthologies. She’s a coffee drinker, an animal lover, a nature enthusiast, and poetry editor of the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs. When she’s not reading, writing, or editing, you can find her drawing and painting, or outdoors photographing her natural surroundings.
Young Man on the Sea
He was looking for the perfect woman to live in the woods
with him when he sailed to Ukraine
ventured no farther when the ship landed in Odessa.
Maybe he should have gone inland
looked for a tree nymph, but instead found a mermaid.
He didn’t know what she was at first, met her walking
in a narrow street where lace was sold.
At the next corner stood a carriage with white horses.
He assumed they’d brought her there.
She didn’t tell him she’d swam downriver at night
and that a certain number of hours each day she reverted
back to the scales she was born with.
She asked how far his village of Woodbine, New Jersey
was from the sea. Not far as the gull flies
from a utopia for Russian immigrants after the pogroms
he answered. He did not mention the bounded wetlands
that harbored gulls on their journey
bogs where cranberries grew and iron festered into bullets.
No path unless you became bird
roads were frozen into ruts in winter, flooded in spring.
His land development failed even with rich soil for farming.
She begged to go to the sea, located tracts
settled by whalers when the big fish no longer came to feed
at the mouths of estuaries.
He prospered, never knew how she convinced them to sell.
Kyle Laws is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Ride the Pink Horse (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing, 2018), This Town: Poems of Correspondence with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015), and Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014). With eight nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Germany. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
Gogol’s Dream During His Pilgrimage of the Holy Land
Mary is a mermaid cupping a white flower
above the sea I stand on.
My nervous heart is like a mad bell, clanging
awkward scarlet. Is her baby coming?
She stares away, silent. I am not wise
to wear paisley black pants—I deserve to drown.
Wind races windmills absurdly since Pushkin died.
I am the mysterious dwarf that will redeem Russia,
and no bribe will stop this dream because my writing
is a bible for my country. So blessed, this Holy earth,
leaving Mary as she is. I must never wake up
since I am fragile. I will resist any priest who says
to burn these pages. If I awake, then I must eat.
Pour vodka down my throat when I am manic.
Tie hot loaves to my hips. Save these landowners
and serfs, their faces guide like maps, their souls
like pale horses I ride for. If I shall break apart, pray
for stars to appear. Oh, sweet Mary with child,
cup me in your grace if I am buried alive.
John Milkereit is a mechanical engineer working in the oil & gas industry in Houston, TX. His poems have appeared in various literary journals including The Ekphrastic Review, San Pedro River Review, and The Ocotillo Review. He completed a M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, WA in 2016. His most recent collection of poems, Drive the World in a Taxicab, was published by Lamar University Press.
The Mermaid’s Winter Dream
The last day before Christmas had not passed. A
clear winter twilight was sure to come; the stars,
like a surrealistic promise had peeped out — how many
hours ago? — and the moon was sure to rise majestically
because, didn’t it always in a Ukrainian fairy tale…unless
Gogol puts it in the pocket of his overcoat?
“Gogol’s Christmas Story” (An Adaptation)
The wind was blowing
but she couldn’t feel it.
The wind mill had grown still
In the form of a cross
transformed by an after-
thought of moonlight,
barely visible, fallen\
and caught like a cloud-
wisp of heaven in front of
a cathedral. It was freezing
harder than in the morning
(so writes Gogol) but it was so still
the boot could be heard half a mile away.
The sound of horses’ hooves had become
a mantra, lulling the mermaid away
from her past, from her sisters,
the Rusalki, their magical world
beneath a pillow of ice; and she
is resting on it, an odalisque
on a frozen cushion, her oval face
like that of a Modigliani madonna
risen from the sea, upper body naked,
lower body created by a fish tail
resembling a stained glass window,
her small hand clinging to a water lily, white and perfect
as a jewel from a treasure trove of springtime.
In this scene, she begins to dream at twilight,
its colours blanketing the horses bringing a carriage,
the sound of carriage wheels spinning time
It is 1965 and I wake with a fever
so high I am hallucinating; am talking
to a band, a jazz band with a saxophonist
who is, and isn’t, there. If the notes I hear
are being created by Tchaikovsky or Rimsky-Korsakov,
their musical adaptation of Christmas Eve,
would I know I am out of my body,
closer to heaven with Gogol and Nabokov
and Dostoyevsky, a class in Russian Studies
I am destined not to finish, my world the dark side
of a fairy tale — a tormented journey
through the devil’s snowstorm
during weeks and months of convalesce…
I was 20 years old then, hopelessly romantic,
and my first great love, gone North for college,
did not write.
Now the carriage stops and the man
in Gogol’s Dream steps into the picture,
standing so close I could reach up to him —
perhaps touch him — if I were a mermaid,
but my eyes are looking back to the sea,
past and future hidden in its green depths;
where, beneath the ice, I believed
my frozen world could be protected
by an ontological winter, begin again
on Christmas Eve, my life complicated
by an invisible wind
that blows back a magician’s hat
above the long face and nose of a man
who resembles Nikolai Gogol.
There is so much longing in him,
a character who sees his poshlost
(his Russian reality, threadbare and spiritual)
in the shape of a mermaid, so takes the moon,
blank as an unwritten page, out of the
pocket of his overcoat. The horses’ breath warms the air
behind him, and although I have hesitated
half a lifetime, I know the scales of the mermaid’s
stained-glass tail are mirrors of an artist’s
unexpected architecture: a classical temple
with ionic columns, distant and historic,
timeworn in Gogol’s Dream
behind huts in a blue-gray background —
how much grayer this world than Chagall’s,
whose red-haired mermaids fly across the sky
holding bouquets of multi-coloured flowers,
their joyous, sky-borne abandon why I hesitate,
uncertain as the sun slips sideways, its face reflected
in the mermaid’s tail, setting in the east
as Gogol steps toward me in a dream
where the wind is a wicked breeze
that carries my heart upward — and O!
how he has caught it, pulsing
with unorthodox passion —
and thinks it’s fine, our winter world
reversed, his love both strange and stronger
for the mermaid, her shape designed
by sea and sky — her mystery by
blue twilight’s wisdom,
the reason northern flowers bloom
when Gogol’s Dream
transforms the season.
When Dreams Were Poems, Laurie Newendorp’s book length poetry collection, including two poems that appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, was published this December, just in time for Christmas Eve, and New Year’s, 2020.
When Gogol Is Dreaming
When Gogol is dreaming,
He is a golden eyed duck
Swanning his way through
The great hall of sounds
Sacred to all birds as pure poets.
They know him by ear,
All the coos and the purrs,
The rustling of wings and the splashing,
Making songs so grand and fine,
Even the nightingale falls in awe.
When Gogol is waking,
He is the son of a bat and a Cossack
Rural and black necked.
Beakless but loud with belief
In his own genius.
A professor insensible to all things medieval,
Yet curiously in charge of that very subject.
They know him by sight.
Unkempt and blonde with it,
Stockinged rather than booted,
And wearing a velvet kokoshnik trimmed with gold
Atop that trouble causing head of his,
Looking like a Finnish woman
Gone too far afield while talking
Birds with birders.
When Gogol dreams, he is coherent in pastels.
Courtly and courteous, his arguments have ease, his heart on his sleeve,.
And all who hear him are regenerated,
Mermaids even finding their legs
At his singing for a change.
Awake, Gogol loves wilding after machines of state.
The golden eyed duck comes out of the dream to fly against their ramparts,
carving words into stories,
Illuminating them then burning every syllable
He brings back and tries to bind.
Scorching horror into the eye, leaving it tearless,
Though he dreamed of tears.
Gogol dies on the threshold between waking and dreaming.
Leeched at the lip, screaming all the way.
The grief among the ducks is palpable.
The machines of state clack on.
The dreamers still know him by ear.
The kokoshnik now available to another head.
Kate Bowers is a Pittsburgh writer who has been published previously in The Ekphrastic Review. Kate works as a technical writer by day for a large, urban public school system. Favorite poets include W. S. Merwin, Philip Larkin, The Pearl Poet, Lynn Hejinian, Patricia Smith, and Martin Espada, among others.
The Mermaid and a Young Gentleman
Oh, dear, and how do you do? And how
do you do it? And who are you?
So unexpected, you know, dear lady…
aren’t you cold?
Please take my cloak.
Please take my heart.
And do you speak?
My horses reach out to you, I can feel
It. A siren indeed, so far from home?
Make magic for us, sing for me,
I’ll be yours without fear.
I’ve read the tales, have dreamed
the dream. Will you be mine?
Perhaps you don’t understand me,
but I’d would like to think that small obstacles,
as in fishtails, can be removed with patience
and the help of an incantation or two.
My coach is yours.
If you could bring yourself to live
with me, I’d cherish thee.
Rose Mary Boehm
A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm lives and works in Lima, Peru. Author of Tangents, a full-length poetry collection published in the UK in 2010/2011, her work has been widely published in US poetry journals (online and print). She was three times winner of the now defunct Goodreads monthly competition. There were other prizes. Recent poetry collections: From the Ruhr to Somewhere Near Dresden 1939-1949: A Child’s Journey, and Peru Blues or Lady Gaga Won’t Be Back. Her latest full-length poetry MS, The Rain Girl, has been accepted for publication in June 2020 by Blue Nib. She is also a Pushcart nominee.
The Mermaid’s Curse
He said it was love
when he dredged her up
like sand from the sea floor
meant to build a perfect
But the flower he gave her
died at her salty touch
but a broken shadow
and a ghost of scent.
Subdued and silent,
she lies suspended
in a shallow boat,
extracted from her element
captured and pinned
beneath his gaze,
one more drying specimen
in his collector’s tray.
And that fat red heart
he holds like a promise
over her head
won’t be enough
to save them.
Her jeweled scales are fading
while she grows pale and thin
with a terrible thirst.
Her lungs cramp,
falter and stall,
unsuited to this poverty of air
where she lies hobbled
in the prison of a body
that cannot run or walk
or crawl away
but must stay
under the cruel dominion
he calls love
Mary McCarthy is a writer and artist who spent most of her working life as a Registered Nurse. Her work has appeared in many print and online journals and she has an electronic chapbook, “Things I Was Told Not to Think About,” available as a free download from Praxis magazine.