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  • Robert L. Giron

Issue 24 — Lucas Carpenter, Fran Jordan, Yvette Neisser Moreno, Francine Marie Tolf

Lucas Carpenter

Constable's Clouds

Hampstead Heath, London

Sheer meteorology, but accurately observed,

even the worst of his critics say. He painted

nothing but sky sometimes, always recording

just what he saw overhead because mimesis

mattered to him, and the science of weather,

like chemistry to Shelley, medicine to Keats.

He called it “skying,” a word of his own device.

But meticulous reproduction of fluxional sky

(even when it’s all blue the blue changes to other blues)

must fix it in an instant like a photograph,

yet his clouds seem to move. He painted the wind.

You’re never sure if you turn your back and look again

that it’s the same painting. Clouds accumulate,

heaving up into mountains of white and grey,

or disperse and stratify in layers lined in light.

Aware of his awareness he allowed for imagining,

knowing viewers would do with painted canvas

what they’ve always done with cloud-filled skies,

seeing familiar shapes on the verge of emergence

or strange beings about to come to life, and sometimes,

when light builds up enough pressure behind and within,

they seem on the brink of bursting in transcendent glory,

heralding a new millennium or the end of everything.

He makes you want to be there for both.

Copyright 2009 by Lucas Carpenter.

Monk Mummies

Monastery of the Caves, Kiev

No one knows many of their names anymore,

Even the monks who police the place now.

They wouldn’t have minded, my guide tells me,

Because all they wanted was to erase themselves anyway.

For centuries faithful and curious

Have contemplated these dried mystic men,

Most still in their burial niches,

Slots chopped out of the sandstone

Six centuries ago in catacombs

Pocked with cells for god-seeking brothers

To sit with only a candle and a daily visit

From a novice with a crust of bread, a cup of water

Who carried out their small excretions

And reported their deaths.

Constant cool,

Desiccating air shriveled the bodies,

preserving recognizable features, though the skin

Looks like black beef jerky

And bones have worn through

At fingertip and elbow. Holiness,

They said when it started happening,

Purest evidence of what sanctity does to flesh,

Presaging the eternal life to come. They

have become the color of the darkness they lived,

Blank radiant silence, nothing.

Copyright 2009 by Lucas Carpenter.

On Reaching the Same Age as My Father When He Died

So this is how things looked when you left off:

Bungled dreams, booze, dark burden of experience,

Happiness, hate, more of the same,

Shedding the ghost of thingness past,

Adding stillness to now, the iron existential grip,

Meeting dancing fools, weeping violins, with blank indifference,

Just wanting another gorgeous day out of the way.

Life: a metastatic growth from nothing to form to nothing.

I always swore mine would not be yours,

A pipe dream doomed by a coin toss,

Foiled by failure and things we never did.

Now as much you as I, I should be sentenced to the same,

But at this peculiar spot in time I cross your best

And level my eyes on the distant darkness of you.

Copyright 2009 by Lucas Carpenter.


Lucas Carpenter was born in Elberton, Georgia. He is the author of John Gould Fletcher and Southern Modernism (U. of Arkansas Press, 1990) and general editor of a seven-volume series devoted to Fletcher’s work. He has also written a chapbook of poetry, A Year for the Spider (UNC Pitcher Poetry Award, 1973), and a book of poetry, Perils of the Affect (Mellen Press, 2002). His poems, stories, articles and reviews have appeared in numerous periodicals, including Prairie Schooner, The Minnesota Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, College Literature, Kansas Quarterly, Carolina Quarterly, Concerning Poetry, Poetry (Australia), Southern Humanities Review, College English, San Francisco Review of Books, Callaloo, Chronicle of Higher Education, and New York Newsday. He was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to lecture and write in Belgium during the 1999-2000 academic year. He is Charles Howard Candler Professor of English at Oxford College, Emory University .

Fran Jordan

[…seasonal trio…]

Clinging still verdant,

last leaves of summer

start to give way.

Glowing butterscotch and garnet stains

against cerulean sky herald fall.

As one season seeps into next,

I follow, breathless.

* * *

Autumnal changes mark the trail:

Golden, tawny, and ruddy leaves accumulate

before being crushed by

thrumming feet, prancing paws, churning bicycle tires.

Acorns and gumballs ricochet, then

burrow hazardously beneath groundcover.

Deer gather before, startled, they dart across paths.

Geese honk and migrate cross-currents.

(How fortunate are they to feel at home, north or south.)

It is the time the world calls to me:

Rise up, come out, join in.

* * *

Open my ears.

Autumn is softer.


Let the words come.

Copyright © 2008 by Fran Jordan.

[…I do not labor…]

(after Grace Paley)

I do not labor over these lines,

striving not to bend them to perfection.

What if [my] longing

for [my] own true invention

of language is not enough?

So be it.

The words that find their way

onto these pages are only one draft

of my heart, one step towards

resolution of my soul.

The rest of the journey

will come in its own time.

It is simply enough to begin.

Copyright © 2008 by Fran Jordan.

[…deliver us to love…]

Deliver us to love, we plead—

despite knowing the nothing

love may come to—

Give us a moment’s grace

in communion with another’s soul,

an hour’s succor in another’s arms,

a day’s brilliant light

before the heart grows quiet and dark again.

Let us be human,

if only for an instant.

Copyright © 2008 by Fran Jordan.


Fran Jordan is an eighth-generation Virginian currently living quietly with her cat in Takoma Park, Maryland. A writer of creative nonfiction and poetry, she won the Ventura Valdez Poetry Award in English in 2001 and 2002, and her work has been published in the anthology Poetic Voices Without Borders (Gival Press, 2005).

Yvette Neisser Moreno

Also see:

Featured as a translator on

October Evening

Darkness comes early

and surrounds us

like a tent closing its canvas.

In the glow of kitchen light,

my children’s faces

are all that matter.

Copyright © 2009 by Yvette Neisser Moreno.

Letter for the New Year

Chinese New Year, February 2005

Just when you pointed to the snow

finally melting off the deck

and a cardinal perched there

like a harbinger of spring,

flakes again began to fall,

edging the pine needles in white.

Winter is upon us, and you are sprouting

words and numbers, counting to 100,

announcing “B for bus” and “T for train”;

you reach light switches, refuse to sleep,

empty your plate onto the table.

This is the year of the rooster. A year of luck.

My neighbors prepare a whole chicken for breakfast.

This year we discovered

that you like snow only after it’s fallen;

you shudder from the wet shock

of flakes touching your face.

And a group of deer

has taken to bedding down

in the woods behind the house.

When I approach, they do not flee.

I take this as a sign of luck.

Copyright © 2009 by Yvette Neisser Moreno.


Yvette Neisser Moreno is a poet and translator whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The International Poetry Review, Potomac Review, Tar River Poetry, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Her translation (from Spanish) of Argentinian poet Luis Alberto Ambroggio’s Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems is forthcoming from Cross-Cultural Communications. In addition to working as a professional writer/editor, she teaches poetry and translation at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and in public schools in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Francine Marie Tolf

The Wife of Layman P’ang

In approximately 780, Layman P’ang, a wealthy merchant, experienced Enlightenment. He sold his house and had all of his possessions loaded onto a boat and sank it. He, his wife, and his children then earned a living by selling vegetables and bamboo utensils.

You would not guess

her cheek bones knew powder,

that jasper combs clasped

her thinning hair.

She carries small things

inside her now:

the flower on a baby squash,

an insect’s green wings.

When famous men

visit their cottage,

she serves them tea

in clay cups.

They listen with reverence

to her husband

as she enters the room


to kneel for

the used dishes,

the leftover

rice cake.

The Wife of Layman P'ang was first published in Southern Humanities Review in 2005. Copyright © 2005 by Francine Marie Tolf.

For Yehuda Amichai:

letter to a man whose home is rain

and whose language is the shiver of reeds.

You said of a certain shore

that even God stopped there

without coming any closer to truth.

But it wasn’t that wind-eaten beach

or your city of second-hand Jews

(“slightly damaged, bargain priced”)

that you really meant:

that shore is the world,

which you loved anyway,

rubbing its darkness like kindling

between two callused palms

until the flame of a new poem was born.

I love that you were once so jealous

of your ex-lover’s lover

you ordered a dog to bite off his penis

(in a poem, that is).

I love that lies were honey to you,

and the purity of anything a myth:

despair can comfort,

and hope rip apart our days.

What’s a taped-up and pasted-together

product of the Diaspora to do? Shake a fist

at the Messiah you know isn’t coming?

Or open your palm to catch some rain?

(It’s your only home.)

Poet, you know the answer.

Your whole life, on the same

wine-stained page,

you did both.

For Yehuda Amichai was first published in Umbrella Journal in 2007 and was part of the writing sample that received an Honorable Mention in the 2006 Pablo Neruda Poetry Contest. Copyright © 2007 by Francine Marie Tolf.


Within each of us there is a God shaped emptiness

Today I saw a blue heron

ascend from pond water

with slow, soundless wings.

It seemed that

pine trees, clouds of white air

held their breath

as two drowsy arcs

rose and sank

through pieces of mist.

I thought: how easy

to believe in holiness,

to ache suddenly

from the loss it carves.

Pascal was first published in Comstock Review in 2008.

Copyright © 2008 by Francine Marie Tolf.

Small news item in the midst of war

It could be chance that out of

our own darkness

and the world’s,

out of sleep

and that hour before dawn,

the first sound we hear,

if we are lucky enough

to live where they make their homes,

is the liquid questioning of a bird,

testing the day’s reality with her song.

And maybe the bubbles that cluster

like clear beads on stems in vases

are chance too, and the elaborate feathers

of ice that form on windows in winter.

Beauty could be an accident.

So I must not make too much

of the bird I read about

who built her nest from the scrap

of detonated land mines:

who absolves, every morning,

the dark of a greenless field

with notes that sound beautiful.

Small news item in the midst of war was first published in Poetry U.S.A. (Mother Earth) and is one of the poems in a chapbook, Like Saul, published by Plan B Press.


You know from their deeply grooved bark

they hold marvelous stories.

They are taller than oak trees

and sway and glitter through summer

like massive angels,

nearly brushing the clouds.

Can we doubt they are good?

Yet a neighbor used to say

with distinct disapproval

that “they’ll grow anywhere.”

Before this day ends, in some marketplace

where melons are stacked and ancients hum,

someone will toss a grenade.

A six-year-old who hates no one

will be diagnosed with leukemia.

A scrap of sapling will cling harder

to its patch of sandy earth, eager to bear

delicately scalloped leaves

shaped like what humans call hearts –

perfect to hold light

and give it back.

Cottonwoods was first published in White Pelican Review in 2008. Copyright © 2008 by Francine Marie Tolf.


Francine Marie Tolf’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals. She is the author of three chapbooks (two from Pudding House Press and one from Plan B Press) and has received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Money for Women/Barbara Deming Foundation, and Blacklock Nature Sanctuary Foundation. She lives in Minneapolis.

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