Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Art of Death by Mar (Mistryel) Walker

The Art of Death

The ice sheets returned in 2113
in relentless methodical advance
ceaseless snows layering without a thaw
northern towns devoured in the frozen maw
planed smooth under a grinding crush of fluff

And the sea's edge receded as the freezing swept
down over Canada, New England
the north pacific and the upper middle west
and forgiving winds of warmth that brought the southern rain
forgot to churn and so the once lush Southland
dried and slowly burned
and there a sterile, chilly desert spread
desiccated freely, depressed the thirsty living,
mummified the dead

There was no escape - the ice came on,
Hartford and New Haven bowed, plowed flat,
Farmington and Glastonbury gone
starving millions overran New Jersey and New York
where in the howling streets snow buried
all the first and second floors
and those still moving found their entry
at the fire-escape's third landing door

Deep inside the city's steel and concrete,
under its failing brackish lights
journalists, historians, meteorological theory-posers
painters, poets, playwrights, choreographers, composers
found renewed delight and labored ardently and long
to document the dying world's new winter song.

As third-floor studios in old Tribeca hummed
the Chiller Gallery
opened up a shocking show that stunned
a splash designed to make the Ice Age think
and maybe drum up end-time business
for Millenium Cryogenics Inc
corporate sponsor of this
centennial retrospective - "100 Heads on Ice."

The exhibition featured human heads
in a frost-encrusted temperature-controlled displays
thoughtfully chosen from among thousands
frozen in each year of the companies successful marketing forays
Each bust began with one swift surgical stroke
scientifically suspended amid a steam of cryogenic smoke
- hoary heads guillotined alive from willing fools,
frozen in a flash
and for the privilege each of these 100 sculptures
coughed up enormous wads of cash
to pay the freight for time travel by refrigerator resurrection
- immortality by this un-natural selection.
Art critics gushed,
the pundits gnashed their teeth.
The display's descendents banned together
their attorneys blew up blizzards of class action briefs.

But more swiftly than court dockets, glaciers grew
plowing up the brittle weight of man's debris
jumbled, jammed high, like jagged mountains or volcanic spew
a soaring continental dump
pushed before the ice sheets coast to coast,
drawing dump pickers and scavengers,
like sullen dentists pulling teeth from winter's mouth,
while sensible millions
loaded up their goods and sought salvation in the south.

As snow filled, refilled each major road
many sat bumper to bumper,
far too many to be towed
And hundreds standing by the roadside,
thumbs extended, froze in place,
the horror of resignation, a still life,
painted in each blackened, frost-edged face
each remaining visible for hours
just above the growing drifts
100 heads and more,
in death, crystallizing
life, crystallizing
art, crystallizing crystallizing

Subway tunnels beneath the city became home
to nomads huddling for a little warmth
and there they drew pictures
of central park in bloom
to brighten up the endless subterranean gloom
and history digging up the evidence
once again ponders mysterious pictures
on cavern walls.

© 1998 Mar (Mistryel) Walker
previously published in Inverse Origami: The Art of Unfolding... by Mar (Mistryel) Walker
and in the premiere issue of The Underwood Review.

1) What first sparked this poem?

I attended a poetry event in 1996 during the Ct. Poetry Festival where Leo Connellan, the state’s poet laureate was reading at the Buttonwood Tree in Middletown Connecticut. At the time, there was an exhibit of “art” books at the Buttonwood, and each book was in a Plexiglas box to prevent viewers from touching , moving, breathing or spilling coffee on the books which were one-of-a-kind. The event was crowded and I was standing pretty far back. From where I stood I could just see Leo Connellan’s head through one of the Plexiglas boxes, and it looked for all the world like his head was inside the box.

2) Tell us about this poem's life.

I imagined an art show of similar works in Plexiglas boxes, and I had just read an article about cryogenics featuring people who paid a lot of money to be frozen. Some wanted only their heads frozen which struck me as fairly bizarre. I started thinking about what conditions in society might allow cryogenics company to put on a art display of its frozen heads, and what such a show would be reflecting about society. An oncoming ice age seemed fairly appropriate. This idea of art reflecting life or life reflecting art became the theme of the poem.

3) How long did it take to go from inspiration to published?

I included this poem in my first chapbook “Inverse Origami, the art of unfolding” Later, when Faith Vicinanza was preparing the premiere issue of the Underwood review, she said she didn’t mind previously published works or longer works. I sent it to her and it was included in the first issue.

4) Are you satisfied with this poem?

Oddly I am disturbed by it, considering that subsequently, there have been movies about a oncoming ice age, and several art shows of cadavers.

5) What, in particular, do you, the poet, like about this poem and why?

One has to maintain a suspension of disbelief to enjoy this poem since it seems unlikely a glacier could advance with such crushing speed. This poem is also really of the horror genre and I have not re-entered this territory. What was satisfying during the writing was imaging the details of New York filling up with snow and how people would get in and out, of the detritus of civilization that a glacier might plow up, and the lawsuits that would arise from such an art show even with the end of civilization rapidly approaching. And then how to end it... I have read this only about four times in public, and have not considered how I might re-edit it. hmmm

Mar (Mistryel) Walker, is an innocuous but opinionated eccentric, a poet and visual artist, a job-hopper, an odd-jobber, an escaped journalist turned blogger, web-tweaker, mezzo-soprano, songwriter, human being. She is founder and editor of Bent Pin, a lit e-zine at, and webmistress for the Wednesday Night Poetry Series. Her other websites include,, and

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Key by Gemma Mathewson


Step - sweep - tap,
Step - sweep - tap,
the monk advances.
His garnet robe
grazes the floor.

As still as the Himalayas
that rise above his gompa
he stood while we viewed
ancient tonka paintings.

Why now this curious dance?
I let the protective silk veil settle
back over the delicate pigments
and turn to watch the ritual
that now engages him.

Catching sparkles
from devotional oil lamps,
motes of dust billow from his toes
like the stylized oyster clouds
above the painted Buddhas.

Before his foot,
a large moth flees
buttery and translucent
in the flickering light.

Advance matches retreat until,
the moth senses the threshold
of the courtyard
flusters his wings, holds fast.

An impasse.
Toes curl in thought,
the veins of his temple
thrum beneath a crescent scar,
the monk reaches for an offering bowl,
redistributes the water
among the rest
and scoops the moth inside.

Above a row of sandals
and hiking boots
the monk uncups his palm
from the brass bowl.
The moth, denied a nest
of precious kangyur scrolls,
samples the wisdom of the wind.

© 2007 Gemma Mathewson
Previously published in Spring Issue of Remarkings, Chandigarh, India

1) What first sparked this poem?

My friend worked in Delhi India for six years, as director of the Fulbright program. She repeatedly invited me to visit her, but due to work constraints I could only go in monsoon months, which she had warned against, being too hot. Finally, in her last year, I went anyway, and she arranged for us to travel to Himachal Pradesh, where the Himalayas determine the Chinese border. Because of the political sensitivity of the area, we had to obtain a special restrictive innerline permit for the trip. Unlike so much of India, the land is underpopulated, vast and mountainous, and the culture is Tibetan Buddhist, not Hindu. I was intoxicated with the exotic culture, and sparse beauty of the land. Every fall hard-scrabble switch back roads (met twice by the edge of glaciers) wash out and every spring when the snow recedes, teams of people rebuild them by breaking rocks with mallets and basket-carting the gravel. The mountain side temple at Key is approached by one of these switch-back trails and the last ten minutes of ascent are by footpaths.

I was privileged to experience the ancient art, exotic beauty and religious fervor of several Buddhist Temples and monasteries. I intended to take excerpts from the diary I kept of this trip with the idea of distilling the experiences into poems.

2) Tell us about this poem's life.

The pilgrimage to Key was a day trip off the main circuit road of Himachal Pradesh. I wanted to include everything, the vast panorama of the roof courtyard offering views of alien rock formations, ice capped mountains in July, the intense colors and intimate detail of the religious paintings, the tabby cat with two silver earrings, the huge prayer wheel requiring full body thrust of both arms to set into motion. We were invited to have a lunch hosted by the monks, rich brown molasses bread with sharp flakey yak cheese. (and the ubiquitous dreaded rancid yak-butter tea!) I began this poem about Key with too many details, needed to hone my focus, and kept coming back to the monk and the moth. They seemed to be the perfect vehicle to illustrate what kept inspiring me throughout the trip - that amidst cultural and spiritual diversity, the human spirit is called on to solve the same problems over and over, and that we solve them best by accepting that we are a part of a bigger whole.

3) How long did it take to go from inspiration to published?

I wrote this and three other poems about my experience in India when I arrived home. Through my friend I met several academics, one a professor of English Literature in Chandigarh. He edits a literary magazine called Remarkings and showed me the most recent issue which featured a critical overview of Doris Lessing, who happens to be one of my favorite authors! Learning that I wrote poetry, he invited me to submit to his magazine for publication. "Not many Indians get to travel into Himachal Pradesh! Your perspective on your experiences could be of interest." Due to my delay in getting a short bio together, it was actually not until about a year and half later that Key got published, along with two other poems.

4) Are you satisfied with this poem?

Mostly. Some small visual connections, such as likening the dust stirred by the monk's feet to the stylized clouds in Buddhist paintings are the kind of images I enjoy playing with.

5) What, in particular, do you, the poet, like about this poem and why?

The monk's dance, my initial interpretation of it and subsequent reevaluation after observation, describes a type of experience I kept having over and over. I kept seeing what seemed incomprehensible or mystical, only to discover a more universal meaning and experience, often humble, humorous or both. The ironic contrast of the monastery as a repository of ancient wisdom of the kangur scrolls from the 10th century and the monk's simple solution (to redistribute water in the brass offering bowls so he would have to tool to scoop up the moth) was a nice balance. Also to my western mind, disturbing the offering bowls on an altar seemed a bit scandalous, however practical!

For 18 years Gemma Mathewson was director and teacher at an Early Childhood program called Nursery On Notch Hill. Recently she has coordinated special projects for I-Park, a 450 acre multidiscipline artist retreat in East Hampton, CT and illustrated a German fantasy novel, Sargon's Schatz. Her enthusiasms include open mic poetry, hiking, and world music. Her work has been published in USA and India, and used in collaboration with "Plays and Poetry" by the East Haddam Players and in contemporary compostition with Nihan Yessil. She is a lifetime insomniac and omnivorous reader. More of her poetry can be found at her blog, The Museum of Rain.

Friday, July 10, 2009

On the Pungent Decay of Wild Grapes by Elizabeth Cleary

On the Pungent Decay of Wild Grapes

Walking through oaky wood, pungent
with the decay of wild grapes, at dusk,
her body remembers everything,
waters for every man she held,
ignores hunger from want that would
empty her.

As she moves through the vines,
she breathes deep and memory
is finessed by extracts;
powerful hands sweep
across the small of her back.
She sips the richness of his gaze,
his bright eyes, the sweet warmth
of his lips, ample ones that slid across
her breast, complex ones she rolled
across her tongue.

Absorbed, she conjures one man
offered in glimpses of light
falling a lá carte
through September leaves
one man, maybe wandering here
in this wood, recollecting her.

© 2008 Elizabeth Cleary
Previously published in Undone - Poems by Shijin: a poetry performance troupe (Hanover Press 2008)

1) What first sparked this poem?

I was running one evening. It was hot and I was tired. As I approached an underpass to Route 15 about a mile from my house, I was overwhelmed by the smell of grapes in the trees along the border of the bridge and up the embankment. It was an ugly looking area but a wonderful smell. I was so thirsty; my mouth watered for grape juice. My run was shot but the word association that ensued sparked the poem.

2) Tell us about this poem's life.

This was one of those rare pieces which is "almost there" before you actually write it down. The long walk home led to that. But two things happened in the editing process. I began to read it differently easing up on the emphasis I placed on certain words. This was based on group feedback from a group of trusted peers in an editing group I work with. With that change in my inflection, I began to edit certain words and then the order of the lines. I changed which line was the first line a few times. I needed input from others to settle that decision down. I stuck to my guns on any edits around the word "recollecting" --- Not only does it mean "recall to mind" but it also means "assemble" which is what the main character has done with her memory, selective as it may be.

3) How long did it take to go from inspiration to published?

The poem sat for a while after that first round. I like to let poems rest. Then I revisit them and see if any additional edits seem more obvious. It was a few months later that the performance group I work with got together to design our next set. It just so happened the set evolved into one about love and loss. This poem was in my portfolio and it fit, so it ended up part of the set and in the chapbook after a few final edits.

4) Are you satisfied with the poem?

Yes. It's tight and true to its inspiration but has layers which are meaningful. The fact it was a perfect fit for the performance was a bonus. I'm glad I had it to contribute to the group.

5) What in particular do you, the poet, like about this poem and why?

I like the story line. I don't usually write this type of fictional narrative but I think this one is interesting for it's almost fable-like quality. I am hopeful lines like "glimpses of light falling a la carte through September leaves" are tangible enough to evoke the actual visual image for the reader.

Elizabeth Cleary has been published in the Bent Pin, Connecticut River Review, A Little Poetry, Caduceus and more. Eli is a member of Shijin a poetry performance troupe. She is co-host of the Word of Mouth Poetry Series in New Haven Connecticut and Founder of the Sleeping Giant Poets Guild. Her blog is currently located at