Poems for the Winter Solstice Issue

Photo: Todd cover


By Robin Atkins

I ask the flowers

about new beginnings.

And the crocus says

be strong like me.

Push your way

through the dark to the light.

And the cherry blossom says

be soft like me.

Let your gentle weaknesses

tremble in the rain.

And the tulip says

be a begging bowl like me.

Hold your heart open

to the gift of the morning’s warmth.

And the daffodil says

be a trumpet like me.

Sing out your loveliness

for the joy of those around you.

And the rose bud says

be patient like me.

Feel the pulse of the sun.

Your time to bloom is near.


First Laugh

By Charles Fishman

For Rose Butler and John Running

In traditional Navajo culture, the child is viewed as the ultimate

gift and a celebration is held in its honor when the baby first laughs.

She cradles her child, this Navajo mother,

and you can tell he is loved. His peacefulness

runs deep—you can see the tendrils of it

as they wind around his bones. Listen.

The sound of his sleeping is like the whispering

of the sea under a soft moon in summer.

She cradles her child and keeps him safe—

see how her arms, her hands, embrace him.

This is a rest that augurs beautiful growing,

the way a seed’s slumber in the earth

prophecies the tree.

For she will blanket him with prayers and kisses,

with hummed melodies and the music

of her voice. And she will be the midday sun

to him. Come, let us wait for his first laugh.



by Dana Gerringer

under separate skies

walking down the same dark hall

flowers by the window

behind the closed doors

days of this

you remind me of names I haven't heard in a while

images that smile away the fog

and i want to call out to a you I seem to know

though we've never really spoken

when you're around

my shoulders fall and my breath rolls

your voice is familiar that way

do you believe that this is our first time around,

third time learning,

how many do you remember

My guess was you were probably in one of mine

Maybe a sister or a mother or a friend

the never forgotten kind

then the irony in the circle of windows

we would pull from our pockets our origins

mine was a rock before the earth

yours were boots never meant to walk upon it

and a clock that beats the heart of your angel

on the two opposite arms of time

is where the hands are held to the heart

the sun does rise here

into two skies, for two lives

on two opposite arms of this city

but we both hold our hands to our heart

and from dark hallways are reminded

of names not heard in a while


Photo: Susan shadow at the church


Waiting For A New

Turn Signal Switch

By Marjorie Power

Tishku moves through hills

a few miles from here. I can’t see her

but a moment ago I didn’t

see the hills, either. Fog,

lifting, caught my eye.

A phone rings and the girl

who answers calls him sweetie.

When she hangs up, a passing car salesman

becomes sweetie; now, someone she dials

in the parts department.

The view outside clears.

Tishku must be breathing hard,

climbing fast. There—her dress

shows, the dark green one

embroidered with gold.

The girl dressed in the color of

sticker shock says she’s sorry

my car is taking all morning,

she could get one of the guys

to drop me at the mall.

Suddenly Tishku is at my shoulder.

I can’t see her, but the smell

of damp September earth

has come inside, this close.

Go hear her story, she whispers.

Approaching the counter I find:

I don’t mind waiting here.

And a stranger truth: I like

what you’ve done to your fingernails.

It must be hard to paint stars.

From Tishku, After She Created Men, Lone Willow Press, 1996


"Helianthus annuus"
By David Mayfield

Where have they all gone.?
The trees in blues and greens.
Used to capture the sun.
Now the world has me jaded,
and my eyes go blind.
and the shade rolls down
and the doves glide by.
.Dropping their ivory feathers one by one.

And sleep comes so easily, with you .
Standing as the moonlight waxes the sun.
Banking left through the clouds
Gazing lightly, into space
The circle drops down and the light dims
.And the horizon is only a reminder.

All that's left is that picture of you
Standing next to me.
Eagles soaring, oceans swirling
Eyes interlaced, brought together by the sun
.Seems to test the strength of time.

But nothing can compare, to the sunflowers in your hair.
And nothing can compare, to the sunflowers in your hair.


Coastal Access
By Matt Meko

Being young was important to me
Fitting in was important to me
Living fast was important to my ego

          gave me identity

My body clearly states "No" and I finally listen
(I forget that I'm organic until something grows on me and it won't wash off)

I have coastal access now
Straight through
I'm more than I thought I was
Suddenly old
Surprisingly simpler


A Father and Two Sons

By Charles Fishman

Jones Beach – July 1999

What is a father, and what is love?

Maybe it is the going out of the self

that certain men can do

when they put their children first

when they attend to the needs

of the little ones: the soul fed

with experience, as when this father

sails a striped beach towel

over his tiny son’s head

over that two-year-old nakedness

closing them in to a holy space

only they can share:

under this floating pavilion,

a safe universe is born.

Or perhaps it is the same father

with his elder son, a 5- or 6-year-old,

at the blurred edge of the Atlantic.

Courage must be taught—

and caution: a backward flop

into the foam-tipped waves

a dive through the shallow chop

no safety net but the unspoken:

I am here and I will not let you drown.

This father stands on his hands

in the sea brine, unlikely gift of fearlessness

and balance, and both sons hear what the sea

whispers: I will not let you swim into your life

without direction.


Guarding Mother

By Esther Altshul Helfgott

I will

guard her


all harm

I will

watch her


my eyes run


I will


her mouth

with a

saliva stick.

I will


her hands




I will watch






Even then,

I will watch.

originally published in Spindrift 1996



By Susan Terris

1. Baba

In the cellar, on a rusted lawn chair

beside the water heater, I find

our Baba. Wearing black lace-ups

with cubed heels, a dress with

handsewn buttonholes — identical except

where her waist makes one grin,

she stares at me until hectic spots stain

cheeks. Light penetrates high,

fly-specked windows and illuminates

hairnet spider-webbing

her forehead below folds of

pale sheitel. Around her: detritus

of decades. Our cellar is for things

which have no use. First we stockpile

them at the stairs. Then by the door.

At last, below, they molder on shelves

or atop the child-sized workbench:

flower pots, old Lincoln Logs, last year’s

cancelled checks. Eyes passing over

all, aware of heat and drip of

water heater, I stare again at Baba.

What are you doing in the cellar? I ask.

Rolling socks, she tells me. Like most

bubbes I stay at home and roll socks.

Now her cheeks deepen. Or sometimes,

at night, I roll in sweet-scented hay...

Baba, it’s dark and damp,

I tell her. You don’t belong down here.

She smiles, layers one thick-fingered hand

over the other. But I do, my Dumpling,

she replies slowly, because upstairs

in your fine house, I forget to

roll and can’t remember my name.

2. Mother

Poised before her scale, Mother — arbiter

of family myths — weighs truth against

fabrication. But it never happened,

she insists, balancing her perceptions,

discarding mine. Baba

was Grampa Jack’s mother’s mother,

dead before you were born.

StilI, I insist, she was

there, sitting in the dark dressed in

worsted. With hands like mine

and a long face. She spoke to me.

Mother, unwilling to pardon unreality,

adjusts her blindfold, recalibrates,

scoffs at me. Then it’s

her photograph you remember.

Just a picture. We used to store it in

the cellar wedged between

our furnace and the hot water heater.

3. Self

Shuffle, step, shuffle, step. Down in

the cellar I am tapping out all the bright

things that Mother and everyone tell me

are not true. Shuffle, scuff, turn.

Look at me. Then look again.

My cane, my hat — both are props,

for I am not yet Baba, not yet my mother.

Still, upstairs, I can’t practice on

satin-finish floors because I’ll scar them.

So, between furnace and water heater,

using the workbench as barre,

I dance.

I dance against time, against rage. Days

are short now.

Baba danced in Szumsk,

I’m sure, but never here. Looking on,

she finds me as disconcerting as my house:

strong-hipped, grown woman in black

skivvies, socks, and TeleTones tapping

into gathering darkness. Why? she asks.

Because, I answer, eyeing squared hands.

Shuffle, flap. Shuffle-hop, toe.

Because as winter comes, I, too, need

time — shuffle, roll — to contemplate

sweet-scented hay.


Driving Home From Mother's House

By Esther Altshul Helfgott

As I drove through the bower

of old oak trees

scanning 68th and 20th avenues northeast

I was scared by the moon.

It was so low in the sky that night

I thought it would smack me in the face.

I tried to turn the wipers on,

but strands of hair white as paste

covered the window like thick rain.

A woman's mouth stretched open

in a silent scream. Bent fingers clawed

until they reached my chest.

Some nights I lose my way home.

originally published first in the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Review, Vol.4, No.3, Vancouver, B.C., 1993; reprinted in Switched on Gutenberg, Issue 2, 1996; reprinted in PoetsWest Literary Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1999.


Photo: Todd's house


To the Unknown Father

By Charles Fishman

Every man on Earth today can trace

his Y chromosome to one male who lived

about 190,000 years ago.

—AP Report

You were not quite human,

unknown father, but you were strong

and lucky. Though you could not imagine

the future, you were born to influence it.

The why of things held no interest for you,

yet you left your mark: these microscopic threads

that tie you to Earth’s billions.

You must have known hungers we no longer

have names for, all the vocabulary you would ever need

written in the cells of your body . . . You, who

could not know greed or pride, envy or depression,

could feel beauty lift you on her broken wing.

Love, sex, offspring, old age—what could these

mean for you, who lived but left only seed?

The Y that connects us still was not even a whisper

in your mind.


'Holding the Son'
By David Mayfield

Are you cognizant of the hours we spent?
My sundry eyes are pointed high at the sky

Do you realize what my life means?
It's more important than your books and history
Stellified by those words
Pages turn and are forgotten
Sometimes.like me.

Only highs and lows elevate your head up high
But it's the flatline that you miss as the pages fly by
Day to day we dream of what will be
Of course, the anger in your voice washes those away 

Christmas comes and goes
Presents lie unopened in the trash
People, of your own blood, run from the lighted tree
And you always forget who put the star on top
Its a little angel holding the sun
And She cries every time the light burns out.(and it burned out 20 years ago)



By Kevin Taylor

How do angels die, you ask.

Well, just as they are born, in fact.

And how might that be, you inquire.

They're born of kinfolk who've expired.

Does that mean that they're us, you press.

Quite so. We've each our angelness.


Fast Lane III

by Kara L.C. Jones

Death happens everyday

but that doesn’t make it

any less surprising.

You can move in the

fast lane if you want

but it all still just adds up

to the number of days

since this one died

or that one died.

And today, as with the

11th of each month, it is

another month since

my son died.

Six months and I

still do yoga each day

with my feet, shoulder

width apart, his little

foot prints, purple ink

on white paper, sitting

on the floor between

my feet. It’s like I need

his ink feet between

my real feet or the yoga

doesn’t count.

It’s crazy. I know it is.

But that little ritual

keeps me sane when

the phone rings and it’s

a salesman asking

if we’d like to have

a free 8x10 taken

of our baby or when

I open the mailbox

and find my subscription


still arriving, faithful as ever

with a sense of timing

that always

sucks the breath from me.

The fast lane

doesn’t exist for me.

They are all slow days of

toe-ing one pebble

after another

till suddenly

one day

6 months later

I look up and a whole

mountain has been moved.



By Susan Terris

Frost stencils windows.

In bed, boy on a sheepskin

burrows into darkness

as a woman kneels by his side.

Outside, boots creak snow,

and the sound of whistling

wraps night with bright ribbons

that ripple the air until

a dog-pack barks

and makes them fade.

I'll miss you, the woman says,

smelling sweet-hot boy-hair

and breath near her face.

Yes... the boy answers, as

his lashes butterfly her cheeks,

but I have our snowflakes.

Although she can't see them,

she knows they are there,

drifts of

odd, impossible colors

spanning walls and ceiling,

folded, folded, pinked with

shears into zig-zag labyrinths

neither child nor woman

could have dreamed.

When I look at them,

the boy says, even when

there's no whistling

and no dogs bark, I am

a snowflake and I can fly.



By Kevin Taylor


a circle.

Draw a line,

through its middle,

in your mind. Within that

circle, on that line, draw yet

another circle there, just as the 1st;

you choose the size and where upon the line

it falls. And in the spaces left unclaimed, on either

side, if there is room, draw yet another circle there. And

others still until the line is full. This string of worlds, sized large

or small or mixed, is ready now. The secret of the Tao is

held within. The universe, the path you choose; the

distance 'round each world alone, when added

to the others, is equal to the measure of the

first. You drew the circle. Drew the

line. Drew the others. Chose

their size. The secret

of the Tao is held

within. Infinity.



Photo: Susan's second shadow


Bring Me the Sunset in a Cup

By Esther Altshul Helfgott

I want the moon

to help me with my day

not just stay up there

when it's dark

and I'm alone with myself


If Emily Dickinson can

ask for the sunset in a cup -

as she did in her 128th poem -

and it can be given to her -

or not - why, then, Mother,

should I not ask for the moon?



By Robin Atkins

Above me, a cathedral of Madronas,

their bent trunks arching over the road,

their lacy branches meeting in the center,

catch the sun’s light,

where taller, straighter Cedars

do not steal it away.

Driving slowly through this natural tunnel,

I find myself recalling last night,

lying stiffly beside the man of my dreams,

awake with self pity that for weeks

he hasn’t told me he loves me.

Under their majestic arch,

the Madronas are giving me their lesson.

“No need for sadness,” they say.

“Bend your trunk to find the light.”

I bend, and at once many memories

come rushing into my mind –

little things like how he

paper towels the stove after

frying his eggs, brings home

a rusty penny for my artwork,

pays for our dinner on the town.

The Madronas are whispering,

I have found the light.

And the sunshine smiles love

into my heart, without words.


The Quintessential Observation

By Hawk